Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Phil Schaap Profile in The New Yorker

David Remnick profiles long-time WKCR jazz DJ Phil Schaap in the current issue of The New Yorker. It is substantial but quite worth the read, and it does a nice job of capturing the Phil that generations of WKCR DJs have known, loved, fought with and, most importantly, learned from. (In fact, the article's main failure is not situating Phil a bit more in the WKCR world, in terms of the knowledge and radio style that he has passed along to all of us who have interacted with him. Numerous patter patterns and phrasings that I use are things that I have taken from Phil. And I hope that I also have absorbed some of his attention to musical and discographical detail.)

Two quick (and minor) points from my end:

In the many years that I’ve been listening, I’ve rarely heard it end precisely as scheduled. Generations of Columbia d.j.s whose programs followed Schaap’s have learned to stand clutching an album of the early Baroque or nineteenth-century Austrian yodelling and wait patiently for the final chorus of “I’ll Always Love You Just the Same.”

Having hosted Monday Morning Classical for a few years, I certainly can attest to the truth of this. You can plan on your classical show not starting before 9:45. In recent months, however, as I have become a more loyal Birdflight listener, I have actually turned to being disappointed when the classical programming does start -- even though much of it is quite wonderful. I'm just not done learning about Bird yet.

In 1979, Schaap was at the center of a Miles Davis festival at a time when Davis was a near-recluse living off Riverside Drive. Davis started calling the station, dozens and dozens of calls—“mad, foul, strange calls,” Schaap recalled. Davis’s inimitable voice, low and sandpapery, was unnerving for Schaap. But then one day—“Friday, July 6, 1979”—his tone changed, and for nearly three hours the two men went over the details of “Agharta,” one of his later albums. Finally, after Schaap had clarified every spelling, every detail, Davis said, “You got it? Good. Now forget it. Play ‘Sketches of Spain’! Right now!”

This Miles Davis story has become one of my favorites over the past year, and I frequently will quote the punchline to unsuspecting friends in my vicinity or just to myself.


Ben Fishman said...

Yes, it is a fascinating portrait of a lonely genius. But in Remnick's world, it seems that WKCR - and Columbia for that matter - shut down when Phil walks out the door. What about all those other eccentric dj's who stay up through the night playing hours of train songs or Bach cantatas? Some of whom keep compulsive notes of set lists at concerts so they can look up the encore at a Nields show in 1998, compile end-of-the-year review albums, and compose discursive blog posts? Phil may be one of a kind because of his total recall, on-air-ramblings, and obsession for the minutia in every recording. But while Schaap's particular art form may be declining in popularity, he is not the only music lover worthy of a New Yorker profile. Perhaps Remnick should get an invite to the Matt Winters 10th Anniversary Radio Bash.

LeaderofthePack said...

by "unsuspecting friends in my vicinity" you mean me, right? and i *totally* agree on the Remnick invite to the 10th anniversary bash!!

Anonymous said...

Love how we both picked up on the same quote, Matt--see my post on same.

I think Phil's influence on all of us is an interesting subject, but not necessarily one for this piece. You know the Woody Herman quote that Phil recounts in this piece ("Son, there's not gonna be another Stan Getz!")? Well, think of all the Phil-isms that have been attempted by far less talented and knowledgeable young'uns who have passed through the WKCR doors. ("The time is now 10:12...the time is now 10:14..." and reading off the names of every sideman.) So there are definite pros and cons to all that too, no?

Hope you're well!