To many jazz aficionados, Phil Schaap is the voice of jazz, buzzing historical sketches between the articulated notes and narrative rhythm of Charlie Parker on his daily morning radio show "Bird Flight."
Schaap is the voice of Columbia University's radio station, WKCR — FM 89.9 — a position he began Feb. 2, 1970 as a freshman at the university.
Nearly 30 years later, at last week's 43rd annual Grammy Award ceremonies in Los Angeles, Schaap climbed the stage to accept his seventh Grammy, further engraving his mark on the jazz world.
But to many Princeton students, Schaap is the visiting lecturer in the American Studies Program who ad-libs about Louis Armstrong and shares memories of meeting Billie Holiday.
Schaap taught AMS 330: Louis Armstrong last fall and previously taught AMS 309: Jazz in American Society. Next fall, he plans to teach a course on bebop.
"When I first took his class, I had no idea about his stature," said Andy Gaies '01, who is writing his thesis about jazz preservation and has taken courses with Schaap at the University. "What impressed me about him is his knowledge of the music, his knowledge of the history of the music and the enthusiasm with which he presented it."
Schaap's latest Grammy for best historical album — in recognition of his work as producer of "Louis Armstrong: The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings" — raised his total to seven awards in 11 nominations.
"Louis [Armstrong] never won a Grammy during his life," Schaap said in reaction to winning the award. "It's Louis' Grammy. He won this Grammy."
In addition to this award, Schaap won three Grammy's in 1996 for audio engineering, liner notes and production for the six-CD set, "Miles Davis and Gil Evans: The Complete Columbia Studios Recordings," two in 1993 for best historical album and liner notes for "The Complete Billie Holiday on Verve, 1945-1959" and one in 1989 for the liner notes in "Bird: The Complete Charlie Parker on Verve."
But Schaap remains humble about his accomplishments, downplaying the significance of the acclaim he has received.
"The Grammy's are not a terribly important thing," he said. "It's aesthetic, indeed. I think teaching jazz at Princeton is as rewarding. I would equal that to a Grammy."
Growing up in Queens, Schaap was a toddler when musicians migrated to the area and transformed its culture. Jazz was a striking influence on him from an early age.
Schaap's father was a scholar who translated jazz books from French into English. His mother was raised in a family of classical musicians but later "acted out by digging jazz" and became a Beatnik, according to Schaap. His parents met in the home of jazz photographer William Gottlieb while discussing Jess Stacy, a piano player for Benny Goodman.
His parents took him to his first jazz club when he was five, and at age six, Schaap bought his first 45s and 78s at Triboro Records in Jamaica, NY. But the greatest connection he had with the jazz community was through his curiosity about his neighbors.
"I would knock on their doors and talk with them," Schaap said. "It was a unique and unduplicable jazz education. They took me to their gigs. They told me stories, and I have a good memory, so I remembered their stories."
This interest engendered strong friendships with prominent 'jazzerati,' including Jo Jones — the drummer for Count Bassie's Orchestra, who has been hailed by some critics as the greatest jazz drummer ever.
Schaap was raised on jazz. And in his roles as disc jockey, lecturer and jazz pundit, he wows his audiences by sharing his love for and knowledge of the music he knows best.
In the classroom, Schaap generates intense enthusiasm, picking students to dance with him as a Duke Ellington album plays in the background, taking groups to clubs in New York and organizing interviews with jazz musicians for students' final projects.
"My [Junior Paper] topic was inspired by Phil Schaap's class," said Anne Kelsey '01, who wrote her paper about the Benny Goodman trio — for which Ted Wilson, a man she interviewed during the class, was a piano player.
Recently. Schaap appeared prominently in Ken Burns' PBS documentary, "Jazz." He also appeared on camera several times — a rare occurrence for a radio show host — during the sections about Benny Goodman, Charlie Parker and Louis Armstrong.
And as "Jazz" aimed to educate and perhaps revive an appreciation of the music, Schaap also hopes to increase awareness about jazz.
"I see jazz having troubles holding a significant percentage of the pop field," he said, noting a few rare successes. "When Wynton Marsalis gives a concert in Lincoln Center, it sells out. They hardly have to advertise anymore.
"I would be very happy if that level of recognition was solidified for jazz," he continued. "And I think education is vital."