I remember a limpid spring day in 1966, when I first heard Charlie "The Bird" Parker--in PERSON. Hundreds of us Chapel Hill undergrads and grad students were sitting on the verdant ground of the Old Quad at UNC-CH . The Cherry trees were blooming and we were a bit high on the delights of lilacs, spring grass, young love and the lilting tones of "The Bird."
1966 was also a year bringing amazing political speakers to Chapel Hill. Some were not allowed on campus, but they spoke through megaphones while perched on step ladders planted on the public sidewalk that paralled the campus.
We were stirred to action on many issues. I marched down the middle of Franklin Street (Chapel Hill's main street that paralleled the old campus) for increased civil rights.
Mine was the first university class that had admitted women and minority students to the university as full-time on-campus students since 1789.
Now some 40 plus years later it is really hard to grasp the revolutionary nature of that time. It is hard to apprehend just how ordinary it was to go to your local doctor, one of my hometown secondary school friend's dad, and sit in the White Waiting Room. Yes, indeedie it was clearly labeled such. And the other much smaller waiting room was labeled "Colored Waiting Room."
Sometimes I had a fleeting moment of empathy for the administration--thinking surely they regretted their decision to admit us. But then given that Brown vs. The Board of Ed ending segrated schools, had been ruled in the late 50's, it was certainly time for UNC-CH to get with the 20th century!
We also marched and rallied to end the Vietnam War.
We were a noisy and agitating group.
But that afternoon we were peaceful and drowsy with spring and with Charlie Parker's soaring notes.
It was beautiful..... Our heart's took flight with The Bird's artistry.
Tune into WKCR, Phil Schaap's weekday morning program that honors Charlie Parker and other jazz musicians who have added such sonorous beauty to American life--liftng our hearts and helping us fly with them even when as a nation we have struggled with our rivening social issues.
Thinking about Charlie Parker, Every Day Author, David Remnick, profiles Phil Schaap in "Bird's Flights."
The current issue of the New Yorker (May 19; p. 58) profiles Phil Schaap, who has hosted the jazz program “Bird Flight,” on Columbia University’s radio station, WKCR, every weekday morning for the past twenty-seven years. “There is no person in America more dedicated to any art form than Phil is to jazz,” Stanley Crouch tells Remnick. A “master of history, hierarchies, personalities, anecdote, relics, dates, and events,” Schaap taught himself about jazz by hanging around with many of the great musicians of the twentieth century, and “has provided an invaluable service to a dwindling art form” through his radio show, compilations, and lectures. While his obsessive attention to the minutiae of jazz blurs “the line between exhaustive and exhausting.”
“Phil is a walking history book about jazz,” Frank Foster, a tenor-sax player for the Basie Orchestra, tells Remnick, and Wynton Marsalis calls him “an American classic.” “Sometimes,” Schaap tells Remnick, “I think I know more about what Dizzy Gillespie was thinking in 1945 than I do what I was thinking in 1967 or last week.”
In addition to keeping jazz alive in his radio show, Schaap has provided aging musicians with performance venues and has restored rare recordings, such as Charlie Parker’s “Benedetti recordings,” which, he tells Remnick, “increased the volume of live improvisations of a great artist by a third.” His goal, Remnick writes, is to develop “knowledgeable and passionate listeners.”
Schaap tells Remnick, “I’m not trying to teach you to play the alto sax. No. I’m trying to get you to learn how to listen to Charlie Parker.”