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Walter Bishop, Jr.
Walter Bishop, Jr.
Jan. 24, 1998

Age 70



Walter Bishop, 70, Jazz Pianist


               NEW YORK -- Walter Bishop Jr., a jazz pianist who recorded with Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and others, died on Saturday at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Manhattan. He was 70 and lived in Manhattan.  

          The cause was a heart attack, said his sister, Marian Jeffries.  

          Bishop was raised in lower Harlem; his father, Walter Bishop Sr., was a popular songwriter who was friends with Fats Waller, Eubie Blake and other entertainers. As a teen-ager, Bishop grew up in a clique of musicians centered on Harlem's Sugar Hill neighborhood, which included pianist Kenny Drew, saxophonist Sonny Rollins and drummer Art Taylor. He dropped out of high school and joined a band that played in Harlem dance halls.  

          He spent two years in the Army Air Corps and was back in Manhattan in 1947. He gravitated to Minton's, where the Monday night jam sessions provided opportunities for young Harlem musicians to learn the sophisticated language of be-bop.  

          Pianist Bud Powell took a powerful hold on his imagination with a terse, punching style of accompaniment behind other musicians and his flowing, tenacious lines over borrowed chord changes. Bishop's playing would always reflect Powell's influence; later, he would become particularly known for holding back on the beat, a device that added tension to the music.  

          He joined drummer Art Blakey's 17 Messengers, a big band that soon splintered; Bishop made his first recording, in 1949, with Blakey's quartet. He also played with saxophonist Eddie Davis during this period, and recorded with Stan Getz and Wild Bill Moore.  

          The young Bishop was eager to play with Parker, and when Parker's steady- working quintet disbanded in 1951, Bishop was one of the musicians he often used until Parker's death in 1955.  

          Bishop weaved in and out of music as a full-time career during the 1950s, making recordings with Miles Davis, Oscar Pettiford and Kai Winding, among others.  

          It wasn't until the 1960s that Bishop started making recordings under his own name. He studied with the composer Hall Overton at Juilliard toward the end of the 1960s, and in the 1980s, he taught at the University of Hartford and became a common presence in New York's jazz clubs and festivals.  

          He developed a late interest in writing his memories in verse, and he was known to recite rhyming poems on the bandstand about his lessons and experiences in jazz.  

          Bishop is survived by his wife, Keiko; his mother, Enid Bishop of Manhattan, and two sisters, Ms. Jeffries of Long Island City, N.Y., and Beverly Freeman of West Hempstead, N.Y.  

Copyright 1998 The New York Times Company
   Walter Bishop, Jr.: Oct. 4, 1927 - January 24, 1998
by Bret Primack
    Walter Bishop, Jr., a pianist, composer and educator who played and recorded with Charlie Parker, Art Blakey, Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis and Jackie McLean, as well as leading his own groups, died on Saturday, January 24th after a long battle with cancer. He was 70. 

                  Born in N Y on October 4, 1927, Bishop's father  
                  was a songwriter and colleague of Fats Waller 
                  and he encouraged his son to play the piano  
                  at an early age. By the time he was a teenager,  
                  Bishop was a regular at Harlem's Minton's  
                  Playhouse where nightly jam sessions, which  
                  included Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and  
                  Thelonious Monk, were the proving grounds for a  
                  new jazz genre, bebop. Bishop soon joined the  
                  sessions and became a full-fledged bebopper,  
                  along with his neighborhood buddies Sonny Rollins  
                  and Jackie McLean.  

                  A disciple of Bud Powell, Bishop played in Art  
                  Blakey's first Jazz Messengers, a seventeen piece  
                  big band that performed in New York in the late 40s  
                  but really jumped into the limelight when he joined  
                  Charlie Parker in 1951. Bishop played and recorded  
                  with Bird until his untimely death in 1955, on  
                  Parker's later Verve sessions as well with Bird's  
                  Quintet and Bird with Strings.  

                  During the 50s, Bishop also worked with Miles  
                  Davis, recording with the trumpeter on the seminal  
                  1951 Dig session, which included McLean, Rollins,  
                  and Blakey. And in 1953, he returned to the studio  
                  with Miles and Rollins for a date that featured  
                  Charlie Parker on tenor and produced "Serpent's  

                  Featured as the pianist with the popular Monday  
                  night jam sessions at Birdland in the late 50s,  
                  Bishop formed his own group in 1960, with bassist  
                  Jimmy Garrison who would later become a member  
                  of the John Coltrane Quartet. During the period,  
                  Bishop also played and recorded with Oscar  
                  Pettiford, Jackie McLean, Paul Gonzalves, Curtis  
                  Fuller, Paul Gonzalves, and Terry Gibbs.  

                  In the late 60s, he moved at LA where he played  
                  with Supersax and Blue Mitchell, as well as  
                  studying with Lyle Spud Murphy and recording for  
                  the Black Jazz label. Returning to New York in  
                  1974, he studied with Hall Overton at Julliard and  
                  then formulated his own harmonic theory, A Study  
                  in Fourths. In the 70s, he worked with Clark Terry's  
                  big band and Quintet, Junior Cook and Bill  
                  Hardman's Quintet, and also led his own group,  
                  which included two of his discoveries, bassist  
                  Marcus Miller and drummer Kenny Washington.  

                  In the 80s, with the help of his lifelong friend Jackie  
                  McLean, he started teaching at the University of  
                  Hartford. Bishop also discovered a talent for poetry  
                  and began to incorporate his witty, insightful poems  
                  ("Max the Invincible Roach," "Thelonious and the  
                  Keyboard Bugs") into his performances. In his last  
                  decade, he regularly toured Europe and Japan and  
                  also put together a revised Bird with Strings  
                  ensemble which included South African alto  
                  saxophonist Harold Jefta playing transcriptions of  
                  Parker's solos. The group played at last year's  
                  Charlie Parker Memorial Festival in New York's  
                  Tompkins Square Park.  

                  Walter Francis Bishop, Jr. leaves his wife, Keiko,  
                  his mother, Mrs. Walter Bishop of New York, and  
                  two sisters, Marion and Beverly.  

                      Selected Walter Bishop, Jr. Discography 
                      with Charlie Parker:  
                      The Cole Porter Songbook, Swedish Schnapps  

                      with Miles Davis:  
                      Dig!, Miles Davis and the Jazz Giants,  
                      Collector's Items  

                      with Jackie McLean:  
                      Capuchin Swing, Swing Swang Swung  

                      with Ken McIntrye/Eric Dolphy:  
                      Looking Ahead  

                      as leader:  
                      The Walter Bishop, Jr. Trio/1965  
                      What's New  
                      Midnight Blue

copyright 1998 N2K Inc. copied from  Jazz Central Station 


Bishop began playing piano as a child, encouraged by his father, a Jamaican songwriter whose Swing, Brother, Swing was recorded by, among others, Billie Holiday with Count Basie. During the '40s Bishop's musical direction was dictated by his interest in the work of Bud Powell and he played with numerous small groups, including those led by Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Oscar Pettiford. A period of drug addiction interrupted Bishop's career in the '50s, but the following decade proved successful both musically and in terms of conquering his habit. He worked with Curtis Fuller and also led his own small groups, with which he recorded. He resumed his musical studies too, and after relocating in Los Angeles at the end of the '60s he took up teaching. In the late '70s he was back on the east coast, playing and teaching. Rarely performing outside the New York area, and with only a few recordings that fully demonstrate his skills, Bishop remains largely unknown to the wider jazz audience, despite being held in high regard by his fellow musicians. He is the author of a book on jazz theory. 
Music Central '96



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