Walter Bishop, Jr.
Walter Bishop, Jr.

Walter Bishop, Jr.

About Walter Bishop, Jr.

When a man names his son after himself and affixes a "junior" at the end, the act is often done for a noble purpose, mainly to help discographers who are buried under mounds of information. Arbitrarily removing the "junior" from, say, the name of bebop pianist Walter Bishop Jr., and one is obviously left with just plain old "Walter Bishop," and that is the way his credit reads on a stack of Charlie Parker albums that is tall enough to block a lighthouse beam. The fellow who regarded himself as the real Walter Bishop was probably pleased, despite the resulting misidentification. After all, the pianist was his son, and the man sometimes known as Walter Bishop Sr. had introduced the tyke to jazz early on, watching him grow up amidst the likes of teenage friends such as tenor titan Sonny Rollins, piano prodigy Kenny Drew, and drum disciple Art Taylor. The resulting music, known as bebop, might not have been what dad had in mind, however.
Bishop Sr. was an old-school swing drummer and songwriter most active in the '20s and '30s. He didn't seem to have that much impact behind the drum set, but did cut sides with the bands of Jabbo Smith and Alex Hill. As a composer his most famous number is "Swing, Brother Swing," an anthem not only in the era when the swing style was an original novelty, but in several different swing revival epochs as well. Joe Jackson is among the contemporary performers who has covered the song, in his case during an attempt to introduce swing music during the height of the '80s new wave era. The older Bishop was Jamaican by birth and raising, and the music of his homeland was just as strong an influence as the various jazz currents in Harlem. He wrote many clever calypso-flavored numbers which have continued to have appeal. Singer Vanessa Rubin recorded Bishop Sr.'s "Sex Is a Misdemeanor" in 2001. Back when the tune was written, the songwriter enjoyed great popularity as well as the company of friends such as Fats Waller and Eubie Blake. The family lived in Harlem's Sugar Hill neighborhood, and taking up almost permanent residence in the Bishop house was what has sometimes been described as "a clique of musicians." The sun in this musical and social universe was Bishop Sr., especially when he could get his pal Waller to drop by. Eventually some form of an arm-wrestling contest could be imagined between father and son concerning their respective discographies. Whereas the keyboard tinkling Walter Bishop Jr. managed to play on nearly ten percent of every bebop record ever made, "Swing, Brother Swing!" shows up on oodles of Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald records; and the old man also wrote amusing numbers, alone and with co-writers, for Louis Jordan and his rollicking band. Best known is the morbid "Jack, You're Dead!," but Jordan also recorded Bishop Sr.'s "Penthouse in the Basement" and "Boogie Woogie Comes to Town." ~ Eugene Chadbourne

  • HOMETOWN
    New York, NY
  • BORN
    April 10, 1927