Walter Bishop, Jr. ( pianist ) was born on April 10, 1927 in New York City and passed away on January 24, 1998 at the age of 70 in Manhattan.
Bishop was raised in lower Harlem, his father – Walter Bishop Sr, was a popular 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 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.
Bishop spent two years in the Army Air Corps and was back in Manhattan in 1947. He 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 Tooth.”
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 Bishop Jr., a jazz pianist who recorded with Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and others, died at the age of 70 at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Manhattan of a heart attack.