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Bret remembers his close friend Walter Bishop, Jr., and offers a sampling of his piano artistry.
Walter Bishop Jr. (October 4, 1927 – January 24, 1998) was an American jazz pianist. Bishop was born in New York City on October 4, 1927. He had at least two sisters, Marian and Beverly. His father was composer Walter Bishop Sr. In his teens, Bishop Jr.’s friends included future jazz musicians Kenny Drew, Sonny Rollins, and Art Taylor. He was brought up in Harlem. He left high school to play in dance bands in the area. In 1945–47 he was in the Army Air Corps. During his military service in 1947 Bishop was based near St Louis and met touring bebop musicians.
Later in 1947, he returned to New York. That year (or 1949 he was part of drummer Art Blakey’s band for 14 weeks and recorded with them. Bishop developed his bebop playing in part by playing in jam sessions at Minton’s Playhouse.
He recorded with Milt Jackson and Stan Getz in 1949, then played with Charlie Parker (1951–54), Oscar Pettiford, Kai Winding, and Miles Davis (1951–53). At this time he was also a drug addict, which led to imprisonment and the withdrawal of his New York City Cabaret Card. In 1956, he recorded with Hank Mobley. “At some point he became a Muslim and took the name Ibrahim ibn Ismail, but he did not use this publicly.” In the early 1960s he also led his own trio with Jimmy Garrison and G. T. Hogan.
After studying at The Juilliard School with Hall Overton in the late 1960s, Bishop taught music theory at colleges in Los Angeles in the 1970s. At some point prior to moving from New York to Los Angeles, Bishop met and married the former Valerie Isabel Paul. They then moved to Los Angeles. Valerie Bishop worked as an assistant for Ike and Tina Turner in California. Valerie Bishop is the person who is cited in the Tina Turner memoir I, Tina as the person who inspired Tina Turner to pursue Buddhism.
In the 1980s Bishop taught at the University of Hartford. By this time, he made frequent appearances at clubs and festivals in New York. He also wrote a book, A Study in Fourths, about jazz improvisation based on cycles of fourths and fifths. His debut recording as a leader was in the 1960s. He continued performing into the 1990s.
Bishop died of a heart attack at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Manhattan on January 24, 1998. He was survived by his wife, Keiko, his mother, and two sisters.
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