Delving into the story of the American pianist and composer Phil Raphaël reveals more questions than answers. He was born in New York where he played with Charlie Parker, Jon Eardley and Howard McGhee, but a 1951 recording with Red Rodney for Prestige Records is the single remaining trace of his bebop days.
Raphaël appeared under unknown circumstances in Belgium in the 1960s, playing among others at the 1966 Jazz Bilzen festival, and he eventually settled in Brussels.
A multifaceted musician, he did not limit himself to jazz and also worked in pop groups, directed the music for the spectacle Hair, and even had a brief residency at Pol’s Jazz Club where he played the music of Johann Sebastian Bach four nights per week.
Raphaël’s passage through the Belgian nightlife was just as mysterious as his music, and few people seem to remember him. Drummer Bruno Castellucci describes him as remarkable, both as a musician and as a person: “He was a hippie before there were hippies. He wasn’t part of the system but he had a system of his own”.