Paul Knopf was known as "the Outcat" during the late '50s. The nickname dominated a set of recordings Knopf released in 1959, starting with the debut of The Outcat and further fanning out when The Outcat Comes Back, the latter put out by an imprint also entitled An Outcat. In between arrived the Enigma of a Day album, yet there was no enigma regarding where this particular artist was coming from, at least not in the minds of the jazz critical establishment. As depicted in newspaper articles about this artist that have run during his long career in New York City, Knopf was too classical for the jazz establishment and vice versa.
He found the whole thing so irritating that he turned to religion. Here, finally, was where Knopf dented the wall artists bash their heads against while trying to secure regular employment, in this case perhaps shouting "Sanctuary!" while going at it. The first of what would be a series of church commissions started in 1964 at Judson Memorial Church. These activities were innovative in combining the Christian service and jazz, the pianist going on to participate regularly in the resulting jazz vespers program at St. Peter's Lutheran Church. From 1985 through the late '90s "the Outcat" presided as the music director and composer-in-residence at Washington Square United Methodist Church in Greenwich Village.
In jazz lingo, a "cat" is not always just a guy, it can be one of the guys who plays hip music, as in "one of the cats." As for "out," that can be a good or bad thing depending on personal taste. Leonard Feather wrote in the '70s that Knopf "creates and performs in an eccentric and provocative style." Following a 1990 retrospective of Knopf's works at St. Peter's Church in New York City, another critic wrote that "Knopf's head is in the concert hall, but his heart belongs to jazz."
This artist grew up in a musical family in which both disciplines seemed to flourish. He began both piano -- which would develop into his main instrument -- and clarinet when only seven years old. During high school Knopf was reliably in the rhythm section of dance bands. After graduating it was his muse to, as Captain Beefheart puts it in a lyric, "go down to N'Orluns and get lost and found." This naturally involved a study of the Big Easy's difficult jazz piano and ragtime stylings, which Knopf continued to work with upon returning to the Big Apple while earning degrees from the Juilliard School of Music and New York University.
His compositions in the classical genre include a String Quartet, a composition for flute and piano entitled Polka and Can Can, and a pair of operas about John Wesley and Martin Luther, respectively. His music continues to be marked by a combination of jazz and conservatory elements, from the cello's walking bassline in the String Quartet to the manner in which the stage was organized at the aforementioned concert, a chamber group on one side of the stage and a jazz rhythm section on the other.