There was a time when Jazz became watered down and very generic in the late 80’s and early 90’s. This music was aptly labeled Smooth Jazz and sold to the masses. The music found its way into elevators, doctors offices, The Weather Channel and in the homes of every white middle aged middle class American. Kenny G was the most notable and the man everyone thinks of when the topic of smooth jazz comes up.
In the midst of this watered down garbage there were still plenty of solid cats who straight up shredded on their instruments within this format. Art Porter was one of these men. The cat burned on both the alto and soprano saxophones. Unfortunately due to an untimely death courtesy of a boating accent he was taken from us way before his peak as a player. I only discovered his music in 1998 when the album “For Art’s Sake” was released, a posthumous compilation of some of his unreleased tracks and live performances.
My mind was blown by his ability on the Saxophone and my heart saddened that I would never get the opportunity to see him play live. Like me Porter also spent time at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Most jazz guys are always the first to discredit smooth jazz saying that it is a travesty to the art form. Then I will always reference people such as Porter or Grover Washington Jr, David Sandborn, etc. who managed to still play to the best of their ability in the format.
Whenever I have a live performance or am going into the studio to blow over something more contemporary, but leaves me room to get on the wild side I always listen to a bit of Porter for inspiration. The song I really wanted to share with you guys was a tune called “Lay Your Hands On Me” an 11 minute live version from the North Sea Jazz Festival in 1996. I would say his playing on that tune in that performance is nothing short of all time. I was unable to find an embed-able version. I settled for this version of “Straight to the Point from the same concert and also a very cool Art Porter song.
In this performance he utilizes sheets of sound a jazz technique originally used by pianists and guitarists where multiple layers of notes are played simultaneously to give a sense of a wall of sound and creating the illusion that more then one instrument is being played at one time. The technique was later popularized on the sax by John Coltrane on his rendition of “My Favorite Things”. It is a skill I managed to pick up in high school and pissed off many of the traditionalist jazz guy because of it. Porter also plays two horns at once towards the end of the tune as well. I hope you enjoyed it.
I though I would leave you with one more, my favorite Art Porter tune, “Inside Myself”. It is a very commercial version but you can still here how bad ass a player he is.