Even though he has been gone nearly 20 years I have not forgotten the brief but bright jazz legacy of Art Porter Jr.
Art Porter Jr. was actually born in Little Rock Arkansas and was the son of jazz musician Art Porter Sr. Interestingly enough former President Bill Clinton was a fan of the father and son duo. And when Art Porter Jr. wasn’t allowed in clubs to play with his dad, then Governor Clinton signed into a law legislation that did.
Art Porter Jr’s Chicago connection is education, he came here for his undergraduate degree at Northeastern Illinois University and then did some graduate work at Roosevelt University.
But for many of us who were in college in the mid 1990’s Art Porter Jr’s saxophone jazz was part of our college soundtrack.
Man when his debut album Pocket City (pictured), came out in 1992, there was a definite buzz about it. WNUA (95.5 FM), was the local smooth jazz station at the time and they kept it in heavy rotation and always spoke about Art and his young son Art or as he called him L. A. for Little Art. Also made a great song of the same title.
Even though I bought the CD a couple of years later when I was studying at DePaul University (and we had our own smooth jazz star in Brian Culbertson), but people were still playing it including WKKC (89.3 FM), which is the station for Kennedy King College on the south side. Art’s songs were a fixture on their Sunday night jazz show that I did my homework to.
Art did some side horn work on a beautiful slow jam for Lalah Hathaway (the late r&b legend Donny’s daughter), titled “One More Chance”. But Art wasn’t just the routine sax man providing riffs on an R&B song, he put his foot into it especially when Lalah lets him solo out ¾ through the song, it’s simply sultry.
Same goes for the last new song I bought for Art which is a ballad called “October Rain”, aptly titled for this time of year its chill like the season. Not as upfront or even heavy handed as some of his earlier work but still excellent music with precise tone and not too soft.
The most remarkable thing about Art Porter Jr. is he came on the smooth jazz scene in its height of popularity and there was plethora of excellent music out at that time and he still stood out. Art’s music was definitely smooth (but still had an edge), proved to be very popular and radio friendly (though not overly commercial) but a testament to his musicianship is that it still sounds good today when some of his contemporaries tunes have not aged well.
Art was on tour in Thailand in 1996 behind his latest album and was on a boat tour when the vessel capsized and the story goes that Art perished trying to save others on the excursion.
I was devastated when WNUA broke the news of his passing, here was a cat who had broken on to the jazz scene and in a few short years not only got near the top of the genre but stayed there. His work showed so much promise but we still have it to enjoy today.
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Filed under: Chicago