One of the best saxophonists involved in the crossover pop/jazz field, Art Porter was at the height of his popularity when he was killed in a boating accident in Thailand.
Porter, a native of Little Rock, Arkansas began his musical education at home, learning and practicing jazz standards under the instruction of his father Art Porter Sr. a renowned pianist and former accompanist for Carmen McCrae and John Stubblefield. Starting off on drums and become part of his father's band, Porter was drawn to the sax after noticing the melodic proficiency of his father and another band member, Leonard Johnson who was his high school band director. He decided to drop the drums and get into the harmonics of music. The saxophone intrigued him with it being so close to the human voice. Porter picked up the sax and found that he had a natural affinity with the instrument. When he was 16 and worked with his father's trio, he was barred from playing in clubs because he was under 21. The ensuing case led toArkansas State's Attorney General Bill Clinton pushing through a law allowing underage performers to work if a parent or guardian supervises.
At 18, Porter learned his most valuable musical lessons when he began touring with such jazz masters as organist Jack McDuff and saxophonist Pharoah Sanders. He matured as a player and learned how to interact with an audience. In between concerts, Porter continued his studies at the Berklee Conservatory of Music and at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he became a student of pianist/educator Ellis Marsalis.
In 1992, Porter came to Chicago on a scholarship to Northeastern Illinois University, finishing with a Bachelor of Arts degree. He went to study at Roosevelt University where he earned his Masters degree. In the Windy City, Porter was mentored by legendary tenor saxophonist Von Freeman and bassist James Leary.
When Porter was signed to Verve Forecast, he decided that instead of jumping on the then-current neoclassical jazz bandwagon, Porter decided to make his largely self-composed debut contemporary rather than bop-revisited in style.
Produced and engineered by keyboardist Jeff Lorber, "Pocket City"was immediately embraced by those who didn't want their smooth jazz "too smooth"in. the summer of 1992. The key tracks, the heart-melting ballad, "Inside Myself", a cover of Maxi Priest "Close To You" and funky hoppin' "Pocket City"(whose video was played on VH1 and BET) were played on both smooth jazz and a few urban stations. Porter was sent on a promotional and concert tour where he built up a reputation for being very amiable and giving a high-octane performance. Porter was a whirling wonder on stage, smiling like a Chesire cat, blowing his heart out running around the venue honking it up.
On Nov 23, 1996 while journeying to a remote part of Thailand to perform in a jazz festival, Porter was killed when the boat he was riding in capsized.
Beside his four Verve sets, "Pocket City", "Straight to the Point", "Undercover", "Lay Your Hands on Me", and posthumously-released "For Art's Sake", Art Porter appeared as a sideman on recordings by Jeff Lorber, Tom Grant and Ramsey Lewis and was infusing a hard bop sound sensibility to smooth jazz when he was killed.
© Ed Hogan, All-Music Guide