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Getting House: Bob Porter on the Alternative History and Living Legacy of 'Soul Jazz'

Bob Porter at WBGO
Paul Wexler

"Jazz has been described any number of times as the great American art form," writes Bob Porter in the introduction to Soul Jazz: Jazz in the Black Community 1945-1975. "It is certainly that," he goes on, "but it is also a way to make a living."

That no-nonsense setup swings open the gate to a book grounded in authority and filled with firsthand insight. As a record producer, Bob Porter has had a hand in more than 200 albums, including classics for Prestige and core reissues on Atlantic and Savoy. As a broadcaster, Bob goes back to Day One at Newark Public Radio, otherwise known as WBGO. After starting out with The Weekend Warrior, he conceived Portraits in Blue, which celebrates its 40th anniversary on the air this year.

Here at Jazz United we often talk about how our music thrives in the spaces that fall outside a discography or critical orthodoxy. So as we embark on Jazz Appreciation Month, we thought it only fitting to show our appreciation for a colleague and elder who has helped shape that legacy, and then continued to illuminate it.

The core of this episode is an interview Bob did with Nate Chinen in the studio at WBGO on Sept. 27, 2017. Soul Jazz was the topic at hand, and it yielded a far-ranging discussion, touching on the influence of evolving recording technologies; the social framework behind critical bias; and the ways in which some artists, like guitarist Grant Green, found their greatest success in the afterlife.

This episode of Jazz United was produced by Simon Rentner with help from Katie Simon.

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Greg Bryant has been a longtime curator of improvisational music. At the age of 3 in his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, he was borrowing his father’s records and spinning them on his Fisher Price turntable. Taking in diverse sounds of artistry from Miles Davis, Les McCann, James Brown, Weather Report and Jimi Hendrix gave shape to Greg's musical foundation and started him on a path of nonstop exploration.
A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, Nate Chinen is editorial director at WBGO and a regular contributor to NPR Music.