Jazz Historian Lewis Porter on His Final Deep Dive, and His Plans as a Pianist and Educator

Nov 20, 2020

Jazz historian, pianist and retired Rutgers-Newark Professor of Music Dr. Lewis Porter plans to spend more time on his own music these days.

With that goal in mind, Dr. Porter gave his final Deep Dive analysis for WBGO this week, an in-depth analysis of John Coltrane's riveting instrumental "Alabama," which was the saxophonist's reaction to the horrific 1963 bombing of a church in Birmingham.

Dr. Porter spent more than four decades in the educational sector but the administrative duties associated with being a full-time professor became draining for him. As he reflects in our interview for the WBGO Journal, he will always love teaching, especially his Jazz History program.

"I always said that what I was really doing was teaching critical thinking, with jazz as the example or as the platform for teaching it," he says. "I must say, the most satisfying thing to this day is to run into a former student — even someone who just took a couple of semester with me like [trumpeter] Sean Jones or [drummer] Chris Beck — and to have them say, 'I'm still reading books and finding things of interest based on things you inspired me to look into.' Every semester there would be a few evaluations that said 'This course has not only taught me about jazz, it's taught me how to think and it's changed my outlook on life.'"

During the pandemic, Dr. Porter had to cancel 16 concerts in April and May, but he was able to release his latest album, Transcendent (Sunnyside), a collaboration with guitarist Ray Suhy. "That album has got some great reviews," Dr. Porter says. "Some people may say this is a different direction for me. It's kind of rock-oriented and the guitar player, he plays with Cannabis Corpse and Six Feet Under, really hardcore rock bands. One of the great things about it is that he really can play. He's a terrific musician and is just a great guy. I brought in my first-call rhythm section of Brad Jones and Rudy Royston, so the combination just seems to work. We have a ball playing together."

Lewis Porter on Morning Jazz with Gary Walker, in March 2019.
Credit Chris Tobin / WBGO

The author of two books on John Coltrane and two on Lester Young, Dr. Porter says he has enjoyed producing Deep Dive for WBGO, and knows his relationship with the station will continue in other ways. "It's been a terrific association, and I'm sure we'll continued to be associated," he says. "One thing that speaks very well for the station is the length of time that people stay there. Our friend Gary Walker was awfully nice when my solo piano album came out just last year. He invited me over and I gave a solo piano concert. A great group of people, and it's so important to keep the music going."

You can see the uncut video version of my conversation with Dr. Porter here. For more information about his scholarship and his music, visit lewisporter.com.