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Historian Taking A 'Deep Dive' Into Jazz With WBGO

Bill May

Dr. Lewis Porter has been busy since penning the biography John Coltrane:  His Life and Music.  Porter, an author, musician, and educator is bringing his extensive knowledge and insight to a new project. 

“What I have are a number of short lessons about individual jazz performers, certain jazz techniques, the origins of be-bop is one of them.”

The first “Deep Dive with Lewis Porter” takes a look at pianist Art Tatum.

“The crazy thing is that even people who feel they ‘get’ Tatum, in my judgement don’t really get Tatum.  They get that he plays fast, they get that he plays beautifully, but what they don’t get is that he was so experimental, I feel like saying he was an avant-garde performer.  In order to hear that you have to listen to a lot of Tatum and listen very closely.  He was very career minded.  It’s as though Tatum were to say ‘I don’t want to be known as the guy who does the wild and crazy stuff.”

Porter makes his case with music from the artists.

“What he’s [Tatum] doing is playing in two keys at once, he’s using incredibly jarring dissonances, he’s using chords behind familiar melodies that are so striking and dissonant that it’s really just beyond belief.”

Dr. Porter says quite a few 'Deep Dives' are already planned for the upcoming months.

“I’ve also got stuff about Louis Armstrong that’s never been published.  I’ve got stuff about Coltrane that I’ve learned since my Coltrane books came out so this is new information.  Stuff about techniques, a whole page about the slap tonguing technique on the saxophone which is something they used to do really in the 20’s.  Some people were really virtuosos with it.”

You can find the first ‘Deep Dive' with Lewis Porter here.

“I hope people find this series interesting and I hope they come to it with an open mind.  In a number of cases if you accept my evidence, a lot of it from recordings, it may not only change but reverse what you thought or think about jazz.”