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Playing It by Ear by John LaPorta

Though best known for his activities as a pioneering jazz educator at Berklee, John LaPorta was for years before that an important figure in jazz’s avant-garde. In addition to cutting albums of his own, LaPorta appeared as a sideman for and in co-op groups with Lennie Tristano, the Sandole Brothers, the Metronome All Stars, Kenny Clarke, Thad Jones and Charles Mingus. He is a fine and original saxophonist and one of the few gifted and unique jazz clarinetists to emerge in the late 1940s and ’50s. And he’s a visionary composer as well, whose early chart “Non-Alcoholic” was cut by Woody Herman’s great First Herd. LaPorta’s seen and been involved in a lot of jazz history, as this information-packed autobiography demonstrates.

LaPorta’s modern, classically influenced writing and playing led me to believe that he’d had a fine musical education as a young guy. In fact, this wasn’t the case. LaPorta, born in Philadelphia in 1920, was already a professional musician in his teens and learned a lot of what he knows about music from on-the-job experience as well as independent study, although he later received a master’s from the Manhattan School of Music.

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