Hanging with Lewis Porter brings an exciting promise of discovery—some unknown fact about a jazz hero or some new insight into an historic recording. It should be that way, given his reputation as a researcher with few equals: author of the definitive John Coltrane biography (John Coltrane: His Life and Music, 1998) as well as well-read titles on Lester Young and jazz history in general, and initiator of the first master’s program in jazz history at Rutgers University. He has also been moderator of Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Talk series, and now produces the well-named Deep Dive blog for WBGO’s website, each entry a veritable detective story full of intrigue and information.
That Porter’s accomplishments would overshadow his first love—performing music—is both a compliment and unsurprising. But that’s changing, according to Porter. “These days, more and more, cats identify me as a player,” he says, adding drily, “And when they play with me they go crazy. I don’t know why. I guess I’m doing something right.” His irreverent, self-deprecating sense of humor—in lectures and conversation he comes across as a hip, updated Groucho Marx—is another point of distinction colleagues and students can confirm.