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Before & After: Lewis Porter

Deep scholarship meets pianistic know-how in this listening session

Lewis Porter
Lewis Porter (photo: Bill May)

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.

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Ashley Kahn

Ashley Kahn is a Grammy-winning American music historian, journalist, producer, and professor. He teaches at New York University’s Clive Davis Institute for Recorded Music, and has written books on two legendary recordings—Kind of Blue by Miles Davis and A Love Supreme by John Coltrane—as well as one book on a legendary record label: The House That Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records. He also co-authored the Carlos Santana autobiography The Universal Tone, and edited Rolling Stone: The Seventies, a 70-essay overview of that pivotal decade.