When selecting an example of classic smooth jazz for someone new to the genre there could be no finer choice than the track ‘Wishful Thinking’ by Art Porter. It comes from his 1996 album ‘Lay Your Hands On Me’.
Had it not been for his untimely death in November of 1996 Art Porter would certainly have been up there in the highest echelon of today’s smooth jazz stars. Ideal for those of us who prefer our smooth jazz not to be too smooth, Art Porters hallmark thrusting sax is perfectly demonstrated on ‘Wishful Thinking’.
For Art Porter, musical development began at home in Little Rock, AR with his father Art Porter Snr, an accomplished pianist who played professionally and had accompanied both Carmen McCrae and John Stubblefield. Becoming part of his father's band, and trying out several instruments before finally settling on sax, Porter, at age 16, encountered some problems. Being under 21 he was barred from playing in clubs. A law suite resulted and, as a consequence, legislation was passed that allowed under-age performers to work if supervised by a parent or guardian. The Arkansas State Attorney General responsible for this victory for Porter, and for all young musicians that followed him, was no other than that saxophone playing President to be, Bill Clinton.
His musical education continued at a pace. Porter combined studies at the Berklee Conservatory of Music and at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he became a student of pianist and educator Ellis Marsalis, with a busy tour schedule that included work with organist Jack McDuff and saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders. He gained a Bachelor of Arts degree on a scholarship at North Eastern Illinois University and went on to study at Roosevelt University where he obtained his Master's degree. It was while in Chicago that he caught the eye of legendary tenor saxophonist Von Freeman and bassist James Leary who began to take an interest in him.
All of Porters musical influences thus far were brought together for his first album release, ‘Pocket City’, in 1992. It was produced and engineered by Jeff Lorber and immediately gained both critical acclaim and radio play on smooth jazz and urban stations.
‘Lay Your Hands On Me’, the CD from which ‘Wishful Thinking’ is taken, was Porters fourth album release and came only months before he died in a boating accident. He had been journeying to a remote part of Thailand where he was booked to perform in a jazz festival when the boat in which he was riding capsized.
‘Wishful Thinking’ is a terrific example of smooth jazz with an edge. It just oozes Porters full rich playing and is underpinned by subtle backing vocals. A mid tempo number that in the hands of a lesser player could have been bland, ‘Wishful Thinking’ is made into an absolute winner by some top notch production and Porters irrepressible groove. It can be also found on the outstanding 1996 compilation from Beachwood, ‘JazzFusions Four’ and is a track worth searching for.
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