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George Howard & Art Porter, Jr. – Featured Smooth Jazz Artist Archives (2017)

George Howard & Art Porter, Jr. – Trailblazers Who Left Giant Fingerprints on Groove

George Howard (September 15, 1956 – March 20, 1998), an American soprano saxophonist whose polished fusion of funk, jazz and urban soul helped him to become one of the most popular contemporary jazz performers of the 80’s and 90’s. Since he concentrated on groove and overall sound instead of improvisation, Howard received much attention from jazz critics, but he retained a large audience throughout his prolific career.

Howard was born in Philadelphia. In the late 1970s, he began touring with the renowned late Grover Washington, Jr., who was one of his idols. In the early 1980s, Howard released his first studio albums, Asphalt Gardens and Steppin’ Out. Both albums were well received and ranked high on the Billboard magazine Jazz Album charts at number 25 and 9, respectively.

By 1985, Howard’s third album, Dancing in the Sun, had scaled the Billboard Jazz Album chart to number 1. Each of his next three albums, Love Will Follow, A Nice Place to Be, and Reflections would also top the Jazz Album chart. After the success of Dancing in the Sun, Howard left the label GRP Records to join MCA who issued his 1988 recording of Reflections. His next album Personal was released in 1989.

He returned to GRP Records in 1990 and released Love and Understanding in 1991. It was followed by Do I Ever Cross Your Mind? (1992), When Summer Comes (1993), A Home Far Away (1994), and Attitude Adjustment (1996). All of his GRP recordings were quite successful, confirming his place among the most popular contemporary jazz performers of the ’90s. His first five years with GRP, plus a selection of his MCA recordings, were summarized on 1997’s The Very Best of George Howard and Then Some.

Howard returned to recording with Midnight Mood, which was released in January 1998, his final album before he died unexpectedly in March 1998. A few months later, There’s a Riot Goin’ On, which was conceived as part of Blue Note’s cover series, was released posthumously (one month after his death) on April 21 by Blue Note Records. An artist who presented a rather serious, introspective approach to his music – especially in live performances where I was in attendance, Howard was extremely focused, his onstage approach sometimes resembling that of someone like Miles Davis, using his melodic and magnetic pied piper-like style to wow his audiences. — Steve Giachardi

Arthur Lee “Art” Porter Jr. (August 3, 1961 – November 23, 1996) was another standout American jazz saxophonist. Known for his energetic playing style at live gigs, he was the son of jazz musician Art Porter, Sr., as well as the namesake of “The Art Porter Bill,” which I will explain later here.

Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, Porter joined his father’s band (The Art Porter Trio) as a drummer at the age of 9 and played with them into his teen years. He was then drawn to the saxophone, after noticing its melodic abilities, and began to play it during shows with his father’s group.

in 1979, Porter graduated from Parkview Arts and Science Magnet High School in Little Rock where he played in the marching and jazz bands. When he turned 16, he began to be barred from clubs because he was under 21. It was during this time that he was arrested and charged with working under-age in a nightclub serving alcoholic beverages. Then Arkansas Attorney General, and future President of the United States Bill Clinton, who was also a saxophonist, intervened to get the charges dropped and pushed for the law to be changed to allow under-age musicians to appear in adult facilities as long as their legal guardians accompanied them. This law became known as “The Art Porter Bill.”

Porter attended Berklee College of Music and Northeastern Illinois University where he studied music, earning a bachelor’s degree in Arts in the latter. He later attended Roosevelt University, where he would earn his master’s degree. He studied piano under Ellis Marsalis, a former saxophonist himself.

In the mid-1980s, Porter moved to Chicago, IL, and studied tenor saxophone with Von Freeman and performed with Pharoah Sanders and Jack McDuff. During the 1990s, he developed an interest in R&B and hip hop and merged elements of these into his performances. Soon after this, Porter signed with Verve Forecast Records and PolyGram and produced several albums, beginning in the summer of 1992 with Pocket City, followed by Straight to the Point, Undercover, and finally Lay Your Hands on Me. Porter and his father performed for President Clinton during his 1993 inauguration, playing “Amazing Grace” at a prayer breakfast.

In 1996, Porter traveled to Thailand to appear at the Thailand International Jazz Festival. After the festival on November 23, he went boating on the Kratha Taek reservoir in Sai Yok. The boat Porter was traveling on started to sink, and Porter, along with several others, drowned. He was survived by his wife and two elementary school-aged sons. In 1998. The album For Art’s Sake was posthumously released in his honor. It is a compilation album composed of songs from Porter’s previous albums, as well as two previously unreleased songs. It also features one song by Jeff Lorber dedicated to Porter.

An electrifying live performer to behold, many have come to realize the importance and magnitude of pouring out one’s soul and interacting with the audience the way Porter did. –Steve Giachardi

Click here for George Howard’s full discography and here for Art Porter Jr.’s discography.