An Open Letter From Lewis Porter

Lewis Porter By

Sign in to view read count
This is a very belated response to Dr. C. O. Simpkins' critique, posted on AAJ in March 2003, of my book John Coltrane: His Life and Music (Univ of Michigan Press, 1998). As your readers may know, Dr. Simpkins, a physician, was the author of Coltrane: A Biography in 1975. His book, and one by J.C. Thomas, were the first Coltrane biographies to be published. For those of your readers who don't know me, I am a lifelong jazz educator and pianist, the author of a number of other books and many articles on jazz, and I am a Ph.D. musicologist teaching at Rutgers University in Newark, where I direct the world's only jazz history degree program, a Master's program.

I don't know why Dr. Simpkins states that he "would have been delighted to have been given the opportunity to assist" me. I called him on the phone April 20, 1997, specifically to ask if he could locate tapes of his interviews with persons who had since passed away. We had a pleasant conversation, during which he told me, very nicely, that he could not get to any of his original notes or tapes, which were packed away, so that he couldn't really be of help. We were in touch again when I requested his permission to reproduce in my book some of Coltrane's notebooks which he had obtained from Naima (these pages had never been analyzed), to which he graciously assented. (See my pages 137, 167, and 168.)

I finished the last additions to my book in August 1997 and it was published in January 1998. You can imagine my feelings when I learned a few months later that Dr. Simpkins had begun conducting a campaign on the internet to "discredit" my book and build his up! He wrote anonymously as "An Amazon.com customer," and wrote again anonymously at Barnes and Noble, but this time giving his email address. He wrote under his own name to Perfectsound.com and then of course he wrote more recently to AAJ.

The details of Dr. Simpkins' postings do not address the main issue. Yes, it is true that we differ on a number of points. My book differs from all previous Coltrane books on a number of points. I spoke with over 200 persons (including Walter Hoover, by the way), all clearly identified in the book. Furthermore, I did not rely alone on the memories of my interviewees; my points are supported by documentary evidence such as newspapers, census records, birth and death certificates, and music manuscripts.

The true bottom line here is this. I ask any reader of this site to look at both books, and consider: Can you possibly maintain that they are the same type of book in appearance, style, or content? Because Dr. Simpkins has spent his life in the medical field, while I have spent mine in jazz, and because he wrote his early in life as a medical student, while mine is the culmination of years of jazz writing, performing, and research, one could hardly expect his book to be the same kind that I would write. So, how and why could we possibly compete with each other? I maintain that his book is essential, and I said so in my preface. Meanwhile, my book carries endorsements on the back from Dan Morgenstern, Ravi Coltrane, and Jimmy Heath, and, if I may say so, it has been enthusiastically received among jazz musicians in general.

I look forward to continuing my good relationship with Dr. Simpkins in private.

Thank You,
Lewis Porter, PhD
Director, M.A. Program in Jazz History and Research
Rutgers University
Newark, NJ


More Articles

Read Chuck Berry: 1926-2017 Opinion Chuck Berry: 1926-2017
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: March 21, 2017
Read A giant of jazz journalism silenced Opinion A giant of jazz journalism silenced
by Jim Trageser
Published: January 8, 2017
Read Joe Cocker 1944-2014 Opinion Joe Cocker 1944-2014
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: December 25, 2014
Read "Chuck Berry: 1926-2017" Opinion Chuck Berry: 1926-2017
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: March 21, 2017
Read "A giant of jazz journalism silenced" Opinion A giant of jazz journalism silenced
by Jim Trageser
Published: January 8, 2017
Read "Nate Wooley Makes America Great Again" Multiple Reviews Nate Wooley Makes America Great Again
by Mark Corroto
Published: June 1, 2016
Read "April Jazz Festival in Espoo, Finland" Live Reviews April Jazz Festival in Espoo, Finland
by Anthony Shaw
Published: May 9, 2017
Read "The History of Rock & Roll, Volume 1: 1920-1965" Book Reviews The History of Rock & Roll, Volume 1: 1920-1965
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: February 11, 2017
Read "Barbara Dennerlein" Talking 2 Musicians Barbara Dennerlein
by Alan Bryson
Published: August 30, 2016
Read "Darius Jones, Mara Rosenbloom, Christian McBride, Tom Harrell & Leon Parker" Live From New York Darius Jones, Mara Rosenbloom, Christian McBride, Tom...
by Martin Longley
Published: July 15, 2016
Read "Whisper Not: The Autobiography Of Benny Golson" Book Reviews Whisper Not: The Autobiography Of Benny Golson
by Ian Patterson
Published: September 20, 2016
comments powered by Disqus

Why wait?

Support All About Jazz and we'll deliver exclusive content, hide ads, hide slide-outs, and provide read access to our future articles.

Buy it!