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John LaPorta With Byrd and Clarke


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John LaPorta
John LaPorta had a beautiful tone on the alto saxophone. It was warm and bluesy, and could go anywhere on a solo and sound spot on. It was “in the pocket," as they say. There was a lot of Charlie Parker in his sound, but with less urgency and impatience. Born in Philadelphia, he was something of a clarinet prodigy, playing with local bands at ages 10 and 13, and studied music at school with fellow clarinetist Buddy DeFranco. There also were teenage gigs with tenor saxophonist Charlie Ventura and trombonist Bill Harris. His first big break was in 1942 as the lead alto on Bob Chester's band. Next came Woody Herman in 1944, recording on the entirety of the bandleader's Columbia years. 

Lessons with Lennie Tristano began in New York in 1948 during the second American Federation of Musicians' recording ban. He also began teaching and became an advocate for the fusion of jazz and classical. LaPorta was such a strong jazz player that he was the clarinetist on the 1951 and 1953 Metronome All Stars sessions. In 1954 he led a quintet that recorded for Debut Records and was part of Charles Mingus's Jazz Composers Workshop sextet. Additional recordings were made for Debut and with Philadelphia's Sandole Brothers Octet.

In January 1956, he recorded on a session led by trumpeter Donald Byrd and, in February, on a session led by drummer Kenny Clarke. The former was for Byrd's The Jazz Message and the latter was for Clarke's Klook's Clique. Both dates were for Savoy Records. The only change in personnel on these two sessions was the pianist. Horace Silver was on the Byrd recordings while Ronnie Ball was on the Clarke-led date. 

Now, these precious recordings have been bundled together on The Jazz Message of John LaPorta (Fresh Sound). LaPorta and Byrd are in perfect sync throughout. Byrd plays with a taut sensuality and LaPorta with a yearning, dry tone. Clarke makes great use of his brushes on ballads and his figures with sticks are present but never overshadowing. Each track is so pretty and perfectly executed, which speaks to the artistic partnership and musicianship of the group.

John LaPorta taught at Parkway Music School in Philadelphia, at public schools on Long Island and then at the Manhattan School of Music in New York and Boston's Berklee College of Music, recording into the early 2000s.

He died in 2004.

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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