Composer and trumpet player Charlie Porter has a new CD out that’s inspired by the ordeal we’ve all gone through in the past year and, despite difficult obstacles and seemingly impossible odds, this new body of work manages to have come out shining with hope and optimism. An abundance of tracks and so many creative minds and instruments have meshed masterfully here…there’s no choice but to listen and feel a sigh of relief.
The title track “Hindsight” might be mystical and charming with tension rolling like shimmering cymbals and Porter’s trumpet slicing through the haze, while a muscular bass sets a funky stage in the hook-infused “Going Viral.” Sober, somber and lyrical, “Requiem” is sad and pretty; and complex rhythms pulse, shimmy and race their way through “Things Fall Apart.” Ingenuity plus a stellar ensemble of artists have produced a beautiful diversity.
Why did you first pick up the trumpet?
When given the choice of football or playing a musical instrument, the clear choice was an instrument, given that I was a pretty scrawny 13-year-old whose interest at the time was more in visual arts than sports. I wanted to play the drums or saxophone (like every other kid) but my grandmother, who was a huge fan of Pops, “Sweets” Edison, Clark Terry, Bunny Berrigan, Harry James, and many others was pretty adamant that I should play the trumpet. Being that it was also a less expensive instrument to rent, it was the clear choice, further cemented that year when she took me to see my first live show…a guy named Wynton Marsalis!
How do you feel it is an extension of your voice/your personality?
I feel that with my writing and the art of improvising, my ideas are the main extension of my personality. The pen and the horn are vehicles to turn them into sounds. As an improviser, I try not to let the physical limitations of my instrument or those self-imposed by thoughts of what music should be inhibit the musical ideas I want to express. I view making music as a form of conversation in which you are in an exchange of ideas with the listener and the other musicians. I try to focus on the dialogue. When I can do this, my personality is better revealed. I believe this is a struggle for all musicians.
What is your feeling about the use of vibrato for horn?
Vibrato, just like dynamics, various articulations, note-bending, etc., is a way to create tension. All music (all art) depends on the balance of tension and release. Using vibrato and then not using it creates a sense of tension and release, similar to playing a lot of notes and then using space. Some musicians use a stock vibrato that doesn’t change, but the best ones have a whole arsenal of different types of vibrato, including using none, to get their ideas across the best.
Which artists have you found to be the most influential for you?
To name a few, the great jazz trumpeters like Louis Armstrong, Clifford Brown, Fats Navarro, Clark Terry, Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Wynton Marsalis, and many others. The great classical trumpeters such as Maurice Andre, Wynton (again), Bud Herseth and Sergei Nakariakov. Great composers (jazz, classical and other music): Ellington, Stravinsky, Monk, Prokofiev, Zappa, Strayhorn, Mingus, Wynton (again) to name a few. Because he is listed in all the aforementioned categories, and because he not only started me on my journey but I also moved to New York to study with him, I’d say that he’s definitely been the most influential, for sure. He does it all, he does it exceptionally well and he also finds time to educate young people about the music.
What was the most useful part of your early music education? The most useless?
Listening to LOTS of music and transcribing by ear and learning to compose were the most useful parts of my early education. As far as the “most useless” I would have to say wasting time trying to play high, fast and loud. Every young player wants to do these things, but they need someone to point out the subtleties in music and using dynamics and space. I wish I would have explored these things earlier.
What inspired “Hindsight” and is it a commentary on anything in particular?
The current state of the world inspired my new album “Hindsight.”
I wanted to basically look at the big picture and say “okay, what’s messed up and have we learned enough to be able to say enough is enough and make the necessary changes before it’s too late?”
In this album, I’m trying to look at these different subjects (environment, social justice, the pandemic, etc.) in a more positive light and say “we’re in it right now, and we can still have hindsight enough to change things before irreversible damage is done.” So the album is meant to continue the dialogue about these topics and keep it on people’s minds. Fifteen percent of the profits of the album go to three charities that support the environment, social justice and clean water for everyone.
What were the most exciting parts of production?
For sure, the pandemic was the most challenging aspect of making this record, especially with me living on the West Coast and the band living on the East Coast. Once New York was doing better, we had a window open up in August when the recording studios weren’t banned from operation and I had to seize the moment. I sent everyone the music ahead of time…I was even trying to figure out a way that we could all record from our houses but luckily the studio worked out.
Perhaps the biggest challenge was having no rehearsals before the recording session, yet a pile of originals to deal with! But we managed, nonetheless.
Another big challenge was recording the gospel choir for the last track. There’s the risk factor of spreading disease, plus due to budget restrictions, I only had one session to rehearse and record the music. Seeing as most of the gospel singers didn’t read music, I had to sing the music to them line by line, conduct and rehearse it, and record it in chunks. I then recorded the trumpet part on top. Though I would have loved to do it all live, sometimes you gotta do things the only way you can. They were all amazing singers and that whole process was a huge learning curve for me.
A hugely exciting part of the record was sending tracks to and receiving them from Mali, Africa in order to have Bassekou Kouyate on the album. His sound (and Mahamadou on the Tama) added so much to “In Short Supply.”
How did you choose the members of your band?
The band was mostly comprised of the core band from my last album, with the exception of Orrin Evans, whose playing I’ve always admired greatly. He brings a spontaneity to the group that few can match. I knew that a rhythm section with Orrin, David and Kenn would sound exceptional. David always holds it down on the bass and Kenneth is one of the tastiest drummers you’ll ever hear. I knew Mike Moreno (guitar) since high school and have always admired his playing for his interesting lines and melodicism. I had heard great things about Behn Gillece and was blown away when I heard him in the studio. My friend Majid Khaliq contributed his beautiful violin, but more importantly, his unique perspective on race in America, in which he poignantly infused in his lyrics to “Things Fall Apart” as did Portland-based rapper Rasheed Jamal. Bassekou and Mahamadou brought something otherworldly to “In Short Supply.” As native instruments of Africa, the sound of the n’goni and tama create a direct link to the place that inspired the song.
The ngoni is the original great granddaddy of the banjo and the tama is essentially the original talking drum – both very special instruments in their capable hands!
What is the overall mood of this music?
Hopeful. The stylistic nuances that make up the album border between jazz, classical, soul, and more. I really dislike genre titles, because they put the music in a box and unfortunately that one-dimensional title tells the musicians and listeners what they can and cannot do and what you can expect and not expect to hear. I believe great composers know that great music is about riding that subjective balance between tension and release…expectation and surprise…comfort and discomfort. Great improvisers and composers should use all of the elements of sound and silence to organize them into interesting things to listen to.
How would you compare this work to the preceding CD “Immigration Nation”?
The message of both albums are hope and coming together, though “Immigration Nation” was intended as a tribute to the tale of the immigrant and a celebration of diversity. However, there is a certain urgency I wanted people to feel in “Hindsight.” Though a cliche in many peoples’ minds by now, saving the planet is not really optional anymore…solutions to the big issues in the world need to happen now!
How have you kept in front of your audience during the pandemic?
With the recent birth of my first child, Ellis, whom the album is dedicated to, I haven’t had much time to be very active on social media to fill the void of not performing live, though I have posted a bit. However, the album is one of the ways that I’ve tried to contribute music to the scene and to my listeners, as well as getting musicians paid for their efforts in a time of little to no gigs. There have been a few livestreams as well, but any musician will tell you that’s it’s simply not the same as playing for a real audience.
Your plans as venues begin to open?
I would love to do an album release tour for the new album. I’ve also got another in the works that I’m very excited about. I’m thrilled to just be able to look at folks when I’m playing. I’ll never take an audience for granted – that’s for sure. I think for a while, I’m going to play out as much as possible. Hopefully some of the cancelled tours from 2020 will be rescheduled…fingers crossed!
I think venues are slow to commit to when exactly live gigs will start up again, given the volatile nature of the pandemic’s spread. But with enough vaccinations taking effect soon, we should start to see more stuff on the books soon.
Has the past year given you time to consider your musical direction and goals?
For sure. The past year has given everyone tons of time. I’d say that my goal, more than ever, is to connect to people through my music. To make music that is healing, thought-provoking, toe-tapping and soulful (no matter the genre!). That being said, I’m looking forward to putting out a “classical” concerto album as well, with two mainstays done a bit differently as well as two new concertos (one commissioned by a friend and one written by myself).
For more information visit https://www.charlieportermusic.com.
Photos courtesy of and with permission of the artist.
© 2021 Debbie Burke