Best Jazz Musicologist

Tom Porter

One of the reasons jazz thrives here is people like Tom Porter. For almost 40 years, Porter has played high priest in the scene as WPFW program director, show organizer, record-shop owner, and founder and head of Son Boy Records, a label (named for his grandfather) that specializes in releasing rare moments from the celebrated Black Arts Movement. Porter has spent time picking through the vinyl stalls at Eastern Market, hosting vinyl sales at his Columbia Heights house, and holding court at his beloved Bohemian Caverns. In recent years, Porter can lay claim to unearthing the one and only recording of a Pharaoh Sanders–Albert Ayler jam (featured on the 2004 Ayler box set Holy Ghost), and he’s still trying to release a stunning live Sun Ra set. But perhaps his greatest strength isn’t the rare stock filling up his home but his willingness to talk to anyone about jazz. At 68, he has known and seen just about everyone, from Coltrane to Cohran to all the local heads with a horn and a taste for extended riffs. Even if you know nothing about Sun Ra, he will make time to school you on not just jazz but all music. “I don’t sit and listen to jazz every day,” he insists. “This morning I listened to Ornette Coleman. But yesterday I listened to Elmore James. I used to be a big fan of John Cage. I did one of the last live interviews with him. You can’t get all this in. I’m kind of in the life.”

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