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Art Porter

Art Porter

Seoul, Korea -- 1996

This may be the last photo ever taken of saxophonist Art Porter. A few days later on November 23, 1996, he lost his life in a tragic drowning.

I was aboard a Thai Airways jet full of American musicians headed for the Golden Jubilee International Jazz Festival in Bangkok, Thailand. We all welcomed the chance to stretch our legs when the plane landed briefly in Seoul, Korea to refuel. A delicious sense of camaraderie could be felt among the musicians as we mingled in the airport.

One of my band members introduced me to Art Porter and I immediately felt at ease with his warmth and sense of humor. We all joked around and took a few snapshots to celebrate the fun. Art introduced me to his manager, David Bendett, who had accompanied him on this tour. David's demeanor was as tightly wound as his curly hair. He seemed nervously attentive to his artist.

One evening during the festival after my show, I wandered over to another stage to hear Art perform. I was impressed by his upbeat attitude and energetic stage presence. He seemed to truly love playing his music for such an appreciative audience. I silently reminded myself to pick up some of his CDs. He had just released his fourth recording for Verve and his career was on a roll.

On the plane ride back to the States I heard the shocking news of Art's death. He and his guitar player had decided to take a little boat across the River Kwae to a Thai marketplace. Somehow the boat sprang a leak and capsized, dumping the two musicians, the boatman and a married couple into the water. Art couldn't swim and he quickly disappeared into the murky depths. Of the five passengers, the only survivor was guitarist, Alan Burrows. Art's body was never found.

I remember feeling deep compassion for David Bendett...the agony and guilt he must have felt as a manager returning home without his artist. What a somber eye-opener this tragedy was for all of us! Life is indeed a fragile gift.

For more about the late Art Porter, go to www.arjazz.org/artists/hof/1998/98_porter.html.