Bebop Fans Remember L.A. Legend Roy Porter
It was a packed house at The Main Event on La Brea Avenue on Saturday afternoon.
Well-dressed patrons sipped Scotch and water, listened to the performances of local jazz favorites, and sat back to reflect on the life and talents of the late Roy Porter--jazz drummer and Los Angeles bebop legend.
“We pioneered the bebop movement out here in 1945,” recalled venerated saxophonist Teddy Edwards, who played and recorded with Porter many times. “That man was my good friend.
“Look at this,” he said, taking out a sheet of music. “The last song he wrote was called ‘Teddy.’ ”
Porter and Edwards were two of the biggest local names during the Los Angeles jazz scene on Central Avenue in the 1940s. Innovative music and lively crowds drew jazz luminaries like Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington to clubs on Central, where they stayed at the famed Dunbar Hotel near 42nd Street.
“I remember seeing Porter play on the avenue,” said Blake Bell, who at 73 decided to nurse a non-alcoholic beer Saturday instead of the more fiery stuff he drank in his bebop days. “All the big names would come out to the avenue, but it was Porter and Teddy and those guys that made it a scene to go to.”
A musician with a “special lope” on the drums, Porter was probably best known as an artist for his recording work with Charlie Parker in 1946.
“He had a great heart for the music, and he had a feeling on the drums, a feel that was strictly his own,” Edwards said.
Porter toured New York, Chicago and other jazz towns with many different bands, and put together a 17-piece bebop band in the late 1940s.
Some in the audience thought that Porter’s talents were never fully appreciated.
“Roy was a tremendous musician,” said drummer Johnny Kirkwood. “But a lot of people didn’t realize how good he was.”
That might have been due, some of his friends said, to Porter’s straightforward and occasionally gruff demeanor.
“Roy had a lot of pride, and some people thought he was egotistical, but he was just a strong man,” Edwards said. “He was strong right up to the end, when I called and he told me, ‘Maybe I’m not as strong as I thought I was.’ ”
Porter, who lived in Los Angeles until his death Jan. 24 at the age of 74, played drums until the late 1970s and eventually wrote an autobiography that reflected on the emergence of bebop in Los Angeles.
As photographers snapped group shots of the jazz elders who put together Saturday’s musical remembrance, musicians in the audience were called onto the stage and asked to play something “Roy would like.”
Between sets, Tina Porter, Roy’s widow, took the microphone for a final goodbye.
“Roy, if you’re up there flying around and looking at us, well, know we love you. We love you,” she said. “And we’ll see you in heaven.”
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