Charlie Porter Jazz Quartett - live and loved in Hyderabad


The Charlie Porter Quartet played at two different venues, indoors at the tasteful venue at The Taj Krishna on the 22nd and at the leafy, outdoor venue at La Makaan on the 23rd of May 2010.
The Quartets’ visit to Hyderabad was brought to us by the American Consulate General, Hyderabad as part of ‘The 2010 Rhythm Road - American Music Abroad’ tour. 





Charlie Porter is the trumpet player and the leader of the Quartet, the other three musicians of the quartet are Adam Birnbaum (Piano), Scott Ritchie (Bass) And Jon Wikan (Drums). The Quartet is a tight working group which played engaging, mainstream, straight ahead Jazz without electronic gimmickry. They brought out the beauty and joy of Jazz, otherwise considered a more intellectual music, and made it accessible to those who listen to music other than Jazz.
On both days, the Quartet played to a receptive audience with whom Charlie Porter created a rapport and connected with an appreciative audience, making the quartet messengers of this wonderful and misunderstood music called jazz.
To be called Jazz, according to this writer, the music has to swing. When you listen to Jazz, the music and rhythms make your body sway to the rhythm, it doesn’t make  you rock. Another element of Jazz, are those peculiarly placed flattened notes used within the scale which would seem dissonant but are not. The third element that makes jazz, jazz, is that it is partly planned and partly spontaneous, with a section within the composition which gives way to improvisation, making the proponent extend the established composition, creating, composing, and taking the melody forward on the spot, taking it into a different dimension within the structure of the music, taking it to a logical point and coming back to the written melody, using well constructed sentences, (which is called good phrasing), all within the framework and discipline of the progression of chords. The fourth element of jazz is emotion; jazz always touches you in some way or the other. Jazz brings out the meaning of the music.
The Charlie Porter Quartet played a mix of the quartets’ own compositions and Jazz standards. But, whatever they played, their arrangements were well thought out, elegant and smooth.
During the course of the two evenings, they played several original compositions by Charlie Porter himself, starting with their opening tune ‘Initiation Song’ which he had based on Australian Aboriginal music. A sort of Hard Bop composition called ‘Messenger’ which was his homage to Art Blakey, the great jazz drummer and his various ensemble’s always called the Jazz Messengers, ‘Up-a-Notch Boogie’, which took the Boogie to a new height. And, ‘Passing Time’ on which Charlie Porter played with a Harmon mute, which gave Miles Davis his distinctive, plaintive sound. 
 Adam Birnbaum, the pianist, also contributed to the evening with a compositionof his own called ‘Urgency’ an elaborate, yet well arranged composition. And the drummer, John Wikan, contributed a mellow composition called ‘66 Mike’. 
The Quartet also played Standards and compositions by well known jazz musicians: ‘Basin Street Blues’, a Spencer Williams composition made famous in 1928 by Louis Armstrong, ‘A Night in Tunisia’ by Dizzy Gillespie, which Charlie Porter re-christened ‘A Night in Hyderabad’ just for the evening, ‘Caravan’ by Duke Ellington, which the Quartet had segued onto the pianist Adam Birnbaum’s composition ‘Urgency’. The quartet also did a jazz arrangement of Jai Ho, the popular A.R Rehman hit and a sensitive closing arrangement of ‘Jana Gana Mana’, the national Anthem.
Some of the other compositions that they played were ‘Straight, No Chaser’and ‘In Walked Bud’ by Thelonius Monk, ‘Take the A Train’ by Billy Strayhorn, a  staple of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, and Paul Desmond’s ‘Take 5’, made famous by Dave Brubeck in whose Quartet Paul Desmond played saxophone.

At La Makaan, the Charlie Porter Quartet was joined for a one piece jam, by        Jaywant Naidu, a Hindustani Classical Hawaiian Guitar player who is based in Hyderabad. As Charlie Porter announced after the tune, that though this was a spontaneous jam, it showed that music is universal and people from different musical traditions can play together and make music.
     The Charlie Porter Quartet is a well knit band, they played a series of tight arrangements with practiced effortlessness. Every member of the band played together as a unit, yet each had his own voice; they had their own sound and style, though one did hear references to some of the greats while they played.
    Charlie Porter himself is a very accomplished trumpeter with great technical mastery over his instrument, and he could make the trumpet growl and slide, he could take high notes and low, and though he has a very classical tone, he used the mute and the plunger well, invoking humour and pathos at will.
     The Pianist Adam Birnbaum was a quintessential accompanist, and played a keyboard, and not a piano, using different, but appropriate tone settings, yet when he took his solos’, they were well defined and telling, speaking well for his attitude and sensitivity as a Jazz musician.
     The bass player, Scott Ritchie, who played an upright bass, was a creative accompanist who was always sensitive to the music and always played the most fitting notes; being felt rather than heard, yet when he took the hot spot in the arrangement, he showed his creativity and good technique. Scott Ritchie’s sound was unique, and very listenable.
     The drummer, Jon Wigan, is the perfect accompanist, never intrusive, never being anything but subtle; his drumming a tribute to low key accompaniment, but by itself so expressive, so right, yet his breaks were always melodic.
     The audience at both Taj Krishna and La Makaan were receptive and empathised with the music, and Charlie Porter who made the announcements, made forays into the audience while playing, especially playing to the children in the audience, who loved the attention they got and became fans of the music.
    These two evenings of Jazz music were what Hyderabad needed. And the Charlie Porter Quartet was a good representative of Jazz both as messenger of Jazz as a music, and as an envoy of jazz as the original music form of the US.
Pratap Antony

Hyderabad Western Music Foundation