- Phil Freeman
The 54th episode of the Burning Ambulance podcast features an interview with trombonist Ryan Porter. If you’ve seen Kamasi Washington live, you’ve seen Ryan Porter — he’s the trombonist standing directly to Kamasi’s left onstage. They’ve been friends since they were kids, growing up in L.A. together and playing on all kinds of projects, including Snoop Dogg’s touring band and the sessions for Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, and of course all of Kamasi’s records like The Epic, Heaven and Earth, Harmony of Difference, the soundtrack to Becoming (the Netflix documentary about Michelle Obama), and more. He’s also played on records by other members of the West Coast Get Down like Miles Mosley, Cameron Graves, and Brandon Coleman. Plus, Porter has made multiple albums of his own, including The Optimist, Force For Good, and Spangle-Lang Lane, which is a collection of children’s music, something we talk about in this interview. He’s also done a lot of session work on his own and as a member of the Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, playing on records by Diana Krall, Michael Bublé, Nick Cave, Quincy Jones, Anthony Hamilton and Leon Russell. He gets around.
I talked to Porter on Wednesday, June 3. The interview had been booked a week earlier, and by the time it happened, the protests surrounding the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police had gotten well underway across the country – a lot of cities were under curfew, if they hadn’t already been that way because of COVID-19. So to talk about music with a guy who made an album of children’s music, and made two other albums with the titles The Optimist and Force for Good, almost felt like a kind of really dark irony. I mean, is this a particularly optimistic time in American history, the summer of 2020? I don’t think it is, and I’m straight, white, and middle-aged. If I was young, or not white, I would not feel especially optimistic about life in this country, now or in the immediate future. But Ryan Porter is an optimistic guy. He’s clear-eyed about the environment he grew up in, and how it shaped him, and the world he lives in and what he can accomplish, or put across, with his music. But I’m not gonna misrepresent the conversation we had. We talked about art, and creativity, and making a career as a musician and how that’s not just about taking every opportunity you can – sometimes it’s about realizing that you don’t necessarily want to exist on a certain level, and taking a step or two back.
Like everyone else I’ve ever had on this show, Ryan Porter is a really smart, perceptive, creative guy, and I think you’re going to enjoy hearing our conversation. If you do enjoy this podcast, please consider visiting patreon.com/burningambulance and becoming a subscriber. For just $5 a month, you can help keep this show and Burning Ambulance as a whole active and thriving. Thanks!
Music heard in this episode:
Ryan Porter, “Madiba” (Live in Paris at New Morning)
Ryan Porter, “The Psalmist” (The Optimist)