Obituary: Jake Porter

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The Independent Online
Vernon Porter, cornettist and bandleader, born Oakland, California 3 August 1916; died Desert Hot Springs 1 April 1993.

JAKE PORTER loomed large, in every sense, in California's black music world for over half a century. In his latter years, Porter's bulky figure could be seen often in feature films and television series, including episodes of Kojak and Starsky & Hutch, where he played character parts or appeared as a musician. It was Porter who contracted and fronted the orchestra featured with Louis Armstrong in the film Hello Dolly and he was also the composer of the hit tune 'Kokomo' which became Perry Como's theme-song.

In addition to all this, Porter built a recording studio (in the basement of his Los Angeles home), founded Combo, his own label, and began to record rhythm and blues sessions, many of which were successful locally. He was active as an arranger for other labels such as Aladdin, Imperial and Modern, all influential in rhythm and blues. Somehow, he also managed to fit in a six-year stint as Assistant to the Musician's Union President in Los Angeles, while maintaining his band work and recording schedule.

Porter had started his busy music career in and around San Francisco, working professionally from his early teens with Bay-area jazz bands, including one led by the young Lionel Hampton. By 1940, he was in Los Angeles and immersed himself in the city's burgeoning black music scene, playing on Central Avenue and elsewhere with people as varied as the New Orleans pianist Jelly Roll Morton, the traditionalist Kid Ory and the madcap guitarist-entertainer Slim Gaillard.

After army service, Porter worked with Fats Waller, Fletcher Henderson and with Benny Carter's fine big band before beginning an involvement with rhythm and blues, then the fastest-growing area of black music on the Coast. He toured Texas regularly with bluesmen such as T-Bone Walker and then concentrated on promotion, recording and arranging, while still organising bands. Although he toured Europe and Africa, his only visit to Britain was in 1985 for a holiday when he surprised London club audiences by sitting in with local groups.

Porter's powerful cornet work gained greater exposure when he appeared as a featured performer in Black and Blue, a successful musical show which played on Broadway for some years in the late Eighties.

(Photograph omitted)