Gregory Porter has secured his position as the modern voice of Jazz. His latest album, Liquid Spirit, won the 2014 Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album under the legendary label, Blue Note Records.
Porter was born in Los Angeles and was raised in Bakersfield, California where his mother was a minister. After graduating from high school, he received a full-ride athletic scholarship to San Diego State, but suffered a career ending injury his junior year.
His accomplishments don’t stop there; Porter was also a member of the original Broadway cast of It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues, and has been nominated for at least one Grammy on each of his three albums.
I had the honor of meeting Mr. Porter this past summer in New York. From the moment he took the stage, he had the audience hanging on his every word. It was like nothing I had ever experienced.
His unfeigned, booming vocals sent chills down my spine in that dark underground venue off the corner of Bleeker Street. When I managed to unglue my eyes from the stage, I looked around and saw a woman weeping.
At the end of the performance I got the chance to meet him, and had to wipe the sweat off of my clammy hands in order to shake his hand. The man’s stage presence is simply astounding.
His influences draw heavily on early New York Jazz musicians, as well as Gospel, Blues, and R&B.
“I grew up in California and now I live in Brooklyn,” Porter explains, “but even so, I feel that the spirit of the artists that came out of Harlem – from Duke Ellington to Langston Hughes – has so influenced my work that Harlem is as much a part of me as if I had lived there.”
Porter’s stunningly honest vocals are complemented by the working band that he has travelled with for the last 3 years, the same musicians that he recorded his Grammy nominated debut with.
“My songs may start from a place of personal experience,” he explains. “I try not to impose any particular perspective on the music. I want listeners to be affected each in his or her own way, and moved as much by what can be read in between the lines as what the lyrics say.”
His sophomore album, Be Good, includes everything from quiet ballads to up-tempo lively grooves, as well as mashing together bluesy riffs with romantic vocals. This contrast of emotion captivates audiences and is one of the many reasons that Porter has received so much praise.
The album was produced by Brian Bacchus, who has produced for Joe Lovano, Norah Jones, and many more. The rich horn arrangements were created by the albums associate producer and musical director, Kamau Kenyatta.
Be Good had as much success internationally as it did in the US, topping the charts in the UK, Germany, and Norway. His international prowess resulted in the album being honored with an Edison Award, the Dutch equivalent of a Grammy.
Porter’s latest album, Liquid Spirit, features 3 covers and 11 originals that showcase his uncanny ability to tell relatable, personable stories through song.
The album is a logical progression from his second album, touching on similar themes such as the highs and lows of romance, his childhood, and his views on the society that we live in.
On ‘Musical Genocide’, Porter expresses his disapproval of sacrificing quality in order to contribute to the mainstream culture that supplies disposable music.
“I think maybe what I’m doing is what people actually want to hear,” Porter remarked. “There are some people who want that liquid spirit – a soulful, thoughtful sound – and they haven’t been getting it.”
Be good, and get your tickets for Gregory Porter on March 5 at the Manship Theatre. Tickets are $25 and $45 and the show will kick off at 7:00 p.m.