This week, let's get acquainted with singer Gregory Porter, who will be making his St. Louis debut with performances starting next Thursday, January 4 through Sunday, January 7 at Jazz at the Bistro.
Porter's 2010 debut album Water created something of a sensation in the jazz world and beyond, and the response to Be Good, the follow-up record released earlier this year, only has helped fuel the buzz. At a time when plenty of male jazz singers are content to simply re-hash standards and emulate a Rat Pack vibe, Porter brings to the stage and studio his own original material, energy, and set of influences.
Raised by a single mother who was a minister, Porter was steeped in gospel music as a child, and that background clearly is an important component of his sound. He also has spoken frequently of Nat King" Cole as an early influence, but his baritone voice, weightier than Cole's, often draws comparisons to Lou Rawls and Joe Williams, too, and to these ears, there seems to be a bit of Andy Bey in there as well.
A California native, Porter attended San Diego State University, studying urban planning on a football scholarship until a shoulder injury ended his athletic career. He began singing in local jazz clubs, where he met saxophonist, pianist, and composer Kamau Kenyatta and through him, flutist Hubert Laws. Porter wound up singing one song on Laws' 1998 album Remembers the Unforgettable Nat King Cole, and soon after, the flutist's sister Eloise Laws helped him get cast in the musical theater production It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues.
The show premiered in Denver (where Porter later mounted a one-man play paying tribute to Nat Cole), then moved to New York to play Off-Broadway and then on Broadway. Once in NYC, Porter began sitting in on jam sessions, including one at Jazz at Lincoln Center that eventually brought him to the attention of Wynton Marsalis. Porter then was asked to do a gig with Marsalis and the JALC Orchestra, which helped him get a foothold in the city's highly competitive scene.
Porter continues to live in Brooklyn, and does weekly gigs at the NYC club Smoke when he's in town. For the past two years, though, he's spent a lot of time on the road, playing clubs and festivals in the USA and Europe. He's become especially popular in Great Britain, where he's appeared on national television several times, been touted by Jamie Cullum and Jools Holland, and toured extensively again earlier this year.
In today's first video, recorded at the studios of radio station WNYC, you can see Porter performing On My Way To Harlem," an original tune included on Be Good. Down below, there's the official music video for the title track of Be Good.
That's followed by live versions of two songs from Porter's first record. Water" was recorded in 2011 at the Elbjazz festival in Hamburg, Germany, while the rendition of Illusion" comes from one of Porter's appearances on Jools Holland's TV program Later.
Below that, you can hear Porter tackle the blues standard Let The Good Times Roll," recorded for Holland's program last New Year's Eve. The final clip is a video interview with Porter, recorded earlier this year for the music site Out Da Box TV.
(And if you're wondering, What's with the hat?", the answer, according to comments in several different interviews with Porter, is that it's simply an easily recalled visual signature, sort of like Dr. Lonnie Smith's turban.)