Interview By: Bridgid Brousseau
If not for the shoulder injury sustained during his attendance at San Diego State University on a scholarship which diverted his path, the world may have been deprived of the extraordinary talent of singer and song writer Gregory Porter.
California native Gregory Porter’s performance at this years 35th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival was phenomenal. This was Porter’s debut appearance at the festival and never to be forgotten. His personal style encompasses what has been compared to aspects of Stevie Wonder, Nat King Cole, Kurt Elling and Oscar Brown Jr. Porter’s appearance at the Playboy Jazz Festival captivated the audience with the ease of the seasoned artist that he is.
Porter recorded his debut album “Water,” with the Motema Music Label which included six original compositions and was nominated for a Grammy in 2010. His second album “Be Good,” released in 2012, included nine original songs and was also nominated for a Grammy. 2013 has returning fans and new fans alike anticipating the release of Gregory Porter’s third album “Liquid Spirit.” set for release on September 17, 2013.
SJM: Congratulations on your new album “Liquid Spirit” being released on September 17, 2013. How does it feel to be on such a world renowned label as Blue Note Records?
GREGORY: There could have been some fear but all of the “powers that be” at Blue Note said “just do what you do, keep writing and be you!” So, that’s my statement, “I can only be Gregory Porter.” So I knew everything would be okay.
SJM: You composed ten, new and original songs on this album. What is the theme behind “Liquid Spirit?”
GREGORY: “Liquid Spirit” is the release of pent up energy, culture, soul, spirit and music. One of the lyrical lines is “reroute the river, let the damned water be, there’s some people down the way that’s thirsty, so let the “Liquid Spirit” free.” That comes from the conversations that I have with people after shows who ask, “where can I find more people like you, more energy like this, like the energy we had in this room tonight?” So that’s what that energy is! Record companies and radio can sometimes push the music and energy away from the people that want to hear it because of demographics, socio-economics or other reasons. Sometimes people just aren’t hearing the music and they want to.
On the spectrum of sound and genre Gregory Porter has no fear of stepping over some lines in terms of soul, gospel or anything out there because these musical genres “are all very close cousins, and always have been ” according to Porter.
GREGORY: The reason I got into singing jazz is because I heard my voice in it. I heard my grandmother’s daily moaning of blues notes. I heard the sound. I heard horn players. I was eight years old singing gospel and I heard myself. I heard myself in the music. So that’s when I knew that was the route I wanted to go.
SJM: I recognized Ramsey Lewis’s “The In Crowd.” on the album. How did you choose that one?
GREGORY: That was one that I chose after I knew it would be a Blue Note record. It’s an ironic, playful thing just for myself really, because I was asking myself, “am I in the “in crowd?” I even reference that “I’m on the outside looking in” towards the end of that song because in a way I feel like an outsider. That’s sometimes a positive place to be. Maybe that will keep you hungry and keep a great humility too.
Gregory Porter has a taste that everybody likes. He provided some insight as to what he attributes that to.
GREGORY: It’s not something that I’m calculating. It’s just something that’s organic in me. Nat King Cole grew up with his influences. I grew up with Nat King Cole, Marvin Gay, Leon Thomas and Lou Rawls. I’ve had their music come through my filters. I consider Cole Porter, Miles Davis and Coltrane in my music because that’s what I’ve heard. These artists have given me my wisdom. These are my influences as to what I can and should not do when I step up to the microphone. The modern Jazz singer has a lot of responsibilities because there has been so much music in the air. So much music has come through my ears. I’m a Jazz singer and the things that are important in jazz are improvisation and swing. For me, one of the legs that Jazz has is depths of soul. Those are the things that are important to me.
Gregory Porter also provided some insight into the development of his signature sound.
GREGORY: It takes awhile to come to that and maybe that’s why it took some time to come to people’s consciousness. Maybe I had some living to do to and some understanding to do to realize that, and to be comfortable with yourself, what it is you do, how you write and the things that you want to say. I think people connect to what is organic.
SJM. What is it like to look out and see all of your fans and to hear everyone cheering for Gregory Porter?
GREGORY: It’s funny, I go to some places where my music has been playing for awhile. That connection and communication is happening! It feels great! It feels wonderful! I know there are some people in this audience hearing me for the first time. I haven’t been in Los Angeles that much. So this is a great experience and a great welcoming. Good vibe!
GREGORY: I want to write and talk about culture and all of the different types of love, even the confused love, from jealousy to envy. All the human experiences that I’ve realized. My organic and personal stories can become universal in a way because I’m not the only one going through them. I realize that is the appeal. I consider some of the songs that I write, Blues in a way, short stories that get to the point and allow you to think. I call them “Blues.” More than half of the “Blues” on the album were just recently written. There are several that I had written some time ago that are just perfect for what I have to say now.
SJM: What was the inspiration behind selecting Abbey Lincoln’s “Lonesome Lover” track for the CD?
GREGORY: It’s a tribute to Abbey Lincoln. I wanted to do a tribute to Abbey Lincoln because she inspired me in a bunch of ways. She inspired me to write the song “When Love Was King” that is on the record. That’s my politics in a nutshell I wrote, “He lifted up the underneath, in all his wealth he did bequeath, to those who toiled without a gain, so they could remember his reign. Of hungry children first he’d think, to pull their lives from the brink, beside him stood his mighty queen an equal force, wise and keen.”
In that one song, I just talked about equal right for women, eradicating child hunger and poverty and I did it with a melody where I’m not bashing anyone over the head. Abbey Lincoln was dope at that. So I just took her advice in a way. She wasn’t afraid to make a statement and I’m not afraid to make a statement.
Fortunately for us all, Gregory Porter has a long career in front from of him. He shares with us some of his favorite artists he would pays homage to and songs that he would like to recreate.
GREGORY: There are many songs from Nat King Cole that I want to do. I’ve wanted to do them for the last fifteen years, twenty years even! Nature boy has been done many times. I love the way that song sets up! The whole song is set up for that last line, “the greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” That’s the message in that song. It’s a good, sweet slap in the face! The power in that song is building up a cushion to say that line and it’s saying something. When people connect with me, they connect to other people. That’s music! Music is communication!
Gregory Porter also has fatherhood to add to his list of accomplishment. He admits that with the birth of his son came the intermitted urge to sing lullabies instead of Blues.
GREGORY: “When Love was King” was inspired by my son. It is the type of song that I want my son to grow up with. I want my son to discover the world physically and also through my songs. I realize my organic and personal stories can become universal in a way because, my songs are like short stories that allow you to think, escape and even fill in the blanks some of the time.
Gregory Porter will have us all with our ears on alert for his next appearances, performances and any medium that will allow us access to all of the music and expression that he so generously, soulfully and spiritually delivers.