Boasting a rich baritone voice, California-born vocalist Gregory Porter gains his inspiration from the roots of African-American music. His phenomenal 2013 release, Liquid Spirit, won a Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album and broke streaming listening records. His newest record, Take Me To The Alley, is in much the same vein as that earlier masterwork. Drawing on jazz, gospel and soul but also electronica, Porter’s work reveals his talent for transcending genres.
The son of a minister, Gregory Porter first sang in a gospel choir and takes an almost spiritual approach to his music. His poignant compositions echo the recordings of his idols: jazz legend Nat King Cole, whom he discovered as a child while listening to his mother’s records; the great soul singers of the 1970s like Bill Withers and Donny Hathaway that he heard growing up in his native California; and Marvin Gaye, whom he fiercely admires. With his talent for mixing genres, Porter also cites the influence of Melody Gardot, Jamie Cullum and the electronic music duo Disclosure, with whom he’s collaborated.
Gregory Porter in a few words
Born in 1971, this giant of jazz music was raised in California and was headed for a career in professional football until an injury forced a change in plans. Known for his singing in a gospel choir since he was a small boy, Porter was encouraged to follow that path by his minister mother, along with saxophonist and producer Kamau Kenyatta.
He began his career in San Diego’s jazz clubs and eventually captured a lead role in the musical comedy It Ain't Nothing But The Blues. The show premiered in Denver before moving on to Broadway where it won high praise from the New York Times, whose critic hailed Porter’s performance in particular.
He ultimately moved to Brooklyn, where he began work on his first album, Water. The record was released in 2010 and received a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Album, as did his second release, Be Good (2012). With Liquid Spirit (2013), Gregory Porter emerged as the new jazz phenomenon: a million copies sold worldwide, the most listened-to jazz album ever on streaming platforms, and a Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album.
For Take Me To The Alley (2016), which was recorded in New York, Porter reunited with his core group of musicians: pianist and musical director Chip Crawford, bassist Aaron James, drummer Emmanuel Harrold, alto saxophonist Yosuke Sato and tenor saxophonist Tivon Pennicott.
Moving from jazz standards and deep soul to gospel-tinged music and protest songs, Gregory Porter has proven himself a gifted songwriter and a worthy heir to the major crooners of the past.