We have an exclusive interview with Gregory Porter, whose album Water rose to the top of the Jazz charts rapidly after its release in May 2010. Check out what Gregory had to say about the new generation of jazz, his own path so far and his other hidden skills.
Your debut album Water has quickly risen to the Top Ten of the Jazz charts. Congrats! Were you expecting such a positive response to this album?
I was hoping for a positive response….I have an artistic impatience inside of me that wants to communicate with people..I want to talk about human emotions and joys and pains…I do it with live shows but it’s a beautiful thing to do it on a large scale with a recording. Its fun getting an email or Facebook message from someone in some far out place I’ve never been, telling me how they love my music.
Name a few of your all-time-favorite albums.
Kind of Blue: Miles Davis
Swiss Movement: Les McCann
Anything from Leon Thomas
Live… at the sands: Nat King Cole
Now!: Bobby Hutcherson with Gene McDaniels
Water contains a couple classic jazz standards, but we can also hear subtle hints to the past greats in your original songs. (Example: “1960 What?” and Les McCann/Eddie Harris’ “Compared To What”) Was that a conscious decision or did it happen naturally?
I am so pleased if someone can hear an influence like McCann…I like to think as well as Les being an influence I think we come from the same school of soul and church influenced….music…but if I could have the soul of one single finger of Les McCann…I would be happy!! It comes about organically and not as a conscious decision.
You have performed with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. As a vocalist, how different is it to sing with a full orchestra, as opposed to a small rhythm section?
It is incredible singing with the power of some of the best musicians in the world behind you…no question…and a great feeling the be a voice in that sound…but the flexibility that I have when performing with a small group if more freeing…..I can play with time and phrasing more….and communicate with individual musicians better….but I love it all….even just the single instrument.
Some jazz purists argue that young people now don’t have the focus or attention span to understand jazz. You’ve made a strong counterpoint for the younger generation with this album, which speaks for itself, but what are your thoughts about that argument?
In some ways it is a valid argument….but it’s two sided. I think that the music that is promoted to the young people sometimes trains the ear palate to listen for candy and soda….candy and soda have a place …but if you get no meat and no vegetables and no gravy made from scratch in the aural diet the body will suffer.
Jazz is a dynamic music that should encompass all of the human experience….love and protest, soul and truth…passion. Humans connect to that no matter the age or race.
Your gospel roots are evident in your voice and in your songs. Do you always have a spiritual association with your music?
Yes…my mother was a minister in the church and she always told me when I was a little boy that I should always sing with an understanding…She was saying that I should feel the music…deep….and I feel that jazz vocals require that you go deep into the song and feel pure soul. The jazz vocalist should go into a song as deeply and emotionally as a method actor.
Any other interests outside of music and musical theater? (We heard you make a mean borscht!)
I was taught how to make borscht by 70 year old women in a tiny Moscow kitchen. I made some last week for my Russian friends from Brooklyn and they told me it tastes like mom’s….soooo..yes..I love to cook. It’s relaxing and in many ways it can be the same as music…it can fulfill some of the same emotional notes for the chef and the people consuming.
Plans for the future?
My plans for the future are to keep making music that I hope strikes the heart….I hope to keep learning and sharing music in theater and on the jazz stage…
Thanks so much Gregory, we can’t wait to hear more from you soon!
Gregory Porter – “Pretty” [MP3]