Saturday, June 21, 2014

Gregory Porter concert review

Last night I went to see jazz singer Gregory Porter at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts. This is part of the Toronto Jazz Festival. I hadn't been to the St. Lawrence Centre since the 70s. If you saw my "view of the stage" tweet, you'll know I had great seats. Porter has become a big deal since releasing his 2013 Blue Note Records debut CD Liquid Spirit. It is actually his third solo CD but his first for a major label. He's actually been around since the late 90s. He was born Nov. 1971 in Los Angeles and he grew up in Bakersfield. His mom is a minister so he grew up singing in church. And he listened to his mom's Nat King Cole record collection. I always say that church trained singers are the best because the first thing they are taught is proper diction. And Porter said in an interview the other day that Cole's diction was a big influence too. Porter was supposed to attend San Diego State on a full football scholarship. But he blew out his shoulder in high school and started singing in local clubs. Pianist Kamau Kenyatta introduced Porter to flutist Hubert Laws and Porter appeared om Laws' 1998 CD Hubert Laws Remembers The Unforgettable Nat King Cole. And then Laws' sister singer Eloise Laws got Porter a gig in the Broadway show It Ain't Nothin' But The Blues. After two CDs for Motema Music, Porter released Liquid Spirit on Blue Note. His band at this concert is the same band he uses on the CD. The pianist and arranger is Chip Crawford. There is also Yosuke Sato on sax, Aaron James on bass and Emanuel Harold on drums. Crawford once worked with The Four Tops. All four guys have worked with Porter for several years. Though Porter is classified as a jazz singer, I didn't have to look up his bio to know that he grew up singing in church. Because that is the foundation of his music. It can be heard clearly in his voice. And some of his songs could be classified as gospel. Porter writes his own songs but he performs jazz standards like Cannonball Adderley's Work Song, Abbey Lincoln and Max Roach's Lonesome Lover and Ramsey Lewis' The In Crowd. It helps that Crawford is an R & B leaning jazz musician and a veteran arranger. The other guys have adapted very well to his arrangements. Several people have asked me about Porter's flat hat. It seems he first started wearing it to cover scars from a surgical procedure. But now it has become his trademark. It certainly looks odd in the summertime. Who cares? Gregory Porter can really sing and has a long career ahead of him. Hey Gregory! How about a gospel album with Karen Clark-Sheard? She has jazz chops.

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