Performing Artists (Click on Artist for Reviews and Previews)
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Gregory Porter: With a voice that can caress or confront, embrace or exhort, Grammy nominee, Gregory Porter exhibits such an incredible degree of vocal mastery, that no less a jazz luminary than Wynton Marsalis has gone on record to call him “a fantastic young singer.” Born in Los Angeles, raised in Bakersfield, and now residing in Bedstuy, Brooklyn, Gregory Porter has made the world his musical home. A frequent guest performer with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Porter also maintains a long-standing residency at Spanish Harlem’s venerable Smoke Jazz Club and performs internationally. He recently was a guest on the Jools Holland BBC 2 TV show in the UK and this year will be appearing at the London Jazz Festival, North Sea Jazz Festival and the Atlanta National Black Arts Festival among others. His debut release, Water, was produced by saxophonist, pianist and composer Kamau Kenyatta, who Porter refers to as his “best friend.” In fact, it is Kenyatta who bears much of the responsibility for Porter’s career trajectory, which can be traced back to Porter’s early days singing in small jazz clubs in San Diego. He lived there while at San Diego State University which he attended on a football scholarship, as an outside linebacker, until a shoulder injury sidelined him permanently. Recognizing his talents, Kenyatta – along with saxophonist Daniel Jackson – nurtured the burgeoning performer, and, as Porter says, “taught him what he needed to know.” Kenyatta invited Porter to visit him in the studio in Los Angeles, where he was producing the flutist Hubert Laws’ Remembers the Unforgettable Nat King Cole. Certainly Kenyatta was aware of Porter’s childhood infatuation with Cole’s music, and certainly he could hear the echoes of Cole’s mellow baritone in Porter’s own voice. Just as serendipitous was Laws’ sister, Eloise. A highly respected singer and recording artist in her own right, Eloise joined the cast of the musical theater play, “It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues.” Although he’d only had minimal theatrical experience to that point in the Doo Wop musical “Avenue X”, Porter eventually was cast in one of eight lead roles when the play opened in Colorado at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, and eventually followed it to Off-Broadway and then Broadway theater, where the NY Times, in its 1999 rave review, mentioned Porter among the show’s “powerhouse line up of singers.” They musical went on to earn both Tony and Drama Desk Award nominations that year. Porter’s success on the stage with “It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues” paved the way for another theatrical outing and pairing with Eloise Laws. In his semi-autobiographical “Nat King Cole and Me,” he dramatically documented his childhood, which was marked by an absentee father and the joy and pain he heard when listening to his mother’s Nat King Cole records. This led to a rich imaginary life where the young Porter actually believed that the legendary crooner was indeed his dad, and that the love songs Cole sang were secretly being sung to him. Porter’s moving “Nat King Cole & Me” ran for two very successful months at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts and has since traveled to Houston, TX.