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Interviews

Gregory Porter: Sound & Vision

By Published: August 6, 2012
AAJ: Wow, that's surprisingly logical.

GP: [Laughs] Yeah, you know, when I had the budget for the first album, there was some discussion about me getting this guy or getting that guy, and use half of my budget to have this person on the album. Those are dreams, but, quite frankly, for me, it just made sense to work with the guys who know me, who know the story why I would write a song about my mother, who maybe even know some of the relationships that I'm talking about in some of the songs.



AAJ: We're catching you in between performances in Europe—from where did you just return and where will you soon be heading?

GP: I was just in Europe for about seven weeks: many places in France, a couple of great performances in Paris, at a Blue Note in Milan and at some festivals. In the UK, I've been touring with Jools Holland. That's been great. I still have several dates to do with him. He invited me on his show, which is how we met; we had just an immediate camaraderie, and he had an immediate respect for what I was doing and my sound and my story. He invited me to sing with his orchestra, so I will play a total of about 15 concerts with him. I did half Jools Holland dates and half my own, and it's been great—we did festivals and concerts all over Europe in some great locations.

AAJ: Is the difference between a jazz singer and an R&B singer the single matter of material, or can you articulate something more?

GP: There are some harmonic differences in the things you would do in R&B and in jazz. In jazz, you can use a lot of notes, but you can also over-sing, which is something that you really don't want to do in that tradition of the music; you can over-sing in jazz, even though there's a whole bunch of notes that are at the disposal of the jazz singer.

But I don't like to put up these walls in between jazz, soul and R&B singers, because all that music is very close cousins birthed out of gospel and blues. It all depends upon the individual artist, but there are some things that are different. Yes, it is the material. And yes, there's an approach. There's that improvisational switch, that trigger, in jazz; it doesn't happen for every artist, and even some of the great artists sang everything the same way every time, which is perfectly acceptable. But in jazz, there's a freedom and a bounce and a swing that should happen, which is not really a requirement for R&B.

AAJ: Are there instrumentalists who you think sound similar to you?

GP: I think about that all the time. People talk to me all the time about, "Wow, your soulful approach to jazz; you're combining the genres of soul and jazz." I'm thinking, "Yeah, I listen to Julian "Cannonball" Adderley
Julian
Julian "Cannonball" Adderley
1928 - 1975
saxophone
"—I am not comparing myself at all to Cannonball Adderley—but his approach and his attack to the music is what I want to do. I think of Gary Bartz
Gary Bartz
Gary Bartz
b.1940
sax, alto
and I think of Les McCann
Les McCann
Les McCann
b.1935
piano
, of those and other soulful instruments.

But then there's a situation like the song "Illusion" on my first album. When it's a ballad, I think of a record by Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett
b.1945
piano
where he's playing so simply and so beautifully. He has all this facility where he just destroys the piano, but he just plays so simply and so beautifully, and I think that's the approach that I took with "Illusion." I took out all this melisma and melodrama and just laid it out there. Just lay it out there simply and beautifully, and the notes and the tones will convey the message that you're trying to get across.

AAJ: How many people tried to talk you out of ending Be Good with that unaccompanied rendition of "God Bless the Child"?

Gregory Porter—WaterGP: I didn't ask anybody. Now, let me tell you why. This is the second day of recording. There's no band. Brian, our producer, was running late, and so I had about an hour-and-a-half of being in the studio by myself—just a perfect time for me to play around with the microphones, I thought. I had thoughts of doing an a cappella version of something; I didn't know what. I started singing this into the microphone, and it just felt good to me.

I'm not of the belief that songs can be over-sung, because every day, someone is born who has not yet heard it. With that in mind, I recorded it without anybody there. I told everyone afterwards, "Oh, by the way, track number 13 is me just doing whatever the hell I want to do."

AAJ: That's like painting a big bull's eye on the end of this set, though—you're putting yourself quite naked out there.

GP: Sometimes we've got to get out of ourselves and not try to be so impressive. I'm not trying to be impressive. I'm just kind of dealing with it like my mother used to pray. And in a way, not to sound too spiritual, but it really gets to that place for me sometimes: "Let me have a conversation with Billie Holiday," you know what I mean? "Let me consider those words from the best of my own understanding." They're her words. She wrote them. I understand that I can't meet her, I can't touch her, I can't have a conversation with her. I understand that. But I can close my eyes and consider her words as I'm singing her song in my way.


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