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Gregory Porter: Sound & Vision

By Published: August 6, 2012
AAJ: The name that seems to come up the most with Be Good is someone else who started out singing jazz but made most of his headlines singing R&B. Do you hear any Lou Rawls in yourself?

GP: He was a very big part of my childhood, but when I'm given a list of people to talk about, I almost never mention him. But he's absolutely on the list—his rich sound and tone. There's definitely something about being around gospel music and being a preacher's kid, which I believe he was; I know he grew up singing gospel music. That can enrich your sound, definitely. My mother was from Shreveport, Louisiana, so there's some southern roots as well. Absolutely, I have listened to and owned Lou Rawls records, but he's always been in the music I listen to. I've heard that from that older crowd. Even Harold Mabern
Harold Mabern
Harold Mabern
mentioned that to me: "Man, I wish Lou Rawls was here. He would come and hang out at your gigs."

AAJ: Not that you sing like him, but your music is very real like his. Was Bill Withers someone you listened to, growing up?

GP: Yes, absolutely—his album 'Justments (Reel Music, 1974). I felt like his writing and his approach to music were very much from his life, and that's appealing to me. His music always felt organic, like it was growing out of him. The music, the art, the words from my mother and my brothers and sisters— all of that comes together to make the full picture of the music that I'm singing. Yes, there's Lou Rawls and Nat King Cole and Mahalia Jackson
Mahalia Jackson
Mahalia Jackson
1911 - 1972
and Marvin Gaye, but there's my mother as well.

The thing is, I think, that if music comes through a person, the best thing that person can do is make it their own. Music is personal charisma—musical charisma that has to have an individual standpoint, not in a narcissistic way, but if you're the person standing at the microphone, it has to sound like you. It has to have your footprint. And that footprint can be shaped by all the things that you've gone through, the things that you've heard and things in life that you need to consider in delivering your music. I'm a product of all the things that I've listened to—I'm my momma and a sprinkle of whatever my daddy put in, you know?

AAJ: What advice would you give to students who really wants to sing and think they can?

GP: People are constantly trying to adjust their voice to sound like somebody. When I have the opportunity to just talk to singers, or when somebody's taking a little lesson from me, I encourage them to first speak: to speak in their natural tone and then elongate that speech. Most times, when people get animated, their speech can be quite melodic. So I always try to get people to extend their melodic conversation and then see what happens. What does that voice sound like? Extend your whisper voice—what does that sound like? All of a sudden, out comes this beautiful voice that they had but they weren't using because they were trying to sound like Beyoncé. Only Beyoncé can sound like Beyoncé.

Go within yourself and try to find what it is in you, in your sound, that is unique. Eventually, you'll come to that place anyway, because if you try to sound like somebody for too long, you'll hurt your voice. What makes you unique? What was the music that your mom grew up listening to and she imparted to you? Does that sound make its way into your music? I just try to help people boil down and concentrate themselves.

Selected Discography

Gregory Porter, Be Good (Motéma, 2012)

Gregory Porter, Water (Motéma, 2010)

Hubert Laws, Hubert Laws Remembers the Unforgettable Nat King Cole (RKO/Unique Records, 1998)

Photo Credits:

Page 1: Vincent Soyez

Pages 2, 5: Courtesy of Gregory Porter
Gregory Porter
Gregory Porter

Page 3: Brian O'Connor

Page 4: Dave Kaufman

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