As the Hollywood Bowl’s stage spun around to reveal its fourth act of the day, those who don’t know Gregory Porter could not have expected to see a towering 6-foot-2 former football player wearing some weird kind of head gear (due to an unknown skin condition.)
But within minutes of the self-proclaimed Jazz singer’s foray into his popular “On My Way to Harlem” from his “Be Good” CD, most true Jazz fans were probably scratching their heads, asking, “Who is this?” and “How come I’m just now finding out about him?” Then they became instant fans, as Porter blew old and new fans away with tunes from his first two CDs and his upcoming one.
His enthusiastic followers—from Johannesburg, South Africa, to the Bowl—kicked back for vintage Porter vocal stylings. They’ve long known that this former college athlete-turned-Jazz-vocalist from Bakersfield, who fancies himself a protégé of Nat King Cole, Marvin Gaye, Leon Thomas and Lou Rawls, can blow, as we used to say.
“I want to write about all kinds of love: confused love, jealous love … all kinds of love …. Some of the songs I write even turn out to be the Blues,” Porter says. Of his recent writing, he states, “I have to be careful … that everything doesn’t come out sounding like a lullaby …,” a reference to the fact that he recently became a new dad.
The back story is this: Porter, who currently resides in the Bed-Stuy section of Brooklyn with his wife and infant son, kicked off his career in small Jazz clubs in San Diego, where he lived while on a football scholarship to San Diego State University, until an injury sidelined him athletically. From there, it was weekly gigs at a Harlem “Jazz dive, at 149th and St. Nic,” says Porter, ultimately leading to the 2010 release of his debut album “Water” and his second effort “Be Good” and their respective Grammy nominations.
No Grammy win yet, but that day is sure to come. Now that Porter has signed with the venerable Jazz label, Blue Note Records, maybe a win will come with the anticipated fall release of his third CD, “Liquid Spirit.” With its tribute to Jazz great Abbey Lincoln as well as a new twist on an old Nat King Cole favorite, “Nature Boy,” there’s got to be a Grammy in the offing.
“It’s nice having a record label that supports you,” Porter says. Indeed. Especially one that no doubt will heavily lobby its support for his Grammy bid.
Other major festival crowd-pleasers were special collaborations between Naturally 7 and Herbie Hancock as well as George Duke and ex-LTD front man Jeffrey Osborne. Those two reached back into such revered LTD hits as “Holding On,” “Back in Love Again” and “Love Ballad,” before getting off into some ’70s funk with Duke’s own “Dukey Stick” and a medley of various George Clinton/Parliament Funkadelic standards.