Grateful for UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance’s offering, a thrilled and cultured audience celebrates the vocal stylings of Gregory Porter and his virtuoso jazz band.
By: John Lavitt
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 02-11-20
On February 7, 2020, a gem was presented by UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance (CAP UCLA) to the LA cultural scene when Gregory Porter performed at Royce Hall. As the world’s best-selling contemporary jazz singer with over 3 million worldwide album sales returns, Gregory Porter adds a fusion of soul, blues, and gospel influences to his vocal stylings. Beyond his voice, Porter’s original songwriting offers heartfelt lyrics, balance a sensitive philosophy with an investigation into the harsh realities of the modern world.
In his music, Gregory Porter mixes love songs and protest music, celebrating romance while never accepting the ugliness of Donald Trump’s America. Porter’s 2013 Blue Note Records debut album, Liquid Spirit, won the Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album. In 2016, he scored another Grammy for his inspirational ballad, Take Me To The Alley, recounting the racism and redemption he experienced as a child under the kind wings of his mother’s love. 2019 brought the launch of Gregory Porter’s own podcast, The Hang, with such distinguished guests as Annie Lennox and Jeff Goldblum. Later in the Spring of 2020, Gregory Porter’s new album, ALL RISE, will be released.
Indeed, the stars came out to see Gregory Porter at Royce Hall on Friday night with a bevy of famous musicians in the crowd. Given his Academy Award-nominated performance in Green Book as the driver of a world-class African-American pianist, it was not surprising to see Viggo Mortensen sitting in prime seats with his family. Overall, the audience at Royce Hall was diverse and intelligent, funky and fresh, reflecting the inspired music of the featured performer.
Beyond his incredible voice, Gregory Porter is smart enough to surround himself with an amazing band. A frustrating aspect of the performance’s presentation was a lack of mention in the program of these wonderful musicians. From the piano and the organ to the tenor saxophone, bass, and drums, the five virtuosos playing with Porter were fantastic. Given his musical generosity, Porter gave each of them multiple solos throughout the performance, allowing everyone on stage to shine.
The New York Times described Porter as “a jazz singer of thrilling presence, a booming baritone with a gift for earthy refinement and soaring uplift” in an early review. His spiritual offerings brought the audience to their feet, and it almost felt like a revival meeting where the holy spirit was being celebrated. However, the holiest of spirits for Gregory Porter is the music, the art, and the expression.
Before singing his epic song, Take Me To The Alley, Gregory Porter shared the origin of that stirring spiritual ballad at Royce Hall. He spoke of how the California chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in Bakersfield burned crosses on his mother’s lawn and threw watermelons through the family’s windows. Although they moved to Sacramento, his mother knew she had unfinished business. Not of vengeance, but of the Lord. As a minister, she had a dream that led her back to Bakersfield.
Given a message in her dream, Porter’s mother knew she had to return to help lift up the fallen and find a path to redemption for the lost souls. In her honor, Porter sings with emotion, “Take me to the alley / Take me to the afflicted ones / Take me to the lonely ones / That somehow lost their way / Let them hear me say / I am your friend / Come to my table / Rest here in my garden / You will have a pardon.”
Before she succumbed to cancer when he was only twenty-one, Porter’s mother entreated him from her death bed: “Sing, baby, sing!” There is no doubt the man has kept his word.