Sunday ACL Fest Interview: Gregory Porter

Jazz? Love songs, gospel, soul, and even Disclosure.


Singer-songwriter Gregory Porter won a Best Jazz Album Grammy for his third album, 2013's Liquid Spirit, but the Bakersfield native's appeal spreads far beyond one genre. As does his inspirations.

"That mid-to-late Seventies, optimistic, post-Civil Rights era," he says. "That thought of optimism – you can make it, you can do it, keep on truckin'. The spirituality of Leon Thomas, the clarity and emotional dignity of Nat King Cole, Donny Hath­away's gospel experience. I'm encouraged to bring all that in.

"Bill Withers, Abbey Lincoln, and Marvin Gaye – archetypes that come out of a gospel experience. All of these people have had strong women in the church that have given them some musical direction. If anything, I feel like a part of that group that had a strong mama that was somehow related to a preacher."

He continues applying lessons gleaned from gospel and soul on Take Me to the Alley, his second release for jazz standard Blue Note.

"I take cues from some of the great songs I've loved," he says. "'What a Wonderful World' is a love song to nobody and everybody. I'm thinking about songs like that in my writing with 'Take Me to the Alley.'"

Crossover success beckons – single "Holding On" originated as a dance tune recorded with UK DJs Disclosure – but Porter, 44, stays his course.

"I consider myself a jazz singer. I think I stick to the roots of improvisation, singing in front of the beat, behind the beat, playing with notes and harmonies. But sometimes that title 'jazz' can vex people who think they know exactly what jazz always is and will be. I think myself, Jose James, and Robert Glasper are expanding the language – really reminding people that the umbrella of jazz is large and all-encompassing."


Gregory Porter

6pm, Tito's Handmade Vodka stage

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Gregory Porter, ACL Fest 2016

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