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ARTIST OF THE MONTH: GREGORY PORTER
“The next great male jazz singer”—NPR Music
“Liquid Spirit is shot through with gospel, blues and R&B influences… the title track pairs soulful horns with a deep, enveloping bassline that frames the California native’s supple tenor.”—Wall Street Journal
“Gregory Porter [is] a powerful baritone who writes his own songs… from a more ’70s or early ’80s-oriented place in the African-American jazz tradition, strong and sometimes experimental yet serenely unacademic, and mightily good.”—The New York Times
This month WICN is pleased to announce Gregory Porter as our Artist of the Month.
At the start of 2010, the buzz about Los Angeles-born and now Brooklyn-based jazz/soul vocalist Gregory Porter was a strong, steady murmur, fueled by a growing crowd of fans who’d caught his performance in the Tony and Drama Desk Award-nominated Broadway hit, It Ain’t Nothin’ but the Blues, or his weekly stints at the Harlem club, St. Nick’s Pub. By the end of 2012, with his second CD, Be Good, having earned a Grammy®- nomination for Best Traditional R&B Performance, the buzz had built to a roar, with the incredible accolades showered on Porter showing no sign of decreasing either in volume or enthusiasm. As the year drew to a close, Porter’s music topped an extraordinary number of “Best of 2012” lists in the US and the UK, including NPR’s “Best Music of 2012” and “100 Favorite Songs of 2012”; iTunes “Jazz Album of the Year”; and Soul Train’s “Top 10 Albums of 2012”. Be Good was also named Soul Tracks’ “Album of the Year.”
In the ten months since its release, Be Good ranked up an impressive showing on both US and international charts. In Billboard, the album reached #6 on the Jazz Album chart and #12 on the Heatseekers chart.
The year also found Porter gracing the cover of numerous magazines, including Jazz Inside, and France’s Jazz Magazine and L’Express, which lauded him as ”the next great voice in Jazz.” In its recent cover feature, the UK’s Jazz Wise Magazine, extolled his talents, stating, “On Be Good, Porter has crafted a work that not only meets, but seems to be primed to surpass, the heightened expectations of the jazz and soul audiences eagerly awaiting his follow up to Water. Featuring Porter’s winning combination of “outstanding original songs, erudite lyrics and social comment, top drawer musicianship and improvisation, and a voice to die for.”
A disarmingly sincere performer, with a groove that never quits, a voice of incredible virtuosity and a seemingly universal appeal as a songwriter, Porter’s lyrics often speak as dreams do, in the languages of image and emotion, to communicate thoroughly though not always directly. His objective as a songwriter, he says, is “to create a sincere message about my feelings on love, culture, family and our human joys and pain.” Even in conversation he leans toward the poetic: “Just like the song ‘Painted on Canvas’ says, ‘I’m ‘made of the pigment of paint that is put upon’ …trying to be honest and organic in my colors that I show.” Be Good clearly attains that goal, and also proves to have a wide palette of colors to show.
The soulful spirit of the ‘70s, epitomized by such artists as Lou Rawls and the Chi Lites, echoes forth in style on Porter’s “Real Good Hands,” a track that makes it clear that Porter is a complete romantic at heart. On the intriguing ballad, “The Way You Want to Live,” a song of dangerous personal choices that he dedicated to Amy Winehouse during a performance at the Blue Note in New York just days after her untimely death.
Some critics are inspired to comment on Porter as a new “king’ of jazz,” and a “leader of the pack,” a performer of extraordinary presence who has been compared with the greatest of the greats, such as Joe Williams, Nat Cole, Donny Hathaway, and Marvin Gaye. As musically solid as his recordings are and as powerful and honest as Porter’s magnificent voice is, it may just well be the brilliance of his poetry and the unguarded depth of his emotional delivery that is most fueling his rapid rise to fame.
Porter is quick to point out that he is more painter than photographer. “My songs may start from a place of personal experience,” he explains, but he uses his poetic license freely. “I try not to impose any particular perspective on the music. I want listeners to be affected each in his or her own way, and moved as much by what can be read in between the lines as what the lyrics say.”
Biography originally published on gregoryporter.com
A self-taught Latin percussionist since the age of 12 when his father handed him Cal Tjader’s 1960 “Latino” album featuring Mongo Santamaria and Willie Bobo back in 1966, and an LP fiberglass conga and told him, “Here, learn to play right with these”, he’s been living and breathing Latin Jazz since.
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