Saturday, August 9, 2014

GRAMMY Award-Winning Jazz Vocalist, Gregory Porter, Charmed Audiences at Summerstage

Last weekend, jazz vocalist, Gregory Porter charmed a fresh Summerstage audience at Central Park as he performed his message-laden music to a packed lawn. Some conspicuous celebrities in the audience included basketball legend, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and "Orange is the New Black" actress, Michelle Hurst. In just four years since releasing his first full-length album, "Water," Gregory Porter has become a household name when it comes to jazz. Having been nominated three times for a GRAMMY (one for every studio album), Porter finally emerged victorious from the 2014 GRAMMY awards with the iconic gold-plated gramophone trophy memorializing his Best Jazz Vocal Album, "Liquid Spirit". He has certainly come a long way since I saw him in 2011 at Zeb's, on the very night he had received notice of his very first GRAMMY nomination, for "Water".

Versatile Jazz Musician Otis Brown III 
Returning to Sunday night's performance at Central Park, audience spirits were high as we waited patiently for Porter to take the stage. As Porter recently signed onto Blue Note Records, the concert celebrated Blue Note's 75th Anniversary, and, also supported by "progressive urban music [web]site,", was actually a collaborative effort by several well-known jazz musicians including Otis Brown IIITerence Blanchard, Jean Baylor, Chris Turner, and surprise guest, Robert Glasper. Each musician was joined by "Revive Big Band," an amalgamation of internationally-known brass, percussion, and guitar players, led by spirited trumpeter, composer and arranger, Igmar Thomas. Following what seemed like a never-ending parade of smooth trumpet, trombone, saxophone, piano, drum, and vocal solos, the audience was more than warmed up for Gregory Porter.

Gregory Porter Takes the Stage
Porter began his set with a mellow song about treating others with kindness, a self-described "message of love and respect," entitled "Painted on Canvas". With just a handful of instruments backing him up, Porter soulfully sang that "we are like children painted on canvasses," as he created a colorful canvas of his own through his music. He was soon joined by Revive Big Band as he moved into a more energetic, swinging set that included "On My Way to Harlem," and "Musical Genocide". Porter explained that he wrote "On My Way to Harlem," which somewhat poignantly refers to arts and literature greats such as Duke Ellington, Langston Hughes, and Marvin Gaye, who were all once known for hanging around the now-booming neighborhood, as he himself was on the way to a gig in Harlem. The audience danced, clapped, and stomped their feet so loudly that the bleachers I sat on literally shook during "Musical Genocide," from that GRAMMY award-winning album, "Liquid Spirit." In each song, Porter gave ample time to highlight instrumental solos, as he does on his albums, but it's the lyrics he sings that won't leave your head. Porter closed out his main set with the moving song, "1960 What?", a powerful commentary on and tribute to the civil rights movement.

Igmar Thomas and Revive Big Band

Gregory Porter has recently embarked on a world tour, but when he's home in New York, you can often find him performing at Smoke Jazz & Supper Club on the Upper West Side. If you love jazz, you should also check out the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, August 22-27. Porter won't be there, but a wealth of other renowned jazz musicians will be performing. Hungry for more Revive Big Band? You may find them on the bill at local jazz haunts such as Blue Note and Zinc Bar.

All photos in this post are by Heather K. 

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