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All the Jazz Kids Love Gregory Porter

by Kim Lauren / 08.05.2013

I was relaxing near the tea and coffee table in the hotel lobby when two friends from jazz school came bounding down the escalator.

“Oh my gosh, Gregory Porter is A-MAZING!”

I had been introduced to Porter’s music about two days ago, when my trainer used him as a case study. He’s got two albums out – Water and Be Good – and was nominated for a Grammy once. But that’s not the important part. The important part is that his old world, old school appeal is brought to life in the 21st century. As I chatted with these friends, I realised my excitement was mounting.

“His voice!” said the guy.

“I know,” said the girl, shoving her camera into my face. “He was singing in there.” She was talking about the master classes. Those are held in conjunction with the Cape Town International Jazz Festival every year. They’re free for anyone wanting to meet their favourite artists, but there’s not a lot of publicity, so it’s usually the music students and journos who make up the majority of the crowd.

Three tiny heads peeked out from the LCD screen. One head was larger than the others, with a hat and balaclava on it? I asked about this. Apparently he has some kind of skin problem and likes to keep everything covered. Whatever works for him, I suppose. Then suddenly he was coming down the escalator towards us.

“That’s him!” they whispered excitedly, nodding in recognition as he walked past. Much like a stalker, I followed him. This was my cue. To meet him, in the press conference room. As soon as a few more journalists had filtered in, the heavy wooden doors were shut and the praise session began. It was the strangest press conference I’d ever attended! Every reporter or radio presenter that spoke had something wonderful to say… and not very many questions. It was all centered around how talented Gregory Porter is. How he had impacted their lives. I couldn’t understand. His short biography was nothing to go by. Grew up with Nat King Cole records, came from a broken home, apparently produces very emotion-based music. Hmmm. I made a mental note to see his show at the Jazz Fest the next day.

And that was my Gregory Porter turning point. I was rushing from covering two other concerts – Ceu and Robert Glasper – to shoot his show. The photography pits are insane at the Jazz Fest and I was exhausted. I hurried on, getting to Porter’s performance before my fifteen minute slot to photograph was over. But this time the camera wasn’t driving my decisions. The music was. All I could think about when I heard his voice was double chocolate fudge syrup dribbled over vanilla ice cream. It was so smooth, so real, so fresh and new, yet so archaic… he sings like an original 1960s vinyl record. When he opened his mouth his soul came out.

He said, “Here, have a look at me. This is who I am. I don’t care who sees, as long as you understand.”
I think that’s why all the jazz kids love him. He might just be our generation’s embodiment of what’s in a jazz musician’s heart.

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