Coming Back to His Roots

California native Gregory Porter brings his unique soul jazz sound to the Playboy Jazz Festival.
California native Gregory Porter brings his unique soul jazz sound to the Playboy Jazz Festival.

Gregory Porter blurs the lines of gospel music and jazz as if they both were synchronized swimmers making a symmetry entry into a wave to water parting ever so slightly waiting for the next magical move that will captivate an audience.

To Porter, the music of the gospel and jazz are somewhat one of the same.

You’ll have to excuse the Brooklyn-based musician and vocalist if he rocks the boat when it comes to breaking the mode of atypical jazz performers. The uniqueness of his sound comes from the steady diet of R&B influences that include the soulful sounds of Lou Rawls, Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway, Bobby McFerrin, Nat King Cole and others.

Those weren’t his only influences. Porter’s music also comes from a source that can’t be measured in monetary gain. There is something to be said about the human soul and how the lifeline of spirituality can resonate and move in a person’s soul.

Porter has something much deeper than listening to any record.

His musical foundation comes from the church. All of the moaning and spiritual groaning from hearing his grandmother and others praying has had an indirect impact on Porter’s music.

Somehow the sounds of all of that deep spiritual purging found their way embedded into his memory as a child growing up.

There were many days Porter spent at small storefront churches collecting that distinct sound in his mind. Thankfully, for a man who once lived on the corner of 36th Street and Normandie Ave. in South Los Angeles, it never left him.

The jazz world has been better for it.

Porter brings his soulful-tinged gospel sound to the Hollywood Bowl as one of the key performers on a long list of stars at the 35th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival.

Riding the wave of two consecutive Grammy nominations that includes his latest hit CD, “Be Good,” Porter, who climbed the stardom ladder after starring in a couple of his stage plays, says his music basically reflects life.

“Be Good” was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Traditional R&B Performance, hitting No. 6 on Billboard’s Jazz Album chart. The CD also found its way to global success as well, finding the No.1 spot in the jazz category in Germany.

How hot is Porter and his music? He’s been the featured in such publications as the Huffington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian and Jazz Times. Not too bad for a guy seen as a modern day musical storyteller.

“My songs may start from a place of personal experience,” explains Porter in comments posted on his personal website. “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.”

In a phone interview with, Porter said coming to perform at the iconic Playboy Jazz Festival is no doubt a special moment in his career.

“It’s funny because I ran into Bobby McFerrin and his son. I ran into him as I headed to the airport,” Porter said. “His father was telling the importance of the Playboy Jazz Festival was to him and to his career. It is important to me significantly. It’s one of the most successful festivals around the world.”

As far as describing his musical sound, Porter doesn’t hesitate to discuss the combination of both gospel and jazz and its effects on his success as an artist.

“I am a jazzsphere influenced by all the singers of American music-pop and jazz and gospel. I grew up singing gospel and watching Soul Train,” said Porter. “That was part of my musical understanding.”

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