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Jazz's gentle giant sings for a better tomorrow
GREGORY Porter faces stiff musical competition at home: his son's favourite musicians are his dad and a certain pop star named Bruno Mars.
But the jazz singer-songwriter found a way to win his four-year-old over by performing Mars' Just the Way You Are on BBC Radio 2 last week and dedicating it to the boy.
The two-time Grammy winner even shares a parenting tip over the phone from London, a day after he recorded the tune which is now on YouTube: "My son's a big music guy and I often use my music to calm him down."
Porter was also speaking ahead of his show on Friday - his first headlining one here after being part of the line-up for the inaugural Singapore Jazz Festival in 2014.
The year was a breakthrough one for the 45-year-old when his Blue Note label debut Liquid Spirit (2013) earned him a Best Jazz Vocal Grammy.
He repeated the feat again this February when his latest album Take Me To The Alley (2016) won the same prize, making Porter one of jazz's hottest crossover stars today.
The crooner's upcoming record, Nat King Cole & Me, finds the ex-footballer paying tribute to one of his own musical heroes.
On it, he reinterprets Cole classics such as the lead single Smile, Mona Lisa, L-O-V-E, Nature Boy and more.
Those incidentally are songs Porter discovered as a boy through his late mother, and he grew up listening to and singing them.
But more than that, the music also filled a void in his childhood: that of his father who was largely absent from the household.
"My father wasn't in my life. He wasn't raising me. He wasn't showing any interest in me. So Nat's words 'pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again' (from Pick Yourself Up) - all of these life lessons and words of wisdom were like fatherly advice.
"They were coming out of the speakers like Nat was singing those words just to me. I would listen to his albums and imagine that Nat was my father."
Porter also said he chose to record this tribute project only now because he wanted to establish himself first as a singer-songwriter. His previous albums all featured original compositions which he wrote.
"I didnt want to be seen riding on Cole's popularity and I also wanted a newer generation to discover his music. There's a moral message in them that you can carry for a lifetime, not to mention they're also very beautiful," he explains. "I think of music in a personal way and these songs are important to me."
Porter's 1.9m frame, coupled with his mellow baritone, has earned him a reputation as a gentle giant.
Off-stage, he guards his privacy fiercely. During concerts and public appearances, he dons a balaclava (to hide facial scars that he doesn't talk about) and wears his trademark newsboy cap.
"I use my voice to communicate emotions, and music affects me emotionally," said Porter, who prefers to let his music do the talking.
As a child, he'd sing himself to sleep, and he hopes his velvety vocals can have the same soothing effect on those who listen to his works.
"Like what music has done for me, I want to bring about healing and a positive feeling with the new record," he said. "The world is difficult enough, so I want to sing like Nat King Cole did and hope that the songs bring peace and make people think about love."
- Gregory Porter plays at Capitol Theatre on Sept 29. Doors open from 7.30pm. Tickets from S$118 available from Apactix. An exclusive after-party that includes a meet-and-greet with Porter and 'live' music will take place at the St Regis Astor Bar. To book tickets at S$188.00++ per person (including complimentary flow of champagne, wines, spirits and soft drinks) or S$248.00++ per person (which also includes a concert ticket), call 6506 6852 or e-mail email@example.com