There is a voice breaking ranks in the jazz and R&B scene. Musicians Jools Holland, Jamie Cullum and Van Morrison, as well as the president of Blue Note Records Don Was and radio presenter Ruth Fisher have all surrendered to it. Gregory Porter: Don’t Forget Your Music presents Porter’s incredible journey from the humble beginnings in Bakersfield, California in the 1970s all the way to the Grammy Awards nominations and win in 2014. It’s an candid documentary about an honest musician. By the end of the film, you’ll surrender too.
In a nutshell, Porter’s music is about hope. He was raised among seven brothers in a Californian neighborhood not used to black people. He suffered hostility since he was very young and one of his brothers was shot in the middle of the street. His mother was a missionary and his father a charismatic piano player who didn’t show much affection to his boys. Gospel music was the entry to self-acceptance and redemption, while religion gave Porter the structure he needed to move on.
Porter has an eccentric personality. His only ambition is to play music and it doesn’t matter whether it is in the toilet circuit or at Royal Albert Hall. He was discovered by his friend and mentor Kamau Keniatta, who introduced him to flautist Hubert Laws. Laws immediately recognised he was in front of a gifted man, so he let Porter sing Charlie Chaplin’s hit ‘Smile’ for an album in 1999. Porter’s then left his hometown and started doing gigs within the African-American communities. He went to Detroit and felt the vibe of Sam Rivers and Herbie Hancock. He went to the Harlem and Brooklyn in New York where he encountered no criticism and had full freedom to play what he wanted.
In 2004, Porter wrote the musical ‘Nat King Cole & Me’, which allowed him to his early music influences and his childhood in general. He says: “My mother also loved Nat King Cole. That was some of the first music that I heard, Nat King Cole and the Mississippi Mass Choir”.
Director Alfred George Bailey interviewed many musicians who worked with Porter and they were all flabbergasted after hearing Porter for the first time. Porter is a crossover musician. He represents nowadays what Miles Davis once called “social music” – read our review of Miles Ahead (Don Cheadle, 2016) here for more on social music. Gregory Porter had the guts to accept an invitation for a DJ set in Ibiza and mix jazz and house music to the crowds. He is attracting new crowds to the world of jazz.
In Gregory Porter we see a fresh movement in jazz. Jazz finally found a timeless expression in him. Porter is not the future, or the past, or the present. He is an everlasting note.
Gregory Porter: Don’t Forget Your Music is opening the Doc’N’Roll Festival on November 2nd at BFI Southbank, London. The 8:45 pm screening is already sold-out, but there are still tickets for the second screening at 6:10 pm. The world premiere will be followed by a Q&A with Porter and the director. Buy your tickets here and watch the trailer below.