Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Gregory Porter’s Heartfelt Tribute to Nat King Cole

When I first heard Gregory Porter, I was stunned.  I vividly recall driving and “Liquid Spirit” coming up on my playlist. I had to pull over to rewind the song and really LISTEN.  Gregory Porter has a golden baritone voice that lifted my soul, and now five years later “Liquid Spirit” still lifts me every time I hear it.

“Liquid Spirit” is the title track from Gregory Porter’s third album, Liquid Spirit, for which he won the well deserved 2014 Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album. With this first introduction to Porter, I then put my ears to Be Good, from 2012, and Water, from 2010, and was later thrilled with Take Me To The Alley, in 2016.

As I sit back and listen to his four albums… track after track after track after track I am still stunned by the sound of Gregory Porter’s resonant crystal clear and booming voice, the arrangements so elegantly beautiful, and the lyrics meaningful.  On Take Me To The Alley Gregory Porter teamed up with two of my favorite singers Kem (“Holding On”) and Lalah Hathaway (“Insanity”) to further solidify his place in my music library. Now if the music gods can get him to pair up with Rachelle Ferrell I may just never have to hear another song again.

Just after the release of Take Me To The Alley I had my first chance to see Gregory Porter live at the 2016 Atlanta Jazz Festival, in Piedmont Park. The sound of his voice filled up the night sky as he closed out the main stage performances.  After this festival performance, I wrote “Donny Hathaway and Nat King Cole come to mind when I try to come up with comparable voices.”  Not long after, he announced that he was working on a tribute to Nat King Cole.

This tribute,  Nat “King” Cole & Me, was released in 2017, and on the album Gregory Porter paid homage to Nat King Cole, with the London Studio Orchestra providing the music. Here Gregory Porter pays homage to a man whose music helped to set the tone for his life in many ways.

Back in December 2017, WCLK Jazz 91.9 announced jazz with Gregory Porter performing with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra In Tribute To Nat King Cole at Atlanta Symphony Hall on June 1, 2018. I instantly knew that’s where I would be that day — at Symphony Hall to hear the Grammy Award-winning ASO perform with the Grammy Award-winning Gregory Porter, and so I was.

WLCK supporters, jazz fans and lovers of Nat King Cole and Gregory Porter showed up early and in style for tonight’s show.

Music from an iconic singer, and an iconic orchestra, in a venue designed to ensure the best listening experience, makes for the perfect storm of listening enjoyment and a perfectly appropriate combo for a performance of “Mona Lisa” — a song about one of the world’s most famous paintings. From the first lyrics of this opening song to the last words of the night, Gregory Porter held the crowd in the palm of his hand as we drifted to the rafters with the sound of his voice. I kid you not when I say that to both my left and my right I was surrounded by tear-covered cheeks.

During tonight’s performance at Symphony Hall with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Gregory Porter, shared how he would sneak to play Nat King Cole’s vinyl records on his mothers console stereo player. In a 2013 NPR All Things Considered interview he explained:

“My father wasn’t raising me and I was listening to these words: ‘Pick yourself up. Dust yourself off. Start all over again. You’ll be a man someday.‘ Nat King Cole’s lyrics were speaking to me, almost like fatherly advice, when I was listening to him alongside the console stereo player.”

 

The joy that comes from magical moments like tonight have to be one of the greatest gifts. Tonight’s performance felt like Christmas came early, so Merry Christmas to you and enjoy Gregory Porter’s interpretation of this longtime holiday standard.

You can hear Nat “King” Cole & Me by Gregory Porter streaming on Spotify or you can download from iTunes.