Spiritual, emotional and divine – what more could you expect from a church setting where Gregory Porter paid tribute to one of music’s greats and a key influence in his own musical journey. Sitting amongst 150 guests inside the LSO St Luke’s in London last night, a private audience were privy to the first UK performance of 6 tracks from Gregory Porter’s forthcoming album ‘Nat King Cole & Me’.
Accompanied by the 70 piece London Symphony Orchestra conducted by six-time Grammy-winning conductor and arranger Vince Mendoza, Gregory gave a deeply emotive and spirited rendition of some of the greatest songs from the legendary singer who has inspired him since the age of five.
Discovering Nat King Cole’s music early on, Gregory Porter felt the influence throughout his life as Nat came to fill a deeper void, “I came to Nat’s music with the absence of my father, and I used Nat’s music as emotional healing”, Gregory revealed after the performance in a Q&A with musician and president of Blue Note, Don Was.
Explaining the personal significance of making this record, Gregory told the audience how “The project ‘Nat King Cole & Me is a dream come true. I just remember I was just a little boy sitting listening to this music, so it’s more than just music to me, they’re my memories and they’re you’re memories as well – they’re very famous songs.”
Beyond the music, describing the inspiration behind the project and his relationship to Nat King Cole’s music, Gregory elaborated on the greater legacy of Nat King Cole and his impact within the greater conversation about identity. “Just his image, style and eloquence and undeniable talent and grace and beauty was something very important in my country and even in the world, to see an image of an extraordinary artist. It shouldn’t even be an asterix – a Black American presenting himself in such a beautiful way to the rest of the country.”
“Literally the whole thing started because I was having pain in my chest… I’m getting real personal here… I was having a pain in my chest and I thought “something’s wrong, something’s physically wrong, a valve isn’t working” and I went to the doctor and he said “nothing, we can’t find anything, perfect health”, and then the doctor said “I want you to go see somebody”, and I didn’t know who I was going to see and it was a therapist.”
Gregory’s love for Nat’s music blossomed so much that he wrote a semi-autobiographical musical, also called ‘Nat King Cole & Me’, which premiered in 2004. “Once I started talking to the therapist a couple times, the pain went away, and she was like “Ok that was it that was the pain, the physical pain you were feeling”. And I started to write the story about how I found Nat’s music. The power and the ability of music to heal, that’s what it did to me, is still doing that and I hope that with this record ‘Nat King Cole & Me’, people catch some healings. It’s positive music that has influenced me and it’s part of my musical story, this is why I recorded Nat King Cole & Me”.
“‘The greatest thing that you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return’, these are life lessons and kind of thing I want to say to my son, similar things, I have said these things.”
Recorded at London’s AIR Studios, the 12-track album features some of Gregory’s favourite Nat King Cole tunes including ‘Smile’, ‘L-O-V-E’ and ‘Nature Boy’ and a stunning Nat-inspired arrangement of Gregory’s own song ‘When Love Was King’, originally released on his million-selling hit album, ‘Liquid Spirit’. The new album marks the first time Gregory has recorded with a full orchestra and last night all 70 musicians were reunited together with Vince at the special launch event in London – “Vince is extraordinarily cinematic and beautiful”.
‘Nat King Cole & Me’ is the follow-up to last years Grammy-winning album ‘Take Me to the Alley’ (2016) and with festival appearances, numerous television performances, Gregory literally has become a household name in the UK.
Gregory Porter, as one of the most important and acclaimed jazz artists of his generation, is exactly the artist who can bring just to a legend. ‘Nat King Cole & Me’, is released on Decca/Blue Note on 27th October.