2-time GRAMMY-winning vocalist Gregory Porter's 3rd Blue Note album, Nat King Cole & Me, is a heartfelt tribute to his idol, the legendary singer, pianist and Capitol recording artist Nat King Cole. With the help of 6-time GRAMMY-winning arranger Vince Mendoza, the London Studio Orchestra, a core band featuring pianist Christian Sands, bassist Reuben Rogers, and drummer Ulysses Owens, and special guest trumpeter Terence Blanchard on two tracks, Porter revisits some of Cole’s most cherished classics such as “Mona Lisa,” “L-O-V-E,” “Nature Boy,” “The Christmas Song,” and “Smile.”
For Porter, the influence of Cole on his life and music runs deep, a through-line that reaches back into some of his earliest childhood memories. “He was one of a kind. He left such great music – such beautiful things to listen to that you can’t help but be influenced by that extraordinary timbre, style, and ultimate cool,” Porter enthuses. “It’s only natural that I go to the root of my inspiration and where I come from. And that root would be my mother and gospel music and Nat King Cole,” Porter says.
“My mother said I wrote this little song when I was 5 and put it on a tape and played it for her when she came home from work,” recalls Porter. Upon hearing it his mother, Ruth Porter, exclaimed “Boy, you sound like Nat King Cole,” a compliment that sent the curious young Gregory delving into her record collection.
“I remember thinking how strange that name was, going through her records, and first seeing his image: this elegant, handsome, strong man sitting by a fire, looking like somebody's daddy. Then I put the vinyl on the player and out of those speakers came that voice, that nurturing sound. It filled a void in me. 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’ – 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.”
Earlier in Porter’s career – after his role in the Tony-nominated musical It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues but before rising to international acclaim as his solo artist – Porter dramatized his deep appreciation for Cole in a semi-autobiographical musical, Nat King Cole & Me, which premiered in 2004.
“That musical was a way of me trying to find my father,” Porter explains. “I wrote it after my father [Rufus Porter] had passed. The musical was of Nat King Cole; and half of the music was of my original writing. But the story is how I came to Nat’s music in the absence of my father. So in a way, it was some self-prescribed, self-written therapy and emotional medicine for myself.”
That musical underpins Nat King Cole & Me, the follow-up to Porter’s GRAMMY-winning Blue Note albums Liquid Spirit (2013) and Take Me to the Alley (2016), which established Porter as a global superstar and his generation’s most soulful jazz singer-songwriter. The album will be available on the following formats: deluxe vinyl, deluxe/standard CD, deluxe/standard download, and on streaming services.
“I went about selecting the songs like I always do – first in a very emotional way,” Porter says. “I just gathered the songs that meant something to me over the years. There was a period in college when I had an injury to my shoulder and I needed music to soothe me at that time. So I ended up going back to Nat’s records. Then I did the same thing during the passing of my mother. In a way, there’s a familiarity and a calming effect to Nat’s music. Recording Nat’s music was very personal because I could hear and feel my mother. And I still feel myself searching for my father.”