Grammy-winning vocalist Gregory Porter has a long history with vocal legend Nat “King” Cole, dating back to Porter’s semi-autographical musical, Nat King Cole & Me, which made its world premiere in Denver in 2004.
But even before Porter was an emergent theater star and international jazz celebrity, he recalls being enamored with Cole’s enveloping vocal style. He thinks back on his first encounter with Cole’s music fondly.
“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,” said Porter. “Then I put the vinyl on the player and out of those speakers came that voice, that nurturing sound.”
Now, Porter will pay homage to that nurturing sound with the release of a new album, also titled Nat King Cole & Me, due Oct. 27 on Blue Note Records. The album is a heartfelt tribute to an artist whose music had a tremendous impacted Porter’s life.
“It filled a void in me,” said Porter. “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.”
Last week, Porter released “L-O-V-E,” the second single from his forthcoming album. The track features Porter’s warm, resonant vocals and a brilliant trumpet solo by Terence Blanchard, backed by a lissome rhythm section of pianist Christian Sands, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Ulysses Owens. The song, which you can stream below, was written by Milt Gabler and Bert Kampfert and was featured as the title track of Cole’s 1965 album on Capitol Records.
Other Cole classics appearing on the album include “Smile,” “Mona Lisa,” “Nature Boy” and “The Christmas Song,” with orchestration provided by six-time Grammy-winning arranger Vince Mendoza and the London Studio Orchestra.
Porter said he chose the program for this disc based on his own personal history with Cole.
“I went about selecting the songs like I always do—first in a very emotional way,” Porter said. “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.”
Nat King Cole & Me is the follow-up to Porter’s Grammy-winning Blue Note album Take Me To The Alley, which placed third in the Jazz Album category of the 2016 Downbeat Readers Poll. Porter also topped the Male Vocalist category in that year’s Readers and Critics Polls.