Gregory Porter, who just released his fourth studio album, Take Me to the Alley (Blue Note, May 6), requires an increasingly rare description: crossover jazz artist. The Bakersfield, Calif., native, 44, is at No. 20 on the Adult R&B Songs chart with single “Holding On,” an acoustic flip of his 2015 collaboration with U.K. electro phenom Disclosure, which already hit No. 1 on Dance Club Songs. Porter tells Billboard about the people and places that inspired his soul-inflected new album.
His 3-Year-Old Son, Demyan
“I’m not calculated about my music; I’m just thinking about things around me, like my son: how he operates, how he asks for 12 ice cream cones a day. ‘Don’t Lose Your Steam’ and ‘Day Dream’ — I ended up writing those songs about what I wanted to say to him.”
Europe’s Open Arms
“The European market and the U.K. market don’t take jazz as music that’s on the shelf. It’s quite alive there, so it’s not strange to say, ‘Bring up this jazz cat and put him on a song.’ I performed with Disclosure in Ibiza in front of thousands of people, and it was like, ‘How?’ I imagined it would happen 20 years ago. It didn’t — but it is now.”
“A love song cuts both ways. You can make mistakes in love, and that’s a story too. As a songwriter — as an artist, period — you take a kernel of heartbreak and you store it away. It may stew for years before you have something to say about it. ‘Don’t Be a Fool,’ that’s a real experience: It’s both admitting ‘Yes, I did wrong’ and saying ‘Don’t do what I did.'”
Ditching The Brown Shoes
“I studied city planning in school, and my sisters said, ‘Greg, we appreciate this artistic thing, but can you use your education and get a regular job? Can you wear brown shoes and live your life?’ But I had a good voice, so I stuck with music. It was a wise choice for me — this is who I am.”
This article was originally featured in the May 28 issue of Billboard.