|Still from Don’t Forget your Music|
Gregory Porter: Don’t Forget Your Music
(Film directed by Alfred George Bailey. No Budget Production, 85 mins. Review by Alison Bentley)
This warm-hearted documentary charts the swift rise of American singer and songwriter Gregory Porter. Surprisingly, Porter didn’t make his first album till nearly 40, and became popular in Europe before the US. Shot in black and white, there’s footage of Porter, his brother and sister and musicians. Interviews are carefully illustrated by black and white photos of his childhood, as well as recent shots, making the past live in the present. There are no voice-overs, but interviews with (mostly British and European) label bosses, broadcasters and fellow musicians, who pay tribute to his gargantuan talent.
The most fascinating interviews are with Porter himself: the calm dignity with which he describes racist abuse in Bakersfield, California, where he grew up; the love of his mother and pain of having an absent father, from whom, he says, he got his singing voice. All these things inspired his music. Gospel influences are to the forefront: his mother was a church minister and all eight children sang in church long and often. His free singing style was influenced by a church Elder: ‘He would sing in the middle of a sentence…just out of the middle of nowhere a musical moment would strike him.’
Porter had much musical experience before his fame began. He wrote a musical called Nat King Cole and Me, a Musical Healing, where he imagines his largely absent father being supportive of his music- he used the music to heal himself. There’s some intriguing footage of Porter performing in a musical called It Ain’t Nothing but the Blues as if born to it.
The film follows his climb- two Grammy nominations and finally a win for Liquid Spirit– Best Jazz Album in 2014. Brother Lloyd C Porter talks about finding him somewhere to live and work in New York, and driving him to gigs and open mic spots. Porter is still loyal to the core of his band, whom he met at St Nick’s, a Harlem jazz club. His pianist Albert ‘Chip’ Crawford felt he’d found ‘the voice he was supposed to be playing next to’ as soon as he heard him. Porter changed labels (to Blue Note) as his success increased, but his early mentor, saxophonist/composer Kamau Kenyatta, is still producing his albums. There’s a sense of a musical ‘family’ working together. We see them in the studio, Porter singing parts to the other musicians.
He talks about what motivates his music: …’to defend some injustice…to try to right some disrespect- somebody who’s perceived as weak…’ We hear plenty of Porter’s songs, from the powerful 1960 What?, about the shooting of Martin Luther King. (Musician Max Herre draws attention to Porter’s Curtis Mayfield and 1970s influences) There are the understated, emotive ballads, such as Illusion. Porter appeals to a wide range age: we also see him singing with British electronic dance music duo Disclosure. (A number of his songs have been given dance remixes, and DJ Gilles Peterson calls him ‘the ultimate MC.’)
British musicians try to explain his talent. Jools Holland talks about Porter’s voice being his instrument; Clare Teal describes his authenticity; Van Morrison describes his connection with music of the past, present and future.
It’s a film that’s both moving and enjoyable. As broadcaster Robert Elms puts it when describing Porter’s stage presence: ‘Even more than the size of the voice -and the size of the man- was the size of his humanity… you get the sense he’s lived a life that informed his songs.’
LINK: Pre-orders of the DVD, film soundtrack CD, T shirt’s etc can only be made via the Gregory Porter Movie Pledge Music page. The DVD is exclusive to Pledge Music.
SHOWINGS OF THE FILM: In Summer 2017: Doc N’ Roll will be touring the film around the UK. The producers have also been invited to submit the film to SXSW, Tribeca FF (New York), CIMM FF (Chicago), Indie Lisboa, CPH DOX(Copenhagen), Beijing