Subway entertainers are a mixed bag, but in the arts mecca of New York City, they're often overqualified — so much so that bands and other musical acts need to audition to even set up underground. And those are just the "official" performers.
Gregory Porter has the frame of a football linebacker — maybe because he once was one, for a Division I college — and the rich, booming voice you might expect from a guy with such lungs. It cuts through a crowd with its strength, in the manner of an old-school soul singer; it demands attention with its sensitivity. If Porter weren't winning over the international jazz club and festival circuit, he'd rise above the din wherever he went.
Of course, it wasn't the most practical (or legal) thing to actually get Gregory Porter to perform on an operational MTA train. So we asked him if he'd perform for us at the New York Transit Museum in downtown Brooklyn, a collection of vintage memorabilia and reconditioned cars housed in a former subway station. All the better: Porter has a way with vintage suits, and there was a fortunate coincidence about the way it all felt right among the period-specific ads which flanked him. Accompanied by pianist Chip Crawford — who perfectly punches and beds the gaps here — Porter sang his original "Be Good (Lion's Song)," a parable of unrequited affection (which NPR Music named one of our 100 favorite songs of 2012) and the title track from his latest album.
At the beginning of the video, we scrambled for some visual direction to lead into the singing itself. We were looking for a prop for Porter to be reading, so I dug into my backpack and found the current edition of the New York City Jazz Record, a monthly guide to music in the city. Porter has a new album in the works, and, given the charisma and conviction on display here, he might just make the cover of that publication himself when it comes out.
Produced by Saidah Blount, Mito Habe-Evans and Patrick Jarenwattananon; Videographers: Gabriella Garcia-Pardo, Mito Habe-Evans, Tim Wilkins; Audio engineered by Kevin Wait; Video edited by Gabriella Garcia-Pardo and Mito Habe-Evans; Special thanks to the New York Transit Museum