UC San Diego's Department of Music

January 29, 2014

  Kamau Kenyatta, lecturer and director of the Department of Music's jazz ensembles, associate produced jazz singer Gregory Porter's Liquid Spirit, honored as Best Jazz Vocal CD at this year's Grammy Awards. Kamau's creative contribution also included horn arrangements.

The two artists met in the 1990s, when Porter was a student in a jazz chamber ensemble class taught by Kamau, who was filling in for George Lewis (Kamau eventually inherited the class and still teaches it).

"I encouraged him to develop his own repertoire and concept, and we talked a great deal about the visual arts and history, and I shared a wide range of music that had inspired me," Kamau said. "I introduced Gregory to [renowned jazz] flutist Hubert Laws and that helped jump start his career." Not only has Kamau been Porter's most important mentor, the two have become best friends and artistic collaborators. Kamau produced or co-produced Porter's two previous Grammy-nominated albums.

Liquid Spirit was recorded at Sear Sound in Manhattan. The 14-song CD is Porter's debut on the prestigious Blue Note label. New York Times critic Nate Chinen lauds Porter's "thrilling presence, a booming baritone with a gift for earthy refinement and soaring uplift." The CD earns five stars on Amazon based on reviews from 85 listeners.

"The biggest challenge was working with limited time due to Gregory's busy international touring schedule," Kamau said. "He was writing and finishing songs on the subway, and some of the arrangements were created in the studio.

"I'm proud of helping to reveal Gregory's unique musical vision and communicating our ideas effectively to the musicians so that he could concentrate on singing."

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