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Monday, February 20, 2017

Night Out in New York: Grammy winning jazz singer Gregory Porter celebrates love

This Associated Press photo shows jazz singer-songwriter Gregory Porter in 2014 with a Grammy Award for Best Vocal Jazz Album, "Liquid Spirit." In late January, he won another Grammy for Best Vocal Jazz Album, "Take Me to the Alley." 


NEW YORK, N.Y. -- A roar from the audience unlike anything I've heard before greeted soulful jazz singer Gregory Porter when he stepped onto the stage at Town Hall.

On Friday night, Porter and the sextet backing him were showered with more applause, shouts of approval and frequent amens during a set that lasted nearly 2 hours, including encores.

In his fourth annual Valentine's Week concert, Porter talked about himself more than he did when me and my wife saw him perform in both 2015 and 2016 at the International Jazz Festival in Montreal.

He recalled that "8 years ago" audience members could have seen him sing in a small jazz club for $3.50, including a free glass of beer.

Now, the singer-songwriter is traveling and performing all over the world in support of several albums, spreading a gospel of romantic and spiritual love in a warm, expressive baritone.

Porter is known for a repertoire of unique songs, so his audiences aren't looking for renditions of great jazz or soul standards.

Ministering to poor

Before he sang "Take Me to the Alley," the title song of his Grammy Award winning album, he recalled his mother was a minister who gave away his clothes to kids his age who were homeless.

Porter also sang the heart-breaking "When Love Was King."

The song has the force of a spiritual, but the past tense in the title is especially poignant.

See: Gregory Porter wows Montreal

Concert appetizer

Before the sold-out concert, we went to Scarlatto, an Italian-American restaurant at 250 W. 47th St. in Manhattan, for a three-course, price-fixed dinner ($29.95 each).

We had a reservation, but we were seated too close to the swinging double doors of the kitchen, and could hear the commotion as the dining room filled up with pre-theater and pre-concert diners.

I loved my Steamed Mussels in White Wine Sauce, served with a large spoon so I could enjoy the broth as a soup course.

But my wife wasn't happy with her Caesar Salad, which had too little dressing and Romaine lettuce chopped in pieces so small they were more suitable for a rabbit than a human.

We both loved our Baked Atlantic Salmon with Caramelized Onions -- a sweet, fruity topping on the fillet -- and a foundation of Sauteed Spinach ($3 supplement).

I ordered a glass of Nero D'Avola wine from Sicily ($11).

We skipped the third course, desserts of Panna Cotta or Capucccino Semifreddo, and the waiter substituted a cup of coffee for my wife and espresso for me.

Scarlatto's delicious Green Sauce -- made with arugula, basil, parsley, anchovies, grated cheese and extra-virgin olive oil -- accompanied the bread basket instead of butter, but the bread itself could have been better.
The Steamed Mussels came with a small seafood fork for the mussels and a large spoon for the broth.
The first-floor dining room was packed and noisy when we left around 6:20 Friday night to walk over to Town Hall. Scarlatto has no coat racks or coat room, and the bathrooms are down a flight of stairs.

See the website for Scarlatto, the Italian word for scarlet.