Opening set with Molly Johnson
“…sings songs you can go away humming.”
– The Guardian
Grammy-winning singing sensation Gregory Porter – one of the most successful jazz artists of his generation – is back.
His most recent album, ‘Nat King Cole & Me’ is a deeply personal tribute to Nat King Cole – the legendary crooner who ignited Gregory’s love of music. Recorded at London’s AIR Studios, the 12-track album features some of Gregory’s favourite Nat King Cole tunes including ‘Smile’, ‘L-O-V-E’ and ‘Nature Boy’. There is also a Nat-inspired arrangement of Gregory’s own song ‘When Love Was King’, originally released on his million-selling hit album, ‘Liquid Spirit’.
An artist whose music is at once timeless yet utterly of its time, Gregory Porter solidified his standing as his generation’s most soulful jazz singer-songwriter with the release of Take Me to the Alley, the much-anticipated follow-up to his million-selling Grammy-winning 2013 Blue Note debut Liquid Spirit.
Raised in California, Porter’s mother was a minister, and he cites the Bakersfield Southern Gospel sound, as well as his mother’s Nat King Cole record collection, as fundamental influences on his own sound. Porter began singing in small jazz clubs in San Diego while attending San Diego State University on a football scholarship, where he played outside linebacker. Eventually it was music that Porter chose to pursue full-time at the encouragement of local musicians including his mentor Kamau Kenyatta.
Kenyatta invited Porter to visit him in the studio in Los Angeles, where he was producing flutist Hubert Laws' album Remembers the Unforgettable Nat King Cole. When Laws overheard Porter singing along while he was tracking the Charlie Chaplin song "Smile," he was so impressed with the young singer that he decided to include Porter on the album.
Another fortunate twist of fate was the presence that day of Laws' sister, Eloise, a singer who was soon to join the cast of a new musical theater production It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues. Porter had minimal theatrical experience but was cast in one of the show’s lead roles when the play opened in Denver, and he eventually followed it to Off-Broadway and then Broadway, where The New York Times, in its 1999 rave review, mentioned Porter among the show's "powerhouse line up of singers.” It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues went on to earn both Tony and Drama Desk Award nominations that year.
Porter eventually put down roots in Brooklyn, and in 2010 released his debut album Water (Motéma Music), which earned a GRAMMY nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Album. His sophomore album Be Good (Motéma Music) followed in 2012 and earned him his second GRAMMY nomination for Best Traditional R&B Performance.
Despite having now recorded or shared the stage with the likes of Van Morrison, Wynton Marsalis, Dianne Reeves, Nicola Conte, Christian McBride, Kenny Barron, Buster Williams and David Murray, Porter remains grounded and humbled by all the new accolades. “Sometimes I haven’t had a chance to absorb and enjoy some of the audiences that I’ve been in front of, especially some of the icons of the music like Wynton and Herbie,” Porter says, “And they give me so much open-arm love; I couldn’t fathom that two years ago.”
Molly Johnson - vocals
Colleen Allen - horns
Andrew Craig - piano
Rich Brown - bass
Don Pham - drums
Known as one of Canada’s greatest voices, award-winning jazz vocalist Molly Johnson is a mother, singer-songwriter, artist and philanthropist who has grown to become a Canadian icon in the jazz scene worldwide. Molly’s luscious interpretations of jazz and blues standards speak to an emotional depth that few vocalists in any genre have ever reached.
Molly’s story starts in the mid-sixties when as a young grade schooler, she and her brother, Clark Johnson, were tapped by legendary Toronto icon and producer Ed Mirvish to appear in Porgy and Bess at the Royal Alexander Theatre. In time, Porgy and Bess was followed by South Pacific, Finian’s Rainbow and other classic musicals. With the desire to become a choreographer, the budding child star was soon enrolled in the National Ballet School. Eventually Molly was taken with the idea of writing songs and the future chanteuse began to see herself as a potential songwriter.
At 15 years old, Molly fronted a disco band, Chocolate Affair, lasting just over a year. In 1979, she formed a funky art rock group, Alta Moda (Italian for “High Style”), which later morphed into the harder rocking Infidels. While Molly was trying to make headway in the world of rock and roll with both Alta Moda and Infidels, she began a parallel career as a jazz singer.
By the late 1990s, Molly had started her family and, being burned twice by record companies, was contemplating giving up on the music business – until Toronto songwriter and producer Steven Mackinnon suggested she should write some songs with him. The partnership proved successful after a dozen or so songs when MacKinnon declared, “I think we have a record.” The debut jazz album Molly Johnson (2000) was issued to critical acclaim but unfortunately, Molly’s record company, Sony Corp., went bankrupt shortly after the CD’s release. Three years later, she recorded her second jazz-pop release, Another Day (2003), which led her to become a bonafide star in France.
Molly’s next album, Messin’ Around (2006), was her first album recorded with Universal Music Canada. Recorded “live” off the floor alongside her band mates in 14 days, the result was an extraordinary and sophisticated pop record that infused Molly’s well-honed melodic skills, artful Tin Pan Alley style lyrics, jazz phrasing and overall pop sensibility.
Since then, Molly has released two more albums, which includes Lucky (2008) and The Molly Johnson Songbook (2011). In 2009, Molly won a Juno Award for Best Vocal Jazz Album for her fourth full-length, career milestone album Lucky and also received the2009 National Jazz Award for Best Female Vocalist.
Molly has performed throughout Canada, the United States, and France and alongside renowned artists including Tom Cochrane, Blue Rodeo, Tom Jones, Jackie Richardson, Anne Murray, Stéphane Grappelli, Peter Appleyard and more. Molly has also graced the stage performing for some of the world’s most prominent icons including the Prince and late Princess of Wales on the Royal Yacht Britannia, as well as Nelson Mandela and legendary producer and trumpeter Quincy Jones. Molly is also the sister of Clark Johnson , Ron Johnson and Tabby Johnson.
Dedicated to supporting communities in need, Molly established the Kumbaya Foundation and Festival in 1992, raising awareness and funds for people living with HIV/AIDS, and continues to work with several other charitable organizations each year. Molly has been awarded the Queen’s Jubilee medal, and in 2008, was honoured with becoming an Officer of The Order Of Canada (O.C.). This rare distinction was given to Molly to recognize her philanthropic work for a variety of causes and for her international contributions to the arts.
Molly was the voice of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) Radio 2 Weekend Morning program where she eased listeners into their weekend with great Canadian songs, and stories about musicians and the people of Canada, from coast to coast. The Canadian music icon’s latest release, the Juno nominated, Because of Billie (2014) is a celebration of the music of Billie Holiday. Billie Holiday’s journey inspires Johnson not only as an artist, but as a model citizen.