Posted On 11 Dec 2018
Meet Jennifer Porter! She is an award-winning musician, actress and screenwriter. She has performed with Classical and Jazz orchestras, including the world famous Glenn Miller Orchestra as well as smaller combos, such as her own quintet.
She is an accomplished Blues pianist, and has played with C.J. Chenier, Nathan & The Zydeco Cha-Chas, and Buckwheat Zydeco’s band, Ils Sont Partis. Her musical repertoire spans from Jazz to Blues to Country to Opera. She is a prodigious vocal arranger, stellar music director, and accomplished choreographer, having performed those duties in over 20 musicals.
She has recorded seven albums to date and this fall she released her newest one, These Years. It was recorded with legendary producer and 12-time Grammy Award winner Jay Newland, best known for his work with Norah Jones on her 32x worldwide platinum debut Come Away with Me.
Her album Easy Living, with Grammy-winning producer Lawrence Manchester, was nominated for a 2015 Independent Music Award in the Jazz With Vocals category and received airplay throughout the country including support at KJazz Los Angeles, WWOZ New Orleans and Public Radio International’s Jazz After Hours.
Connect With Jennifer Porter Here: http://www.jennifernicholeporter.com/
Learn more about Jennifer Porter in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time today!
My pleasure! Thank you!
Where does this interview find you now?
I am in my room. My husband and I each have a room in our house that is ours alone. I have all my instruments here, some comfy chairs to sit and think, and a desk for writing.
Is there music playing in the background?
No. Music draws all my attention. I mostly have it in the background when I am doing mindless tasks. But earlier, I was listening to Billie Holiday and Nina Simone.
Now that we are on the back end of the year, how do you think 2018 has treated you and your career?
It’s been a year mostly of exciting, if sometimes seemingly endless work on THESE YEARS, with a few stage-acting roles tossed in. One of those roles was quite challenging. I played Rita in EDUCATING RITA, and, though it was demanding, I felt rewarded playing such a beautifully written role, opposite my favorite actor in the world. Overall, my experience of this year has been working, for the most part, in relative solitude. On the CD project, it was often just one of several wonderful engineers or musicians and me alone in the studio. On the plays, just one or two fantastic actors and me creating our world alone on stage. As the months progressed, I became more and more impatient to share THESE YEARS with the world, and now that it’s ready to share, I feel (as I usually do when I release a project) both excited and anxious! I have met and worked with some really terrific people this year!
What has been one goal that you have had this year and how close are you to reaching it? Or did you already reach it?
My goal was to get myself a good manager, and I now have a great one in Europe, and am still working on finding one in the U.S.
Growing up, how important was music to you?
It was everything to me. I was painfully shy, and was an easy target for the neighborhood bullies. Making music helped alleviate the loneliness.
Can you recall the moment when you decided that you wanted to be a musician?
Yes. I was 4 years old, and I was watching a pianist named Maxine entertain everyone at one of my grandparents notorious cocktail parties. She played boogie-woogie, blues and jazz standards. I was fascinated by the movement of her fingers across the keyboard! It amazed me that she could take something sitting mute in the corner and make all of these fantastic sounds come from it. The chords, the harmony, the melody, the rhythm, all coming together. The sounds singing and dancing at the same time. I was hooked! I sat down the next day, when I was alone, and began to pick out, by ear, what she had played the night before, never thinking that I wouldn’t be able to (I guess I was lucky that I could, or I would have been in for a sad realization!). I continued playing by ear for four more years, until my parents got me a teacher, who insisted I learn to read music. I avoided her wishes at first, by asking her to play the song I was supposed to learn before I left the lesson. I would listen to what she played, then figure it out by ear at home. This went on for two years, until one day, her phone rang at the end of the lesson, and I had to leave without her playing the song. I was terrified all week! At the next lesson, I had to fess up. After that she never played a song for me again. I’m glad she forced me to read. It opened up other doors. I realized that it allowed me to “hear” another musician without their having to be in the room, or for that matter, even alive!
Was it an easy or difficult choice to make?
It probably sounds cliché, but I felt like I never made the choice to be a musician. It never felt like a choice! Though I did plan to be a musician, and an international spy on the side. So far, the international spy part has yet to pan out.
What has been the biggest surprise so far about making music your career?
No surprises yet!
What has been an unexpected or welcome challenge to it all?
I didn’t expect that the business side of things could sometimes become so all consuming, that the actual playing of the music would take a backseat! I’m not very happy about that!
How do you think you and your music have been influenced by your hometown and where you live today?
I’m not really sure it has influenced my music. I grew up in Maine, but I was always drawn to Memphis and New Orleans styles of music.
Let’s talk about your soon-to-be released collection, “These Years.” What was it like creating this album and writing these songs?
Creating the album was both euphoric and agonizing! This is partly because most of the songs that I wrote for this album came during one particularly prolific week. When writing them, I felt like I was tapped into some universal well of creativity. They practically erupted onto the page and out of my fingers. They are some of my favorite songs I’ve ever written. Because of this, I felt a lot of pressure to do them justice. It was a beautiful thing hearing the songs come to life in the hands of the other wonderful musicians who played on the album, and there were sublime moments, that resembled the writing process, particularly in the recording of the title track, THESE YEARS.
Did anything surprise you about the overall process?
As I just alluded to, when recording the title track, something very special happened. Jay, the producer, decided to record a different version of the song than I had planned on. I told him I needed five minutes at the piano to write out a fresh chart for the band, and when we recorded the first take, it was magic. After the sound of the final notes had trailed off into silence, no one spoke for a long time. Then Tony Mason, the drummer, uttered a hushed “Whoa”, after which we all started talking at once. My partner, Dana was in the control room with Jay, who said to him: “This is when you say to them, let’s record one now.” Of course he had caught the take, and was just kidding, and luckily he didn’t have the heart to scare us all!
Since it is your 7th album, did you approach the recording of it any differently then your previous ones?
I didn’t really. As I said, I felt a bit more pressure on this one, as I wanted to do the songs justice. But I really did approach it the same. Two of my albums are different from the others, as they are soundtracks that I composed and performed for the two movies, MR. BARRINGTON and 40 WEST, which Dana and I made with our film company, Honey Tree Films.
How do you think that you have grown as artist over the years?
This might sound a bit self-indulgent, but I’ve learned to trust my gut instincts; that they, the majority of the time, will lead me in the right direction. This feels nice!
I’m not really sure!
What was it like working with the Grammy-award winning producer Jay Newland on this album?
He is a master of his craft. He pulled together an amazing band for this album, and helped shape the album thematically. He opened many doors for me, and I will always be grateful to him for believing in my music and me!
While it’s difficult to pick, can you choose a few of your favorite songs off “These Years” and talk about how they were written and came to be on this album?
It is difficult to pick! ROAD TO REDEMPTION is a favorite of mine, as are THESE YEARS, and FOR YOU. They were included in a demo of 7 songs from which Jay chose his favorites (MY SECRET DESIRE was on that demo as well). As I mentioned before, these songs almost felt as if they wrote themselves. The lyrics for all three come from my belief that traveling, even if you have no idea where you are headed, has the potential to bring you somewhere wonderful. That even if you don’t know what you should be doing, just doing anything will eventually help you figure it out! As Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” I have this quote posted on my refrigerator.
Typically, how do you go about writing your music?
I write the music first. I keep a small recorder on my piano, and if a melody or interesting chord progression comes to my mind, I will hum or play it into the recorder, and then add words, as a rhythmic or lyrical pattern begins to develop within the music. For the most part, I let a song build up inside my head, both lyric and music-wise, until it’s ready to tumble out, fully formed. There are exceptions to this. Some songs are very stubborn about being born!
I would love to know what it was like performing with the world famous Glenn Miller Orchestra?
Surreal! I know the recordings of the Glenn Miller Orchestra back and forth, inside and out, and to hear those same arrangements live, was thrilling. When I was a kid, I would put on Big Band records, including the Glenn Miller Orchestra, and sing along with them, pretending I was on stage, wearing a gown that sparkled in the spotlight, with the whole band playing behind me, and here I was living out my childhood fantasy!
What other performance of yours stands out to you?
Hmm… It’s a three way tie between being the soprano soloist for Schubert’s Mass in G with the Bangor Symphony Orchestra when I was 18, playing Patsy Cline on three separate occasions, which involved singing 32 of her greatest hits night after night to huge Patsy fans, who expected each turn of phrase to sound exactly like her (one fan even asked me to autograph her program as Patsy. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that!) and playing piano with Zydeco great, C.J. Chenier, who was a guest artist on THESE YEARS.
Since the beginning of music, people have turned to it for support and as an escape from their realities. How do you want your music received and appreciated?
For people who need it, I would want it to give them hope. To help them feel that they aren’t alone. For those who mostly listen to the music, I would want it to groove them!
What has it been like keeping up with your social media accounts and all of the different platforms?
Until recently, I’ve only used Facebook. I’ve just begun to engage on Instagram with the help of my tech-savvy niece. In truth, I am uncomfortable with social media. I am still a very shy person. I love the interactions I have with fans who reach out to me on Facebook though, and for that reason, I will, of course, continue to use it!
Is it hard to stay up to date on it all?
What would you say is your favorite way to connect with your fans now?
Face to face!
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music?
I would say The Neville Brothers, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, John Hiatt, Sam Cooke, and Billie Holiday.
Who would you absolutely still love to work with in the future?
Those listed above (who are still alive!), Dr. John, Bonnie Raitt and Kris Kristofferson.
If you were going to be stranded on a deserted island forever, what musical item would you take with you and why?
My piano. It contains the whole band – the bass in the bottom, the rhythm in the middle, and the melody in the top.
If your music was going to be featured on any TV show that is currently on right now, which would you love it to be on? Or if you prefer, what is a movie that you love that you wish your music was featured in?
My favorite movie of all time is STRICTLY BALLROOM, but I don’t think any of these songs would work there! As I said before, two of my seven CDs contain the soundtracks I wrote for our movies, so the question is a bit hard to answer, as my music has been in movies. I wrote the song SKIN AND BONE, which is on THESE YEARS, for our movie 40 WEST. I know this is not what you asked, but my favorite movie score of all time is Quincy Jones’ for THE COLOR PURPLE, followed by Alan Silvestri’s for FORREST GUMP, and Rachel Portman’s for THE CIDER HOUSE RULES.
Do you have any tour dates you would like to tell our readers about?
I will be touring in Northern Europe next fall. Dates will be forthcoming!
How will you be spending your winter?
I’ve been writing new songs that I hope to record soon. I will be doing some performing, and, living in Maine, I will be shoveling a lot of snow!
At the end of the day, what do you hope your fans take away from your music?
I hope they find the strength to keep the faith. I also hope the music grooves and moves them.
I’d like to know more about how you want your music to be timeless?
Well, when I was younger, I was always worried because I didn’t sound, as a singer, like anyone I heard on the radio. I’ve since embraced the fact that I don’t and own it. The same is true for the music that I write. I am influenced by and have performed many styles of music, which makes my music difficult to categorize. I used to feel that this too, was a fault, but now I see it as a strength. As my music falls outside of trends and era-defining sounds, it can’t be tied sonically to specific time periods. I hope that this will help it to sound fresh in 20 years. I hope those things I once considered weaknesses will come to make my music stand the test of time, but we’ll see!
Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers about yourself or your music?
Just that I am deeply grateful to my fans and followers, and that I appreciate your interviewing me. It’s been an honor!