Cécile McLorin Salvant
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Sullivan Fortner: piano, organ
Producers: Al Pryor, Cécile McLorin Salvant, and Sullivan Fortner
The world first learned of the incredible vocal artistry of Cécile McLorin Salvant when she won the prestigious 2010 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. In just under the span of a decade she has evolved from a darling of jazz critics and fans, to a multi-GRAMMY® Award winner, to a prescient and fearless voice in music today. Her newest release, The Window, an album of duets with the pianist Sullivan Fortner, explores and extends the tradition of the piano-vocal duo and its expressive possibilities. With just Fortner’s deft accompaniment to support McLorin Salvant, the two are free to improvise and rhapsodize, to play freely with time, harmony, melody and phrasing. “The Window” was produced by Cécile McLorin Salvant, Al Pryor and Sullivan Fortner.
The world first learned of the incredible vocal artistry of Cécile McLorin Salvant when she won the prestigious 2010 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. In just under the span of a decade she has evolved from a darling of jazz critics and fans, to a multi-GRAMMY® Award winner, to a prescient and fearless voice in music today.
In life and in music, McLorin Salvant’s path has been unorthodox. The child of a French mother and Haitian father, she was raised in the rich cultural and musical mix of Miami. She began formal piano studies at age five and started singing with the Miami Choral Society at age eight. Growing up in a bilingual household, she was exposed to a wide variety of music from around the world through her parents wide-ranging record collection. While jazz was part of this rich mix, her adolescent and teenage years were focused on singing classical music and Broadway. Following her desire to study abroad, she enrolled in college (Aix-en-Provence in the south of France) to study opera and law. Ironically, it was in France that McLorin Salvant began to really discover the deep roots of jazz and American music, with the guidance of instructor and jazz saxophonist, Jean-François Bonnel. Bonnel’s mentoring included bringing McLorin Salvant stacks of CDs, covering the work of jazz and blues legends as well as its lesser-known contributors. Working through these recordings, McLorin Salvant began building the foundation needed to thrive and occupy a special place in the august company of her predecessors.
Three years later, McLorin Salvant returned to the US to compete in the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. On the urging of her mother she entered the contest, but with little sense of what was awaiting her. The expatriate American jazz singer from France, surprising everyone (herself included), took top honors in the jazz world’s most demanding competition. An illustrious panel of judges – Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dianne Reeves, Kurt Elling, Patti Austin and Al Jarreau – noted her impeccable vocal technique, innate musicality, and gifts as an interpreter of popular song. “She brought down the house,” reported the Washington Post. Yet, as music critic Ann Midgett observed, “Her marathon is just beginning.”
Since 2010, McLorin Salvant has soared to the top of the music world, garnering praise and gathering awards. “She has poise, elegance, soul, humor, sensuality, power, virtuosity, range, insight, intelligence, depth and grace,” announced Wynton Marsalis. “You get a singer like this once in a generation or two.” She has been honored with top spots in DownBeat’s critic’s polls in the categories of “Jazz Album of the Year” and “Top Female Vocalist.” NPR Music has awarded her “Best Jazz Vocal Album of the Year” and “Best Jazz Vocalist.” Her debut album, WomanChild (2013), received a GRAMMY® nomination. And her following releases, For One to Love (2015) and Dreams and Daggers (2017), and The Window (2018) all won GRAMMY® Awards for “Best Jazz Vocal Album.” McLorin Salvant is a singer whose unique style demonstrates a keen sense of the history of jazz and American music.
Among her peers she is unique in the breadth and depth of her repertoire. She fearlessly performs songs from jazz’s roots in minstrel shows and ragtime, like Bert William’s “Nobody” and Jelly Roll Morton’s “Murder Ballad.” She digs deep into blues queens like Bessie Smith and Ida Cox, bringing out the mix of jubilation and sorrow that is at the core of the blues.
She sings from both the center and the periphery of the Great American Songbook, unearthing forgotten songs while offering fresh interpretations of well-known standards and enlivening Broadway gems with jazzy accents. Beyond the borders of American music, she also is an expert interpreter of Francophone chansons and cabaret numbers, tracing the influence of jazz across the globe, and retracing her own personal path as a musician from America to France and back again. If that weren’t enough, McLorin Salvant is also a gifted composer whose moving additions to the repertoire reflect her unique perspective on love, life, and womanhood.
Her gifts as an artist are rooted in her intensive study of the history of American Music and her uncanny ability to curate its treasures for her audience. Her albums are explorations of the immense repository of experience and feeling that abound in popular song. She understands the special role of the musician to find and share the emotions and messages in music that speak to our past, present and future. “I am not interested in the idea of relevance,” she explains. “I am interested in the idea of presence. I want to communicate across time, through time, play with time.”
All of McLorin Salvant’s study, training, creativity, intelligence, and artistry come together in her voice. The sound of her voice, to borrow a phrase, “contains multitudes.” It covers the gamut from breathy to bold, deep and husky to high and resonant, limpid to bluesy, with a clarity and richness that is nearly unparalleled. When she first burst onto the jazz scene, many listeners were struck by her ability to recall the sound of Bessie Smith, Sarah Vaughan, or Betty Carter. Yet with each new album, McLorin Salvant’s voice has become more her own, more singular. While conjuring the spirits of the ancestors, her references are controlled, focused, and purposeful. Her remarkable vocal technique never overshadows her rich interpretations of songs both familiar and obscure.
Critics praise McLorin Salvant’s gifts as an interpreter of popular song. “The marvel of Cécile McLorin Salvant is the complexity of her point of view as an artist,” writes David Hajdu in the pages of The Nation. “Like most jazz and cabaret singers, she works in a milieu that is essentially interpretive…But she chooses her material so astutely, and interprets it so adroitly, that the songs come across like the personal expression of an idiosyncratic individual with an utterly contemporary sensibility.” She inhabits the inner life of a lyric, shading them with subtle, often ironic poignancies through the use of vocal inflections, improvisations, varied phrasing, and articulation. Fred Kaplan of the New Yorker praises her “emotional range” and her ability to “inhabit different personas in the course of a song, sometimes even a phrase – delivering the lyrics in a faithful spirit while also commenting on them, mining them for unexpected drama and wit." In McLorin Salvant’s own words, “I think there is a lot of room for improvisation and surprise while still singing the lyric, and when that is successfully done it can express a great deal of emotion and reveal the different layers in the music and in the text all at once.”
Onstage, her persona is often compared to that of an actress. But, as McLorin Salvant notes, “jazz would not be what it is without its theatrical origins, vaudeville, and minstrel shows.” Through her selection of repertory and brilliant interpretations, she “plays with time,” making the musical past speak to our contemporary world. Her unflinching performance of songs from the minstrel tradition, such as Bert William’s “Nobody,” challenge us to think harder about race in America today. Her ironic, even sinister, rendition of songs like “Wives and Lovers” explore the complex intertwining of sex, gender and power. Her blues numbers are bawdy and vibrant, melancholic and forlorn, insistent and emancipatory.
She sings of the ecstasy and agony of love, of jubilation and dejection, of desire and being desired, of fearlessness and fragility. “I want to get as close to the center of the song as I can,” McLorin Salvant explains. “When I find something beautiful and touching I try to get close to it and share that with the audience.” Immersed in the song and yet completely in control, McLorin Salvant brings her immense personality to the music – daring, witty, playful, honest and mischievous.
Each new recording by McLorin Salvant reveals new aspects of her artistry. WomanChild and For One to Love established her style, her command, and interpretive range. Dreams and Daggers is a work that highlights her fresh and fearless approach to art that transcends the conventional – live and in the studio, with a trio and with a string quartet, standards and original compositions – held together by a vocal delivery that cuts against the grain, ever deepening, intensifying and nuancing the lyrics.
Her newest release, The Window, an album of duets with the pianist Sullivan Fortner, explores and extends the tradition of the piano-vocal duo and its expressive possibilities. With just Fortner’s deft accompaniment to support McLorin Salvant, the two are free to improvise and rhapsodize, to play freely with time, harmony, melody and phrasing.
Thematically, The Window is a meditative cycle of songs about the mercurial nature of love. The duo explores the theme across a wide repertory that includes Richard Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim, the inner-visionary Stevie Wonder, gems of French cabaret, and early Rhythm and Blues, alongside McLorin Salvant’s brilliant, original compositions. Just as a window frames a view—revealing as much as it hides, connecting as much as it separates – each song on the album offers a shifting and discerning perspective on love’s emotional complexity. McLorin Salvant sings of anticipation and joy, obsession and madness, torment and longing, tactics and coyness. The Window traverses love’s wide universe, from the pleasure of a lover’s touch with its feelings of human communion, to the invisible masks we wear to hide from others and from ourselves.
Touched at every moment by McLorin Salvant’s brilliance, The Window is a dazzling new release from an artist who is surely, to quote Duke Ellington, “beyond category.”
“You get a singer like this once in a generation or two.” -Wynton Marsalis
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... this year's win by 26-year-old jazz vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant, who lost out in the jazz vocal category in her first nomination in 2014 but came back to earn honors this year for her lauded album "For One to Love." Salvant beat out albums by Lorraine Feather, Karrin Allyson, Denise Donatelli and Jamison Ross.
“She makes the song her world and then uses her well-developed instrument to let others feel genuine emotions from that world, reveal the lessons from that world. And she has a marvelous and confident sense of taste.”
“It seems safe to posit that Cécile McLorin Salvant is not only the most successful female jazz singer to emerge since the turn of the millennium but also the most dynamically skilled…” — JazzTimes
"The irreproachably hip, fiendishly virtuosic Cécile McLorin Salvant continues her one-woman revitalization of the once-grand vocal-jazz tradition with another fine showcase for her savvy and adventurous approach to both song selection and interpretation.” —Magnet Magazine
The multiple-Grammy-winning 29-year-old offers a master class in jazz singing with her fourth album, which benefits from a pianist who sounds as majestically unhinged as she does. [Variety]
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This September, McLorin Salvant released For One to Love, and, as much as the new album continues with the tradition of the jazz and pop standards she has become known for, the now 2016 Grammy-nominated For One to Love is different. It’s an effort of, well, love.
In an age when singing the blues has been so thoroughly subsumed and reconfigured within other American pop-music traditions, when a main stem has become an offshoot branch, how is a self-aware jazz vocalist supposed to sell out emotionally — and expect to sell it to a wide audience?
Cécile McLorin Salvant has been called "the finest jazz singer to emerge in the last decade.” "Her blues are blue. Her swings swing," Kaplan says. "She has vast, almost operatic range.” He also says that Salvant digs into a lyric like an actress.
Salvant is up against some stiff competition: Denise Donatelli’s Find A Heart, Lorraine Feather’s Flirting With Disaster, Jamison Ross’ Jamison, and Karrin Allyson’s Many A New Day. But then the vocal album category is usually the biggest jazz deal, year after year, and the most recognized outside the genre — next to best jazz instrumental.
How the hell could I have missed Cecile McLorin Salvant? It's not as if she's been toiling in obscurity. She won the Thelonious Monk award in 2010, the Downbeat Critics' Prize for best jazz album (WomanChild) in 2014, and a Grammy for best jazz vocal album (For One to Love) just this year. She's been singing with her trio at the Village Vanguard this past week, and every set has been sold out or nearly so.
Only a few years into her career, the singer has absorbed the music’s history and made it her own. "...it was clear right away that the hype was justified. She sang with perfect intonation, elastic rhythm, an operatic range from thick lows to silky highs."
McLorin Salvant's powerful voice takes center state on her new album, a duo with pianist Sullivan Fortner. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says the music on The Window is riveting.
I did everything I could to not bring in any of the technical things I got from classical into jazz, and I did everything to really base it on my speaking voice and to just not try to make it sound pretty.
Ever since she stunned judges and took first place at the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition in 2010, the 27-year-old has established a legacy through an extraordinary command of jazz mythology augmented with her own eclectic tastes and surprising interpretations. Revue talked with Cecile McLorin Salvant about where her art is headed next and the inspiration and motivations that are driving her.
Cécile McLorin Salvant, "She’s a storyteller, mining their lyrics for wit and drama that other singers, even great ones, glide by.” — "It’s the best jazz vocal album in a decade, maybe longer. Oh, and she’s 28 years old.” — Slate
This fantastic double bill testifies to the enduring power and malleability of mainstream jazz tradition, where dazzling facility, individual voice, and casual erudition can bring new vitality to decades-old approaches.
Jazz singer/songwriter Cecile McLorin Salvant is an artist that is on the rise! At 28, Salvant is truly making her name for herself in the music industry. She is an artist that reminds people why good music is still alive.
Born to a French mother and a Haitian father in Miami, Florida, Cécile McLorin Salvant was singing and playing classical piano before she reached the age of 10. A move to France in 2007 saw her study improvisation and vocal repertoire under respected reedist Jean-François Bonnel. Success followed the recording of her debut album, Cécile, in 2009, winning the the 2010 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition.
Cécile McLorin Salvant, perhaps the brightest star among jazz singers under 40, and whose retro glasses make her look like a clerk at a hipster vinyl shop, has always had old-school tastes.
'There's nothing ordinary about Cecile McLoren Salvant. At 27 she's made her way to the frontline of jazz by not following the usual pathway... Dreams and Daggers will offer you a high level of reward and you'll want to add the name Cecile McLoren Salvant to your future watch-list.'
When we polled our music writers for their favorite albums last year, there was little crossover — not surprising when you consider that one critic loves jazz, another specializes in hip-hop, another favors country and yet another can’t get enough post-punk rock. This year, however, those same seven writers submitted lists with a bit more in common.
While most vocalists make the mistake of either strictly adhering to the American Songbook or flailing away in improvisations, Cecile McLorin Salvant showed that it is possible to embrace both worlds of tradition and art as she deftly demonstrated at UCSB Campbell Hall Wednesday night.
The usual setup of Cecile McLorin Salvant and Aaron Diehl’s working trio, with bassist Paul Sikivie and drummer Lawrence Leathers, was for this project expanded to an octet
Audiences familiar with Cécile McLorin Salvant’s work already know to expect a unique performance, with one of the artist’s trademark moves being a tendency to switch up her set list as the mood strikes.
“...the crowd goes wild. They loved her and you will too. If you zone her out (not easy to do) and pay attention to the trio, you’ll feel the same about them too.”
Bob Dylan has spent recent years demonstrating the Great American Songbook's greatness – however, he's hardly the only one re-animating it for a new era. Cécile McLorin Salvant, regularly and rightly, is considered one of the greatest jazz singers of her generation, but that label sells her short.
Winner of the 2010 Thelonious Monk Competition, Cecile McLorin Salvant performs her interpretations of the standards and shares some original songs, too.
"I was fascinated with the idea of a dream- like a dream that you have at night while you’re sleeping, and the whole idea of sleeping into another world. And how that’s still linked to your waking life."
"Cécile McLorin Salvant, who recently turned 28, can do it all: she sings standard ballads, upbeat bop and pop, feisty anthems, earthy blues; before turning exclusively to jazz, she also studied Baroque and classical singing..."
Recording live at the Village Vanguard has become a rite of passage for performers on their way up. A program ranging from '20s black vaudeville to feminist-themed originals shows off everything this talented singer can do, which is plenty. (Mack Avenue)
“I see them as little passageways or little remarks on what just happened,” she says. “Most of the songs I wrote were reactions to the standards on the album.”
Taken together, Ogresse and The Window strongly suggest that Salvant is the kind of performer who does it her way. At this point in her still relatively new career, she’s earned the rare opportunity to write her own ticket, and make outré gestures that defy expectation. Refreshingly, she isn’t chasing any commercial ideal of what a jazz singer should be—and in fact, it isn’t even apparent that she wants her audience to regard her as a jazz singer in the first place.
Rising vocal sensation Cécile McLorin Salvant is not the first young Grammy Award-winner to warmly thank her parents for their early and unwavering musical support. But she may well be one of the first to suggest, with a broad smile, that a certain degree of fear may also have been also a factor.
Vocal jazz is as popular as ever, and as critically underrated as ever -- no surprise, given that the majority of its practitioners are women. With her Friday afternoon set, Cécile McLorin-Salvant showed once again how foolish that divide is with a truly exceptional rendition of Duke Ellington’s "Sophisticated Lady"
At just 28, jazz vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant has already been lauded by the music industry, including its figurehead Wynton Marsalis, who said that a singer of her caliber only comes by “once in a generation or two.”
"There’s quiet and stillness and an air of reverence in the room, no matter who’s onstage—or so there had been at the dozens of shows I’ve attended at the Vanguard until this fall, when I saw Cécile McLorin Salvant."
The elegant swoops from high to low are pure Ella Fitzgerald. The undercurrent of rage and sorrow recalls Billie Holiday. Her low notes channel the raw blues moan of Bessie Smith. And Sarah Vaughan's sassy spirit haunts her high notes.
When the jazz vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant sings “Somewhere” on her fifth album, The Window, she approaches the American standard with complete knowledge of its monumental past—and its possibilities in the present. [Pitchfork]