Cécile McLorin Salvant Makes Me Care Again


Photo by Mark Fitton

I don’t care much for jazz singing these days—precisely because I love jazz singing, and since too many vocalists seem as if beating dead horses or faking things with great competence.
Don’t get me wrong. Dee Dee Bridgewater, at 65, is her riveting and blues-drenched self, backed by the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra on the new CD “Dee Dee’s Feathers” (OKeh). Cassandra Wilson, 59, honored Billie Holiday’s centennial with subtlety and invention on last year’s “Coming Forth By Day” (Legacy). And on “Speaking in Tongues” (Sunnyside, due Sept. 18), Luciana Souza, 49, works as an equal improvising partner alongside stellar instrumentalists, singing wordlessly for the most part.
Still, it’s been rare to hear a young female singer find her stride without sagging from the weight of inherited legacy or wandering aimlessly for lack of clear intent. Along came Cécile McLorin Salvant, Continue reading “Cécile McLorin Salvant Makes Me Care Again”

How I Fell For Cécile

Photo by Rob Davidson/courtesy Jazz at Lincoln Center

I’d heard about her charms.
I’d heard her voice, so I knew her charms.
But not really. Not yet.
I’d resisted. Been busy. Besides, been burned so many times by singers who promised to take me to that place only real jazz singers can yet then left me cold. Or worse, I felt nothing at all, like the problem were mine, as if I were just hung up on singers that are gone (Abbey Lincoln, Betty Carter) or had made themselves scarce but still wonderful (Cassandra Wilson).
They said she was from Miami. From Haiti. From France. (In fact, she is from all those places, by way of birth, heritage and study abroad.)
It’s not like I didn’t notice Cécile McLorin Salvant, like that time she copped top prize at the 2010 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition.
Yes, I was paying attention. I listened to her Grammy-nominated CD, “WomanChild” (Mack Avenue), on which I heard both the woman and the child, both born singers with something to say and century’s worth of less-traveled (and some brand-new) material through which to express it. Probably because I hadn’t caught her in live performance, I thought all those voices buzzing around her were, well, just buzz.
I did nod when Ben Ratliff wrote, in his astute New York Times review of that CD:

“….to concentrate on Ms. Salvant’s song choices and all the bases she’s covering might gloss over the best parts of “WomanChild,” which is the precision of her wide voice and also her volatility, her tension between deference and extravagance, her willingness to play with sound and start rising to the higher atmospheres of improvising, where some of the greatest musicians get more mileage out of forgetting than out of remembering. And, too, her rich partnership with the pianist Aaron Diehl, who is also a kind of classicist at play…”

The connection she had with Diehl said nearly as much as the way she phrased a lyric—knowing and utterly in control. Continue reading “How I Fell For Cécile”