When I spoke with Cécile McLorin Salvant a few weeks ago she was on the move—literally.
The Miami native was gearing up to set down roots in Brooklyn. There was much unpacking to do while also preparing for a jam-packed tour that will take the 28-year-old from Hong Kong and Tokyo to Australia and New Zealand to America’s heartland and the south of France and then some, this year.
Still, Salvant sounded remarkably calm, which had as much to do with her soft, reassuring speaking voice as this gifted chanteuse’s steely confidence as an artist and musician. That certainty was emboldened at the 60th Grammy Awards, where she took home her second Best Vocal Jazz Album statue for Dreams and Daggers. You see, two years earlier Salvant, at age 26, became the youngest woman to win the prize in that category for her virtuoso performance on For One to Love, her third album. This was her third Grammy nod, having caught critic’s attention, and the ultimate musician’s prize voters with WomanChild (Mack Avenue Records), her second CD.
For the uninitiated to Ms. Salvant, a fair warning: prepare yourself to go through, changes, as folks used to say.
Frequent comparisons to Betty Carter are unfair to Salvant and to the ingenious Carter. What Salvant does have in common with legends such as Carter, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Ethel Waters, and Dakota Staton is a fearlessness with a musical note, an ear for a perfect note, and an instinct for reimagining a classic song or a forgotten gem. Her interpretations of Valaida Snow’s “You Bring Out the Savage in Me,” Duke Ellington’s “Body & Soul,” and “The Trolley Song,” both shine and enlighten and provide a sense of both timelessness and modernity.
Dreams and Daggers proved that jazz is in great hands in this century with a natural storyteller and unparalleled instrument like Salvant.
Living very much in the present, Salvant is also looking forward to this year and beyond. In a free flowing conversation that felt like a jazz session, she rifted on a collection of original songs she was creating based in part on oral histories from the nineteenth century. We talked about that era’s obsession with mysticism against the backdrop of the certainty of profits from enslavement. I recommended Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination to her. She said she would check it out. I told her I would check out Dreams and Daggers.
I did. I can’t get it out of my mind.
Neither will you. And if Ms. McClorin Salvant is in your town, you’re in store for an unforgettable evening.
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