Cecile McLorin Salvant
For some reason, her publicist passed by my name in sending out review copies of her albums, though that's no excuse: I do pay cash money for new records now and then. I might not have gone to the trouble this time because I tend to be dismissive, or skeptical, of jazz singers. My reasoning: you don't have to sound like Charlie Parker or John Coltrane to be a great saxophone player; but if you want to sing standards, there's only so much you can do without inviting comparison with the great onesSarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, June Christy, Betty Carter, Shirley Hornand few measure up.
Well, I went to see Cecile McLorin Salvant Thursday night at the Village Vanguard, and let me tell you, she more than measures up. She stands with the best of them. She does it all: her blues are bluesy, her swing swings, she spans every octave (from silky highs to growly lows to everything, every shade in between), with the full range of emotionjoy, rage, wit, whimsy, frothy romance, heavy passionand she does it naturally, without a trace of show-off. She does it with Gershwin, Berlin, Bessie Smith, andin the set's jaw-drop closerKurt Weill & Langston Hughes' "Somehow I Could Never Believe," from their little-known opera, Street Scene, on which she displayed a vast and subtle range of character and mood, suggesting she could hit it big on Broadway (or at City Opera), if she chose. She's a master storyteller as well as a master singer.
Oh, and she's 28 years old.
She was born in Miami, her father a Haitian doctor, her mother the founder of a French immersion school. She took lessons in classical piano from age five, sang in a local choir at eight. At 18, she moved to Aix-en-Provence to study classical and baroque voice at the Darius Milhaud Conservatory (she also made time to study law), then took lessons in improvisation and the songbook repertory. Only at this point, in 2009, at the age of 20, did she try her hand at jazz singing; she drew rave reviews for a gig at Ronnie Scott's in London and kept going.
Her band is also top-notch. Pianist Aaron Diehl has a supple touch and inventive chops comparable to the great accompanists to jazz singerssay, Tommy Flanagan to Ella or Mal Waldron to Billie. Paul Sikivie plucks a warm insistence on bass. Lawrence Leathers spreads sticks and brushes on the drums with supreme tastiness.
If you can nab one of the small number of seats for sale this weekend (she and her trio play through Sunday, September 11), rush to do so. If not, catch her the next time she's in your city. Meanwhile, I'm going to check out her albums. I'll let you know.