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 a decade, she has evolved into a multi-Grammy Award winner (with all three Mack Avenue Records releases receiving nominations, and the last two winning for best jazz vocals album) and a prescient and fearless voice in music today.
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 says. “I am interested in the idea of presence. I want to communicate across time, through time, play with time.”
Onstage, her persona is often compared to that of an actress. But as McLorin Salvant observes, “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. Historically, her unflinching performance of songs from the minstrel tradition challenge us to think harder about race in America today. Her ironic, even sinister, rendition of songs 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 says. “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.