The glow within
Cécile McLorin Salvant’s warm, playful vocals bring a mesmerizing vibrancy to any song she sings. To coincide with her new release, here’s a portrait of this jazz diva who loves to think big.
She has a feeling for color, something that’s immediately obvious in her clothes, her red, green, and bright yellow dresses and tunics, and the sky-blue, pink or slate-gray glasses she wears according to her mood. Then there are her pastels, for in addition to being a vocalist, Cécile McLorin Salvant is an excellent draftswoman. She has exhibited in New York and sold a number of works. This multitalented artist has both a good eye and a good ear. At the age of 28, she has already won the Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album (2016), and in 2010 she was the youngest winner of the prestigious jazz vocals competition at the Thelonious Monk Institute, chosen by a jury consisting of such stars as Dee Dee Bridgewater and Al Jarreau.
All this has given her energy and ambition. She wants to be an actress. And a diva. She loves the stage. You can sense it. Her physical presence, striking looks and magnificent voice captivate her audience. The video clips say it all: she glows on stage. She catches the light and is one with her voice. When you hear her sing, you understand why she has not given up on the idea of becoming an actress. She imagines herself unbearable, capricious, dreams of experiencing what she has seen with her very own eyes, a star passing with stately ceremony through a crowd of admirers, without a glance, pursued by a horde of obsequious fans. She is floating on air.
Born in the United States, now based in Miami, Florida, this singer with a powerful voice performs jazz standards as well as songs by Fréhel, Édith Piaf and Mistinguett. McLorin Salvant has swing in her blood. She started out singing in choirs. She was noticed by her teachers, who pointed her in the direction of the music conservatory. With her voice that plumbs sonorous low notes and soars to the high top notes, she might have climbed the ranks; but her path turned out to be a tortuous one. In 2007, she moved to Aix-en-Provence, where she enrolled in the law faculty. After studying for two years, life took another twist. The classes in classical and Baroque singing that she followed in parallel got the upper hand. She had found her calling. Her sister tried to persuade her to take the law exams anyway, but it was no use. She cast aside her books and hit the road again.
Since then, she has been touring. Some of the songs she performs were written by her. On her last record, Dreams and Daggers, partly recorded at the Village Vanguard in New York, she sings a song in French by Joséphine Baker, “Si j’étais blanche” (If I Were White). In it, the heroine rolls about in avalanches but the chorus concludes, “J’avais l’air dans la crème d’un petit pruneau” (I looked like a little prune in the cream). She also sings Barbara’s “Le mal de vivre.” She is reading Flaubert. She has a gift for taking a different tack. “In Cinderella,” she says, “I would choose to sing the lament of the two ugly sisters.” And when she performs a song by Kurt Weill, it is a way to focus on the theme of the woman alone in her kitchen, abandoned by her children and left to a husband she finds boring and her dishes. McLorin Salvant is a passionate performer in the mold of hard-hitting female vocalists. It comes as no surprise to discover that she listens often to flamenco singers. When combined with R & B and bebop, it really swings.
She starts her days with a two-hour walk spent in thought. Sometimes she has a stroke of genius. When she gets back, she sits down at the pianofor three hours. “Sometimes I just stare at the keys blankly, and stay like that for 20 minutes.” It doesn’t matter. There’s always a spark that gets things going. She has had a fast career and it’s getting faster. Even when she feels anxious or overcome by melancholy, she knows the future is looking bright. Her music has been used in several perfume campaigns for Chanel’s Chance. A scent with a holy aura, like incense. Born to a Haitian father and a mother who is half Guadaloupean, she is following in the footsteps of such great singers as Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. When it comes to her sun-soaked origins, she is aware of how the extraordinary vitality of the Haitian culture galvanizes her. She makes no secret of it: voodoo is a source of fascination. She sings, she dances and she mesmerizes. There is no doubt a bit of witchcraft in her charm.
AGENDA DES CONCERTS
DU 11 AU 14.01
All That Jazz–Cap cinéma.
Auditorium. La Seine Musicale.
Avec Aaron Diehl Trio.
Dreams and Daggers. Cenon (Bordeaux).
Concert au Parvis, Ibos (Tarbes).
États-Unis (février-mars), Nouvelle-Zélande, Chine et Japon (mars).