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Cécile McLorin Salvant: A Modern Blast from the Past

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Jazz vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant has taken the modern jazz scene by storm, with a stunning repertoire and vocal virtuosity far beyond her years. In an industry dominated by a focus on contemporizing, Savant is taking her audiences all the way back to the artists who inspired and forged the path for today’s musicians, vocalists and instrumentalists alike.

Salvant came to the forefront of the jazz scene in 2010 after being awarded first place in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition. Although she was the youngest finalist that year, her authority on stage and her rich, soulful sound have stunned audiences and critics since that moment. The buzz surrounding Salvant’s “debut” in 2010 has been steadily building. She has the enthusiastic support of many established musicians, including trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, who raved about her “range, insight, intelligence, depth and grace.”

Salvant was born and raised in Miami, Florida where she studied piano and classical voice. The daughter of a French mother and a Haitian father, she moved to France in 2007 to study law, but maintained her classical and baroque training at the Darius Milhaud Conservatory. In France, Salvant was introduced to improvisation, and developed an affinity for performing and arranging old jazz standards. After only two years of performing in France, Salvant released her first album in collaboration with Jean-François Bonnel’s Paris Quintet. The following year she competed in the Monk competition, and in 2013 released her second album, Woman Child. The album features pianist Aaron Diehl, bassist Rodney Whitaker, drummer Herlin Riley, and guitar/banjo player James Chirillo.

Woman Child earned Salvant her first—and likely not her last—Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Album. The arrangements range from standards like “Jitterbug Waltz” to more obscure numbers like “You Bring Out the Savage in Me,” all unified by her trademark vintage sound reminiscent of vocal greats Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. Salvant has an exceptional flair for combining nostalgia with a modern, fresh twist on the classic tunes of the past. The title tune, “Woman Child,” is the only original piece on the album. Much like her singing, her writing shows great maturity for such a young musician.

Salvant is debuting in Winnipeg at the West End Cultural Center on March 11. The concert will be one that all musicians—especially vocalists—should plan to attend with hearts, minds and ears wide open!

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