Playlist: An Intro to Jazz Vocalists
Photo: Cécile McLorin Salvant, who performs with pianist Aaron Diehl in Ann Arbor on February 19, 2017. Photo by Mark Mitton.
What is Jazz singing? Jazz vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant explains in an interview with NPR just what this means to her. Salvant began her training as a classical singer, she says, but she was drawn to the deeper huskier sounds of her lower register. These are the sounds that jazz singers lean into and the ones that classical singers try to refine. In fact, these deeper sounds are a trademark of one of her early vocal infatuations, Sarah Vaughan.
Salvant says that she frustrated her classical teachers with the breathier tone quality of her middle voice, which is specifically referred to in classical training as the passage between the two registers: high and low. But this breathy tone quality also gives Salvant warmth and style that’s been compared to the qualities of the famous jazz singers that came before here, like Ella Fitzgerald.
That isn’t to say that Salvant’s classical training hasn’t informed the beauty of her tone in a positive way (listen to her crystal clear high register on “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” below). Rather, Salvant explains that her goal is to sound as natural and unaffected as possible. This combination of training and creative ingenuity has resulted in an emerging virtuoso who proves to be just as capable as the legends that preceded her.
So, jazz listeners in search for a fresh voice: You needn’t worry.
You will find refreshing style, talent, and class in Salvant (she comes to UMS in February!). Though having sung jazz professionally for less than ten years, Salvant has been decorated with top accolades and honors. These include the top honor at the Thelonious Monk Vocal Jazz Competition in Washington D.C., as well as a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Album for her debut studio album, Woman Child. She won in that same category with her album For One To Love.
Salvant’s voice has been described quite aptly by Ben Ratliff in the New York Times: “She sings clearly, with her full pitch range, from a pronounced low end to full and distinct high notes, used sparingly […] Her voice clamps into each song, performing careful variations on pitch, stretching words but generally not scatting…”
She applies this thoughtful articulation of sound to repertoire that is just as unique as her performances. She chooses songs that interest her, which are often minimally recorded and unknown. In this way, she is a gift to the jazz world. She breathes timeless life into the genre itself, and Ann Arbor audiences might have witnessed this for themselves when she performed at the 2014 Ann Arbor Summer Festival.
On Sunday, February 19, 2017, pianist Aaron Diehl and vocalist extraordinaire Cécile McLorin Salvant perform together for Jelly and George, turning the spotlight on timeless classics and little-known gems by jazz masters Jelly Roll Morton and George Gershwin.
Ahead of the performance, please enjoy the following playlist that showcases Salvant’s work alongside the work of some of her vocal inspirations.