Her voice has a velvet texture that seems to emerge from a beautiful cavern. Listening to her music, you can’t help but want to meet this young women and be present in the depth of her being, if only for a moment.
Described as a modern day young Ella Fitzgerald, Cécile McLorin Salvant is driven by her curiosity. She appears to soak up her own experiences and other artists’ words like food for her soul. Salvant is an open vessel absorbing all that she experiences.
Salvant was born and raised in Miami of a French mother and a Haitian father. She started classical piano studies at 5, and began singing in the Miami Choral Society at 8. Early on, she developed an interest in classical voice, began studying with private instructors, and later with Edward Walker, a vocal teacher at the University of Miami.
In 2007, Salvant moved to Aix-en-Provence, France, to study law as well as classical and baroque voice at the Darius Milhaud Conservatory. It was in Aix-en-Provence, with her teacher Jean-François Bonnel, that she started learning about jazz and sang with her first band. In 2009, after a series of concerts in Paris, she recorded her first album Cécile, with Jean-François Bonnel’s Paris Quintet.
She’s openly honest describing herself as an introvert. “I’m not sure of myself in certain ways, but confident in others,” she says.
Salvant’s confidence didn’t seem to be lacking when in 2010 she arrived at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. to compete in the finals of the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. She walked away with first place in the jazz world’s most prestigious contest and the buzz began almost immediately labeling her the new rising star for her generation. She was not only the youngest finalist, but also a mystery woman with the most unusual background of any of the participants.
“People had no idea who I was. I was the child of two immigrants, and therefore jazz didn’t seem like something that I would be doing – they were stunned.”
Confidence continued to follow her through 2014 when her second album, WomanChild, was nominated for a Grammy. Immediately following that, her 2015 Mack Avenue Album For One To Love won the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album, securing her place as one of the most exciting young jazz artists in the world. Yet even with all of this success she doesn’t seem that impressed by her achievements to date and prefers to chat about more intimate experiences. “I love to laugh. I love the easy pleasures of life like eating, cooking and spending time with my family and dear friends.”
When asked about how she learned to sing Salvant explained, “I think I began the process of learning how to enjoy music from the womb. Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday were women that my mother listened to. She was listening to music constantly when she was pregnant with me and when I was a baby and toddler. I really think there is something to that.”
And when probed about why she continued to sing she responded, “I think a lot of kids love to sing. I just kept doing it when other kids might have long stopped. I think that someone said I had a pretty voice and that kept me going. I was around people, my parents, relatives and teachers who cultivated and encouraged my singing.”
She describes herself as very straightforward and honest and, due to being a person who loves to spend time doing things that are fun and comfortable, admitted she’s also a procrastinator.
“It’s really hard for me to pull myself away from the comfortable aspects of life to get things done. There are no deadlines. No one is telling me by the end of the month I have to write four songs.
“You have to be in the right space where you can compose and I’ve had to discipline myself for this process. You have to give yourself the space to create; I need to write 15 to 20 terrible songs before something hits that’s great.”
She currently enjoys popularity in Europe and in the United States, performing in clubs, concert halls, and festivals. She is particularly fond of France where she spent her earlier years.
“I sing a lot of my music in French–I love the lyrics and the words. It’s a beautiful language. There is just no way to translate French into English without sacrificing some of the emotion and meaning.”
Salvant concluded, “I really admire Wynton Marssalis, Joni Mitchell, President Obama, and many others; there are people that inspire me all of the time–cookbook authors, poets and writers–but it’s my mom who’s the one I particularly revere because she has done so much.”
Her mother, beyond inspiring her music interests throughout her life, is the founder and president of a French immersion school in Miami. It was her mother who also encouraged her to study in France.
Upcoming Performance | Meet the Artist
What: St. Cecilia Music Center’s Jazz Series
Where: St. Cecilia Music Center at 24 Ransom Ave. NE, Downtown Grand Rapids
When: December 8, 7:30 p.m.
Concert tickets are $38 and $43 and can be purchased by calling St. Cecilia Music Center at (616) 459-2224 or visiting the box office at 24 Ransom Ave. NE. Tickets can also be purchased online at www.scmc-online.org.
A post-concert “Meet-the-artist” reception will be offered to all ticket-holders giving the audience the opportunity to meet Salvant and obtain signed CDs of her releases. There will also be a pre-concert reception offered with wine and hors d’oeuvres for $15 per person.