‘You get a singer like this once in a generation or two’
Cécile McLorin Salvant: From Miami by way of Alice in Chains
Jazz has always been a place of glorious cultural mashups, where dynamic demographics inspire, where tradition and innovation coalesce, where a Miami vocalist drawing comparisons to Sarah Vaughan can, without apology, express her love for grunge hellions Alice in Chains.
Cécile McLorin Salvant returns to her hometown for a performance on Friday, Dec. 7, at the peak of a remarkable career that, at age 29, is still just beginning.
Salvant’s second album, 2014’s “WomanChild” (Mack Avenue Records) was nominated for a Grammy Award, and her third and fourth albums, “For One to Love” and “Dreams and Daggers,” each won a Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album.
Over the past several years, she has sold out multiple headlining performances at New York’s jazz mecca, the Village Vanguard, and toured with Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, as critics around the world have genuflected.
The New York Times drew a line from Salvant back to the Big Three of female jazz vocalists — Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. A few weeks ago Salvant was named to Forbes magazine’s 2019 30 Under 30 list of musicians, songwriters and industry influencers who are “topping charts and shifting culture.”
“You get a singer like this once in a generation or two,” Marsalis said in a 2017 New Yorker magazine profile of Salvant.
On Friday, Dec. 7, Miami’s Arsht Center will kick off the 11th season of its acclaimed Jazz Roots series with a performance by Artemis, the seven-woman international jazz supergoup that includes Salvant, pianist and musical director Renee Rosnes, clarinetist Anat Cohen, tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, bassist Noriko Ueda and drummer Allison Miller.
Speaking from her apartment in New York, Salvant says she is looking forward to the physical setting of the performance — in front of family and friends in her hometown — but also the musical surroundings provided by the women in the band.
Artemis began as a unique one-off union of female bandleaders, but became something more, Salvant says.
“Everybody in the band is very different, and we each have our own bands. But we made a conscious choice that we wanted to keep playing with each other, and so it no longer became a gender thing. It became a music thing,” she says.
“For me it’s like a conversation, you know? We bring different things out of each other. There’s a lot of communication onstage, so there’s a spontaneity. We really listen to each other, so every show is different. Or should be different,” Salvant says, laughing.
The daughter of a Haitian physician and a French Guadeloupean mother (founder of the French American School in Miami), Salvant says she was “really lucky” to grow up being formed by her mother’s eclectic taste for folk and classical music from Africa, South American and the Caribbean. This was a contrast from her own playlist.
“I listened to a lot of grunge, R&B, punk, pop hits of the day,” she says. “I had a moment where I was really, really into Alice in Chains.”
Salvant found her jazz voice after moving to Aix-en-Provence, France, to study law in 2007, winning the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition three years later.
A new album
In October, Salvant released her fifth album, “The Window,” a collaboration with pianist Sulivan Fortner featuring a figurative painting by Salvant on the cover. A collection that has attracted more critical praise and talk of another Grammy nomination, “The Window” is another showcase for Salvant’s special ability to take a familiar song to a new place.
Cécile McLorin Salvant will perform Dec. 7 at the Arsht Center in Miami with the jazz supergroup Artemis.