by Holley Dey
She began with the Porgy and Bess classic “It Ain’t Necessarily So” and ended with “Something’s Coming” from West Side Story. In between she covered Shirley Horn and Billie Holiday, lent a sympathetic voice to the “Stepsisters’ Lament” from Cinderella and gave precise phrasing to Abbey Lincoln’s “Laugh, Clown, Laugh”. She also growled.
Yes, growled…..simply because she could, in tune and in rhythm. At twenty-four Cecile McLorin Salvant has a confidence that is both certain and unassuming, a talent that is full-voiced yet fully in control. She has a wide tonal range, but even more impressive are the dynamics of her performance, the light and tender touch applied to the highest notes, the deliciously warm vibrato that defines her powerful lower register.
Whatever she sings, Salvant finds the syncopation and rhythm that drive the melody, revealing the backbone of songs both new and old. She brings a fresh style and theatrical flair to the performance of jazz standards, and on Saturday evening at West Hartford’s Town Hall those songs came alive in a way that was suddenly relevant and relatable.
Cecile performed to a full room. Many in the audience had delayed their arrival, then anxiously checked cellphones as the UConn Huskies competed in the NCAA final four. Happily, the hometown team prevailed during the dinner hour so that when the 2014 Grammy nominee took the stage she found a receptive audience, warmed up and ready with their own husky growl.
Blanche Calloway originally performed “Growlin’ Dan,” a story that includes Minnie the Moocher and the “ho de ho de ho” that was later offered as a call and response in live performances. Cab’s sister was an exceptional singer whose dramatic style was popular in the 1920s/1930s. She was the first woman to lead an all male jazz orchestra. Salvant herself fronted a three piece all male band on Saturday including talents on piano, bass and drums. Her growlin’ and her story tellin’ would have made Blanche proud.
Listen below to a live recording of “Body and Soul”; the elegant phrasing and expression are representative of Cecile’s body of work. That work includes not only classic jazz, but reinterpretation of newer blues/jazz tunes as well as her own original songs. To learn more about Cecile McLorin Salvant, visit her website here. To sample 2014 Grammy nominated album WomanChild, click here.
Cecile McLorin Salvant in West Hartford, Saturday, April 5