2019 Chicago Jazz Festival Preview: Cécile McLorin Salvant

By Jeff Cebulski


After a five-year absence, the postmodern interpreter of classic American and foreign jazz/pop songs Cécile McLorin Salvant returns to the Pritzker stage as the closer on Saturday night in the midst of renown, being the overwhelming favorite of fans and critics alike. Her recent fifth album, The Window, recorded with rising piano star Sullivan Fortner, demonstrated her ability to transpose stylistic nuances of artists like Betty Carter while creating reconstructed approaches to tunes like “Trouble Is a Man,” “Somewhere,” and “I’ve Got Your Number.” In concert especially, her deliveries—prefaced by commentary—sift into the lyrics’ not-so-subliminal, ironic angles informed by feminism and Black social awareness.


McLorin Salvant, born and raised in Miami, Florida, began as a classical music student. She eventually moved to France to study law and voice at the Milhaud Conservatory. There she was introduced to jazz. She recorded her first album, Cécile, in 2009; the next year she won the Thelonious Monk competition.


The Window clearly demonstrates that McLorin Salvant doesn’t need an orchestra to dominate the proceedings; her glorious, flexible voice reaches numerous points on the vocal scale (and some in between), able to whisper and shout as needed, often in surprising ways, while virtually acting out the moods with her facial expressions. One fan called her a “postmodern cabaret singer.” Basically, this young genius has become the key jazz voice of our generation, a woman performer who isn’t afraid to be coy and subversive while thankfully resurrecting the art of jazz singing in the absence of performers like Carter, who always did it her way. Cécile McLorin Salvant, who has Billie and Ella in mind but, gratefully, is not living in their era, will always deliver the lyrics her way, and her succinct, personalized delivery will nudge you to hear it her way, too.


Cécile McLorin Salvant performs Saturday, August 31, at 7:45 p.m. at Pritzker Pavilion. Click here for more information.


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