Cécile McLorin Salvant, the 2014 Grammy-nominated, 2014 DownBeat-award-winning vocalist, approaches singing jazz from a new direction. Her ancestry, a mixture of Haitian, French, and Guadeloupean, may provide a clue, and her hometown, Miami, certainly adds a dimension. But it’s her youth (she just turned 25) and the fire with which she has embraced more than a century of great African-American music that makes her something truly special. On her 2013 Mack Avenue album WomanChild, Salvant skips from “Jitterbug Waltz” and “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” to the traditional work song “John Henry” and her own, Abbey Lincoln-influenced original “WomanChild” without ever losing the tightly controlled swing that has become her trademark.
After finishing high school in Miami, Salvant went to Aix-en-Provence to study political science, but a decision to pursue classical voice on the side led to an encounter with saxophonist Jean-François Bonnel, who encouraged her to try singing jazz. In just a couple of years, Salvant absorbed enough of the music to take first place at the Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition in Washington in 2010, and a music career was launched.
At UCSB’s Campbell Hall on Thursday, February 12, Arts & Lectures presents Salvant with the Aaron Diehl trio. Diehl and Salvant collaborate on the singer’s arrangements, which are consistently surprising, dynamic, and challenging. “From show to show, we try to have a variety in our interpretations,” said Salvant, which means that the audience at Campbell Hall can look forward to anything but a note-for-note re-creation of her recordings. The most compelling thing about Salvant’s performances is the range of emotional and tonal effects she can pack into a song without adding any superfluous ornamentation. It’s just the singer and the song and what a little moonlight can do. For tickets and information, call 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu.