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Early success doesn't go to jazz singer's head

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Cécile McLorin Salvant studied classical and baroque voice at the Darius Milhaud Conservatory in France.

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Cécile McLorin Salvant studied classical and baroque voice at the Darius Milhaud Conservatory in France.

If Cécile McLorin Salvant seems to be leading a charmed life, well, she's earned it.

The singer released her first album, Cécile, in Europe in 2009, won the Thelonious Monk jazz vocal competition in 2010, was courted by two serious jazz labels for her North American debut released in 2013 and was nominated for a Grammy for best vocal jazz album for that CD, WomanChild.

She's 24, and very talented.

And she'll be in Winnipeg on March 11, backed by a trio, performing songs from WomanChild and a few others the band has worked out while on tour, she said in a recent telephone interview from the U.S. West Coast, where she spent 10 days performing.

"I've always been the type of person who likes to discover songs that are a little bit obscure," McLorin Salvant says. "It's a labour of love to discover these forgotten gems.

"You go into them with totally different baggage than if you do Unforgettable," McLorin Salvant says about the standard where both singer and audience are aware of the definitive versions by Nat (King) Cole and Natalie Cole

"Songs I like to sing have a story that really speaks to me, that I can connect with. The songs on WomanChild are really layered, with various meanings all at once."

McLorin Salvant says she's "thinking about a new album, a new set of songs." Some of the songs not used on WomanChild have resurfaced, but some are completely new.

"I've been writing more," she says.

After her Monk competition win, she was approached by the Concord Jazz and Mack Avenue labels. Mack was "very encouraging" about giving her artistic freedom.

It doesn't hurt that some of her labelmates include top jazz musicians such as Christian McBride, Gary Burton, Kenny Garrett, Danillo Pérez, Kevin Eubanks and Warren Wolf.

The New York Times has called her a singer who can extend the lineage of Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald.

"I listened to (those three legends of jazz vocalists) because my mom listened to them, and Nancy Wilson. Hearing these songs was a natural thing in my childhood," McLorin Salvant says, noting she also listened to a lot of other music, like disco and punk.

Praise like that, along with early success in the Monk competition and the Grammy nomination, could put a lot of pressure on a young musician; however, McLorin Salvant says that while those things are "encouraging, and fun. I have pressure from working with musicians I admire and am able to be in their company."

There wasn't a particular moment that set her on a jazz course, but gives her teacher Jean-François Bonnel -- whom she met in 2007 when she moved to Aix-en-Provence, France, to study law and classical and baroque voice at the Darius Milhaud Conservatory -- most of the credit. It was there she started learning about improvisation, instrumental and vocal repertoire dating back a century and sang with her first band.

Bonnel talked her into auditioning for his class and immediately got her learning standards on the piano and performing, she says.

"Two years into performing, I had a long summer to think about (a career in music) while in the middle of a bachelor's degree in law. I had to consider whether I wanted to be a musician," she says. "I had a daunting, vague idea to be the best musician I could. I decided to try it as long as it would have me."

McLorin Salvant performs March 11 at the West End Cultural Centre. Tickets are $28 from Jazz Winnipeg. Winnipeg drummer Quincy Davis will join bassist Paul Sikivie and pianist Adam Birnbaum in accompanying the singer.

The show starts at 8 p.m.

-- -- --

The Brubeck Brothers Quartet pays tribute to Dave Brubeck in three Izzy Asper Jazz Performances series concerts on March 8 and 9 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., respectively, at the Berney Theatre. Drummer Dan and bassist and trombonist Chris pay tribute to their pianist and composer father with a program of some of his classic jazz compositions.

Brubeck died Dec. 5, 2012, just shy of his 92nd birthday.

-- -- --

In Winnipeg, there are very few degrees of separation. Everybody knows everyone else, or at least their best friend.

So it is with pianists Ron Paley, Earl MacDonald and Will Bonness, who will perform with the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra on March 16 in a pair of concerts titled Three Generations, 88 Keys.

Paley, an elder statesman of jazz in Winnipeg, was a mentor to MacDonald, who in turn had Bonness as a student. MacDonald, a music professor at the University of Connecticut, is nominated for a Juno Award for his new album, Mirror of the Mind. He also served as music director for trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, and Bonness, at 17, toured with Ferguson's Big Bop Nouveau band. Bonness is now a piano professor at the University of Manitoba jazz studies program.

The concerts are March 16 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Tickets are $34 ($15 for students) from winnipegjazzorchestra.com and McNally Robinson.

chris.smith@freepress.mb.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 3, 2014 D3

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