Wild women don’t worry; wild women don't have the blues. Especially when you're a wild woman with a stunning jazz voice. Cécile McLorin Salvant graced Denver University's Newman Center stage last week with her expert vocals, alongside the incredibly talented Aaron Diehl Trio. And it was one wildly wonderful performance.
Raised in Miami Florida, Cécile started taking classical piano lessons at age five and singing in choir at age eight. In 2007, Cécile moved to Aix-en-Provence, France. There she study law while taking classical and baroque voice at the Darius Milhaud Conservatory. Soon after, she began to study Vocal Jazz under the legendary Jean-François Bonnel. By 2009, Cécile had recorded her first jazz album with the Jean-François Bonnel's Paris Quintet. Since then, she has recorded two additional albums, Womenchild and For One To Love, the latter of which won the 2016 Grammy Award for "Best Jazz Vocal Album."
Cécile’s set last week was a tasteful showcase of her extraordinary talent. It is clear that she carefully chooses her repertoire and is known for “unearthing rarely recorded, forgotten songs with strong stories.” Audience members vocalized their excitement and approval each time she announced her next song. The crowd favorites seemed to be a set of three songs placed in the middle of the show, one of which was the Nancy Harrow cover of “Wild Women Don’t Have The Blues.” Cécile’s entire performance was a pleasure for audiences young and old, those well versed in jazz music, or those who are rookies to the scene.
That said, to all the trained ears in the room, Wednesday night was otherworldly. Cécile’s ability to use her voice as its own musical instrument was extraordinary. She would often bend notes, transitioning from one dynamic to the next flawlessly in the middle of a word's syllable. She maneuvered her voice technically with advanced skill, switching from one tone to another between lyrical phrases, from word to word, and even from note to note.
Many current jazz singers draw from the past to create their vocal style. However, Cécile seems to use the past only as a remark, and instead manifests her own unique sound and vocal styling in her work. Her relationship with the Aaron Diehl Trio was equally as unique. It is common to feel like jazz trios are simply a support to the singer, but Cécile made it clear that the two were partners, an equal duo. Every instrument onstage was sharing an intricate story throughout each song, playfully exploring structure and pushing boundaries to interpreting its meaning.
Last Wednesday night was a fierce yet graceful flurry of musical talent. I am continually blown away by the musical talent in this world and the human ability to create new sounds, stretching the boundaries of the fundamentals of music itself. If it’s not clear already, you may want to take a listen to Cécile, who is one such artist, or catch her live at a venue near you.
All photos per the author. All videos and embedded tracks per the artist featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.