Monday, February 24, 2014

Cécile McLorin Salvant captivates Valentine’s Day audience at Bing

This Valentine’s Day, Stanford’s Bing Concert Hall was graced by the presence of singer Cecile McLorin Salvant, whose unique talent is resurrecting the art of jazz in the 21st century. Announced from the stage, Salvant presented a program that refreshingly broke from the traditional collection of love songs expected on this day. Spanning genres, eras and emotions, Salvant sang jazz standards like “I Only Have Eyes for You”, excerpts from musical productions such as the “Step Sister’s Lament” from Cinderella, the soundtrack from a 1928 silent film “Laugh Clown Laugh.” It quickly became clear that one should not attempt to guess what was coming next.

With Salvant, that unpredictability is a hallmark. She began her study of jazz while spending time in the South of France at age 18. She had always sung opera, but jazz? Not until she was stopped in the street by an elderly saxophone player who insisted that she join a jam session he was hosting that evening. This man would become her only jazz teacher. A mere five years later, at age 23, Salvant was the first-prize recipient of the Thelonius Monk International Jazz Competition. One might think this recognition would render the recipient a pompous diva. The opposite is true with Salvant.

Her humility was palpable from the moment she entered the stage, last in line behind the drummer, pianist, and bassist. She moved slowly, hands clasped across a full-throated red dress, manner unassuming yet elegant. Immediately, it was clear that Salvant was savoring every moment, and the audience followed her lead. She spent the majority of the concert facing away from us. The music moved her, sometimes out of the circle of light, inside which every performer is taught one must stay in order to retain the attention of the audience. But these antiquated rules of success do not apply to Salvant. She is comfortable in that darkness and will leave the light whenever she feels so inclined without being lost from view or forgotten by the audience.

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