Cécile McLorin Salvant and The Aaron Diehl Trio to perform

by Kaina Chen | 9/24/16 12:55pm


Cécile McLorin Salvant emphasizes the authenticity of the creative process.

by Jean-Pierre Dodel / The Dartmouth

 Expectations may seem a given for an artist familiar with the spotlight, but Cécile McLorin Salvant says otherwise.

“When you’re crippled by other peoples’ expectations, your art doesn’t really breathe,” said Salvant, jazz singer and artist of the 2016 Grammy Award-winning album “For One to Love” (2015).

Salvant performs with The Aaron Diehl Trio, composed of Aaron Diehl, piano, Paul Sikivie, bass, and Lawrence Leathers, drums.

Freedom from others’ expectations is evident in the creativity of her work, but she never stops keeping the audience in mind. In deciding on the program for a particular show, she “tend[s] to feel it out depending on the room, and the vibes [she] get[s].”

“I’ll throw in something funny or something that has a lot of intense emotional movements,” Salvant said.

Margaret Lawrence, programming director at the Hopkins Center, first saw Salvant perform live in Burlington, Vt. at a jazz festival.

“Her interaction with the audience is very warm. It’s a lot of fun,” Lawrence said.

Both on stage and in the studio, Salvant emphasizes the honesty of a creative process over producing for outside expectations.

“I’ll often make something that’s authentic to my experience and to what I think is important,” Salvant said.

Her artistry has caught audiences’ attention.

“The depth of her talent, her originality, the purity of her voice — they are things we don’t see often,” said Lawrence.

Salvant’s abilities to critically look into the history of jazz and to be innovative with older songs make her a standout, noted Lawrence.

“If anyone can extend the lineage of the Big Three — Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald — it is this 23-year-old virtuoso,” Stephen Holden wrote in a New York Times review of the 2013 Lincoln Center’s American Songbook series.

Salvant takes this praise in stride.

“Human beings just love to compare,” Salvant said. “I think it’s a huge honor to be compared to these great singers, but I’m also my own person.”

Jazz makes fertile ground for the personalization and creativity for which Salvant is known, as it encourages improvisation and storytelling.

Classically trained in France, Salvant said that there wasn’t one defining moment when she knew that singing, and in particular, jazz, would be her career. In her early twenties, “things were going well, and I suppose I just said I would try it and see where it goes,” Salvant said.

Salvant is keen to share her insights with students. She led a master class when she first visited the Hop, and she led another class yesterday with music professor Fred Haas’ “Jazz Improvisation” course.

Her advice for students who are seeking to be serious jazz singers is to pick any of the jazz greats and listen to every single one of their songs.

“Jazz is a language,” Haas said. “It must be learned in its most basic forms before it can manifest into something new and innovative.”

Considering where jazz is headed, Haas explained the evolution of the genre.

“If you take a slice of time since the beginnings of jazz, there have always been multiple approaches and styles. There are people combining different elements and culture, and then there are those happy during improvisation,” Haas said. “Jazz is going to be exactly what it’s like now.”

Perhaps parallels can be observed between the “present” perspective of jazz and Salvant’s approaches to her artistry, as she is more concerned about the present than the future.

“I just know what I feel this week,” Salvant said. “In the future, hopefully I’ll still be making music, maybe teaching more, just being around art and music.”

As for “life in general,” one of her goals is “being able to say ‘no’ more,” she said.

“I’m looking forward to knowing myself more,” Salvant said.

During her time off, Salvant stays in the realm of the artistic ­— she enjoys painting and drawing. She also likes cooking, being with family and traveling.

Cécile McLorin Salvant and The Aaron Diehl Trio will perform tonight in Spaulding Auditorium at 8 p.m. Audience members are invited to an informal post-performance discussion immediately following the show.