XU Jazz Series Series Review: Cecil McLorin Salvant

By Mo Juenger | Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of XU Music Series

Vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant performed last Sunday in the latest concert of Xavier’s 2019-20 Jazz Series, stunning music and non-music majors alike.

Her performance, while at its core musically awe-inspiring, was largely based in social justice issues regarding women’s rights. Her unique position as a vocalist allowed her to clarify this message through both song content and musical style in a way few musicians have the opportunity to do.  

Her two latest albums, For One to Love and Dreams and Daggers, made up the majority of the concert’s setlist. In these albums, she performs songs with content that appeals to the current college generation. She fluidly mixed jazz standards with her original works, and delivered feminist content for young women today.

Salvant’s originality is unmatched in the world of today’s jazz vocalists. Her style is akin to the smooth, rich singing of earlier stars like Sarah Vaughn, Billie Holiday and Betty Carter but often adds a modernized twist complete with nearly atonal characteristics.

This originality is exactly what made the concert so meaningful for attendees. While drawing inspiration from the past, she infused elements of classic jazz music with the modern techniques that often draw young people towards particular genres.

The performance was incredible, with Salvant exceeding the high standard set by the first Jazz Series concert by Terri Lyne Carrington on September 25. The technical beauty of her singing, while expected from an artist of her caliber, was genuinely inspiring for musicians across campus.  

Throughout the concert, one word came to mind repeatedly: dedicated. Salvant exuded confidence. Every song was reminiscent of a musical pep talk designed to inspire feminism in its listeners.

She conveyed messages beautifully, with a warm sound and angelic style. Every note flowed lusciously into the next, and every song did the same. There were no abrupt ends or senses of incompletion; each piece fit so well with its predecessor that the audience understood the natural flow Salvant intended.

She sang with conviction. The intersection of words and notes is rarely ever so prevalent in modern jazz, but she executed her social justice goals with the finesse and grace of any recognized jazz vocalist. She stylistically encompassed the most popular aspects of modern vocal music, while still expressing her beliefs with hypnotic power.

She exhibited a simultaneous genuine love for both music and feminism at a level that is difficult to find in the vast majority of most jazz musicians today.

She represents a movement of jazz feminists that has begun gaining legitimate traction in the past decade, including bassist Esperanza Spalding and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington. Unlike these instrumentalists, however, her medium of voice makes her message clear to all listeners.

Salvant performed with the most passion I have ever seen any artist perform with in my life. That’s a grandiose statement, and it does carry a lot of weight. Salvant, though, sang as if she were in love with every moment of it.

She expressed herself truly and elegantly, with the magnificent aura of someone who knows they are doing an incredible thing. She performed meaningfully, and it came through with every note.