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Cécile McLorin Salvant: The Ghost Writer

In her repertoire & songcraft, Cécile McLorin Salvant communes with the authentic past of American song

Cécile McLorin Salvant in performance at Newport Jazz Festival (photo by Marek Lazarski)
Cécile McLorin Salvant in performance at Newport Jazz Festival (photo by Marek Lazarski)

Sometimes, when it comes to the impeccable, incontrovertible jazz singer Cécile McLorin Salvant, the devil really is in the details. Survey her performing career, which still fits comfortably within the span of a single decade, and you’ll notice hundreds of small but significant musical choices that ring with the clarity of intention. An outré song selection. An arch hesitation. A slight curl of inflection that alters the emotional color of a phrase.

At the Newport Jazz Festival in August, among many other highlights in an authoritative set, Salvant brought a subtle calibration of forces to her treatment of the word “nonchalant.” The sun was high overhead, and she was holding court on the festival’s main stage, in vintage sunglasses and a brightly bespeckled sheath dress. Her agile backing trio—Aaron Diehl on piano, Paul Sikivie on bass, Lawrence Leathers on drums—wore similarly fine attire, worthy of a fashion spread.

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