Singer is a hit at Marsalis’ swingin’ Christmas show

Remember the name Cecile McLorin Salvant. You can thank me later.

Decked out in a white dress and blazing red high-heels, Salvant, who is only 25, walked out on the stage before a full house at FAMU’s Lee Hall Auditorium on Saturday night and let everyone know that she may be the best jazz vocalist of her generation.

There were slight echoes of Peggy Lee, Billie Holiday and the great Ella Fitzgerald as the mature-sounding young singer playfully and skillfully glided her way through a lighthearted arrangement of Louis Armstrong’s “Is That You, Santa?” Talk about range.

Of course, Salvant’s backing band was not too shabby: The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra featuring a trumpet player by the name of Wynton Marsalis. The 16-piece orchestra presented a Christmas-themed concert called “Big Band Holidays” as part of the Opening Nights Performing Arts festival, which is run through Florida State.

“We notoriously don’t like singers,” Marsalis said after Salvant finished “Is That You, Santa?” “We’re usually looking at each other like this (gives an eye roll) when singers come in (to try out with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra). When she came in, by the third one, we here like, ‘Call her. Get her. We want her.’”

During the first half of the concert, Salvant also handed in a rich, smokey reading of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and finished up with a foot-stomping version of the spiritual “Mary Had A Baby.” It was difficult to tear myself away from the show during intermission in order to make deadline.

Marsalis and The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra musicians, who have made two previous tour stops in Tallahassee in 2010 and in 2013, were swinging hard on Saturday night. They opened the show with a galloping take on “One Horse Open Sleigh” with an arrangement originally written for the Count Basie Orchestra. Basie would have surely approved.

Their deconstruction of “We Three Kings,” with an arrangement by alto saxophonist Ted Nash, was a bit riskier and had a Middle Eastern vibe, by way of avant-prankster Frank Zappa.

“I think one of the kings was smoking some of that Frankincense,” Marsalis, 53, joked with the audience after “We Three Kings” was finished.

The orchestra included such ringers as tenor saxophonist Victor Goines, trumpet player Marcus Printup and trombonist Vincent Gardner, who studied music at FAMU and got his start playing in jazz ensembles in Tallahassee at Waterworks.

Ah, but it was Salvant who was the break-out star of the evening. The attractive vocalist had an appealing, relaxed stage persona that made her singing and phrasing seem effortless, even though it was far from simple and easy.

Salvant, who was born in Miami to a French-Haitian family, won the prestigious Thelonius Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition in Washington, D.C., in 2010. Her first album, “WomanChild,” was released in 2013.

Don’t worry, we will be hearing a lot more from Salvant over the years.

Source: Tallahassee Democrat

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  1. Really enjoyed the singer Cecelia Salvant her voice is awesome this was my first Jazz Concert with my husband and we really enjoyed it. Thanks Mr. Marsalis for the history on the music I learned some things at 48 that I never knew.

    Phyllis Pride on Dec 16th, 2014 at 10:21am

  2. Heard the Jazz Orchestra and was dazzled by Cecelia Salvant. Her voice was so like Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn.
    The audience was so entranced by her singing, and her range along with expression is just dynamic. I do hope The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra will come to the Tobin Center again, only this time with their music. My friend was not aware of the extent of each member’s musical abilities. Please come again.

    Anne Turner on Dec 15th, 2014 at 12:34am

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