Cécile McLorin Salvant continues to grow and change with SMF performance, new album

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Looking through the resume of Cécile McLorin Salvant can be a daunting task. Studied piano starting at age 5 followed by choir and vocal lessons; studying French Law and attending the Darius Milhaud Conservatory to study baroque music and jazz; entering and winning the Thelonious Monk competition in 2010; three Grammys for three consecutive albums, and a new album just released.

What's more dauting is her answer on her growth up to this point: "I’m just developing and expanding on the same things I’ve been interested in since I was a child."

So even more accolades to come.

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Salvant will be joined by San Salvador on the final night of the 2023 Savannah Music Festival on Saturday at the Lucas Theatre for the Arts. The performance comes just days after her most recent album, "Mélusine," was released.

In her announcement of the album, she said it is a "mix of originals and interpretations of songs dating as far back as the 19th Century." Some of them are in French, while others are in Occitan, English and Haitian Kreyòl.

This adds to the wide range of jazz artists that have been on display at this year's festival. Salvant said that she's never known a definition for jazz and that's what has led to her exploration in her work. "Some jazz is good, some is terrible, some jazz is dead, some jazz is alive, some jazz isn’t even jazz," she said.

Cécile McLorin Salvant
Cécile McLorin Salvant

"And besides, I’m realizing how little music genre means and how little it affects my way of listening to music and who I fall in love with musically. I learned what the concept of a 'jazz standard' was when I was 18. I just thought they were songs like any other songs. Music genres as we know them are too broad and vague. I was lucky to be brought up in a house where what we call fado, capeverdian music, flamenco, Paraguayan music, Argentinian folk music, disco, French pop, musical theater, Haitian music, jazz, grunge, reggae and so many other kinds of music were listened to together, ravenously, without being named.

"Where some of the albums that were played on repeat were fusions of multiple styles and countries and eras. I continue to listen to music in this way. I only know the names of these genres because of the music industry, buying CDs, trying to find my way to music on the internet."

Her most recent album, "Ghost Song," was a new venture for Salvant. It featured more original work than covers, a first among her released work so far. Reviews of the album lament the loss that's felt across the piece. In an interview with The Guardian last year after its release, Salvant talked about the effects of the pandemic on her and she found that a need for love was apparent to her.

Today though, the future is continuously in flux. While the quotes from before aren't incorrect, her life and work continues to change as the calendar turns. "It’s always complicated for me to look back at things I’ve said. I change my mind a lot and in other ways I stay the same. The future never clears up. That’s what’s beautiful about it."

While this won't be Salvant's first trip to Savannah and the music festival poses a thrill of a weekend, there is one thing she anticipates finding in the Hostess City: "I'm anticipating great food."


What: Cécile McLorin Salvant / San Salvador

When: Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Lucas Theatre for the Arts, 32 Abercorn St.

Cost: $37

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Savannah Music Festival: Cécile McLorin Salvant on Ghost Song