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She unfolded Weill’s tune, over ten minutes, as the saga of an entire life: a child’s promise of bright days ahead, a love that blossoms and fades, babies who wrap “a ring around a rosy” and then move away.When she sang, “It looks like something awful happens / in the kitchens / where women wash their dishes,” her plaintive phrasing transformed a description of domestic obligation into genuine tragedy. Wynton Marsalis, who has twice hired Salvant to tour with his Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, told me, “You get a singer like this once in a generation or two.” Salvant might not have reached this peak just yet, he said.He started her with Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and Billie Holiday—all of their albums, not just the ones her mother had played. “I listened to Bessie Smith’s complete recordings non-stop, all day,” she said.“I hated them at first, but eventually fell in love with her world. She sang about sex and food and savages and the Devil and Hell and really exciting things you don’t hear on ‘Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook.’ I thought, This is great! I’d heard torch songs by Dinah Washington about ‘I’ll wait for you forever.’ But here’s Bessie Smith singing, ‘You come around after you been gone a ’ It was empowering.” She went on to albums by later singers who fused jazz standards with earthy blues, especially Abbey Lincoln, who brought political consciousness and dissonant note-bending to the saloon-song tradition.

Throughout the set, she ventured from the standard repertoire into off-the-beaten-path stuff like Bessie Smith’s “Sam Jones Blues,” a funny, rowdy rebuke to a misbehaving husband, and “Somehow I Never Could Believe,” a song from “Street Scene,” an obscure opera by Kurt Weill and Langston Hughes.“After coming from Sarah Vaughan, Abbey Lincoln felt harsh and a little depressing, too edgy and cold,” Salvant said.“I slowly began to love that edge, and went through a period when I didn’t like Sarah Vaughan because she Toward the end of that year, Bonnel and Salvant were driving back from a jazz festival in Ascona, Switzerland.But Salvant, virtually unknown two years earlier, had built an avid following, winning a Grammy and several awards from critics, who praised her singing as “singularly arresting” and “artistry of the highest class.” She and her trio—a pianist, a bassist, and a drummer, all men in their early thirties—emerged from the dressing lounge and took their places on a lit-up stage: the men in sharp suits, Salvant wearing a gold-colored Issey Miyake dress, enormous pink-framed glasses, and a wide, easy smile.She nodded to the crowd and took a few glances at the walls, which were crammed with photographs of jazz icons who had played there: Sonny Rollins cradling a tenor saxophone, Dexter Gordon gazing through a cloud of cigarette smoke, Charlie Haden plucking a bass with back-bent intensity.

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Cécile Sophie Mc Lorin Salvant was born in Miami on August 28, 1989.

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