Jazz in the 21st century has proven to be a conundrum. The popularity of rap and auto-tuned djing has meant the more traditional forms have faded into oblivion when facing off with the Taylor Swifts and Kanye West of the worlds.
Even last year's beloved La La Land, was criticized for its portrayal of the music that defined the 1920's. Damien Chapelle's film, as lauded as it was, showcased jazz through the lens of a white man trying to save a genre of music historically intertwined with black culture.
So if La La Land is the best depiction of jazz this generation could come up with - does this bode well for the future of the genre? Or is this just another treasure "millennials have ruined?"
Cécile McLorin Salvant would have you believe otherwise.
Her meteoric rise to fame signals that not only is the form not dying - but that there's a new wave of followers coming to support and adore the genre (and her incredibly evocative vocals).
Growing up in Miami, Salvant was musical instantly, beginning the piano at age four. With familial encouragement, she sprouted an interest in this near century-old form, and by the time she was 24 she received her first Grammy nomination for WomanChild.
She may have lost out that year to Gregory Porter, but it was to be hers in 2016. Her winning album For One To Love took home the "Best Jazz Vocal Award" after receiving acclaim from critics throughout the world. "She treats love not just as a many-splendored thing," remarks critic James Reed in a review of the album, "but also as a source of consternation and a time of reflection." It was then perhaps a perfect time to be at the forefront of the industry, for, whatever the implication, people were talking jazz again with the upcoming release of Chapelle's picture.
Now, Salvant is a household name in modern jazz, selling out some of the most esteemed venues in the world, including New York's Village Vanguard, and Le Trianon in Paris, she also took to the famed Hollywood Bowl stage as the opening act for Bryan Ferry this past September. Below, we talk with Salvant about her incredible career, cementing herself with the genre's greats and her opinions on the current state of jazz.
1. How did you get into jazz?
I first heard and loved jazz thanks to my mother. I wanted to sing classical music though. When I moved to France after high school, I met a jazz teacher at the music school I wanted to go to, and he encouraged me to pursue it.
2. Who are your biggest inspirations?
Louise Bourgeois, Colette, Nathalie du Pasquier, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Marisol, Barbara, Mercedes Sosa, Bessie Smith, Patricia Lockwood, Anne Sexton, James Blake.
Cecile Mclorin Salvant
3. In an age of auto-tuning, how does jazz remain relevant?
I am not interested in the idea of relevance. I think concern with contemporary relevance can be a pitfall in any kind of creative endeavor. It's like caring if something is trendy. (Unless you consider the word "relevance" as a connection between ideas.)
I am interested in the idea of presence. I want to communicate across time, through time, play with time, rather than thinking of it in such a way as "that was then and this is now."
4. Lala Land made such a big impact and had a lot of people talking about jazz - why in your opinion did it resonate so much?
La la Land is unfortunately another example of people talking about jazz, and the lifestyle of jazz, without any actual jazz within it. It is in line with a certain obsession with 'branding' and visuals that blocks us from actual experiences. On the one hand it's lovely to hear someone talking about jazz in a movie, but if jazz is only an idea and something someone can talk about, rather than an actual experience of music, it is quite unfortunate.
5. You create all your own album artwork - have you always been so creative/multi-talented
I feel in a lot of ways like I never lost that sort of shameless searching a child has. I enjoy drawing without a real purpose, and testing things out. I also love making my albums a very personal experience, inside and out.
6. You started playing the piano aged 4 - how does it influence your vocals?
I still play the piano a little bit. I'm not sure how it influences my singing, but it definitely helps with songwriting!
7. When did you first realize you wanted to become a jazz singer?
I don't think there was a big realization moment. I was just singing, doing concerts, and it sort of kept going naturally from there.
8. How hard has it been to get your name out there, create a fan base?
I haven't put an enormous amount of effort in getting my name out there. The effort has been in the content of the music, in my singing, in understanding the history of the music. In that way I have been lucky, because I didn't focus energies outward. I tried to make sure I was developing as a musician without sacrificing time on things I didn't understand like popularity, branding, and my name. I feel so grateful for that because I know that is not the case for everyone.
9. You only wear Issey Miyake on stage - is there a particular reason for this?
I love how the dresses look and move, how light they are, how there's really only one size, and that you can travel with them sort of rolled up in a suitcase without worrying about ironing them.
10. How did the Grammy Award change your life and career?
I'm not sure! Getting the Grammy was a beautiful moment shared with my family and my band. We got this mainstream validation for a record that had not been influenced by the penchants of the music industry. This is to say, we made exactly the album we really wanted to, without any compromises to placate a label, or to attempt to become more popular. For this I am grateful, and feel encouraged to keep developing the content of my music. To not focus on my "brand" or lack thereof. I can continue being 'anti-brand' and 'pro-content'!
Personally, I am over the top excited that we are on the cusp of turning the page on not only a new year but also on a new 10-year window of opportunities and possibilities!
You may be thinking, whoa…I am just embracing the fall season…yikes… it is tough to think about a new decade!
Yet it is this groundwork, this forward thought that you put in place TODAY that will propel you and lead you into greatness in 2020 and beyond. Designing a new decade rests in your ability to vision, in your willingness to be curious, in your awareness of where you are now and what you most want to curate. Essentially, curating what's next is about tapping into today with confidence, conviction, and decision. Leading YOU starts now. This is your new next. It is your choice.
Sometimes to get to that 'next', you need to take a step back to reflect. Please pardon my asking you to spend time in yesterday. Those who know me personally, know that I created and continue to grow my business based on enabling the present moment as a springboard for living your legacy. So, indulge me here! True, I am asking you to peek into the past, yet it is only in order for you to bring the essence of that past forward into this moment called NOW.
One of the best ways to tap into what's next is to clarify what drives you. To design a new decade, ask yourself this question about the past ten years:
What worked? What were my successes?
Make a list of your achievements big and small. Don't type them, but rather use ink and paper and sit with and savor them. Move your thoughts and your successes from your head, to your heart, to your pen, to the paper. Remember that on the flip side of goals not attained and New Year's resolutions abandoned, there was more than likely some traction and action that moved you forward, even if the end result was not what you expected. Once you have a full list of a decade's worth of personal and professional accomplishments, think about how this makes you feel. Do you remember celebrating all of them? My guess is no. So, celebrate them now. Give them new life by validating them. Circle the successes that resonate with you most right now. Where can you lean into those accomplishments as you power into the decade ahead?
Now comes a tougher question, one that I used myself in my own mid-life reinvention and a question I adore because in a moment's time it provides you with a quick reconnect to your unique inner voice.
If it were 10 years ago and nothing were standing in your way, no fear or excuses to contend with…what would you do?
Don't overthink it. The brilliance of this question is that it refocuses purpose. Whatever first came to mind when you answered this for yourself is at its core a powerful insight into defining and redefining the FUTURE decade. Bring your answer into the light of today and what small piece of it is actionable NOW? Where is this resonating and aligning with a 2019 version of yourself?
Then, based on your success list and your answer to the above question, what is your 2020 vision for your business and for the business of YOU?
Designing a new decade begins as a collection of 3,650 opportunities. 3,650 blank slates of new days ahead in which to pivot and propel yourself forward. Every single one of those days is a window into your legacy. An invitation to be, create, explore, and chip away at this thing we call life. One 24-hour segment at a time.
While you have a decade ahead to work on design improvements, you have the ability to begin manifesting this project of YOU Version 2020 right NOW. Based on exploring the exercises in this post, begin executing your vision. Ask questions. Be present. Let go of 2019 and the past 10 years so that you can embrace the next 10. Position acceptance and self-trust at the forefront of how you lead you. One choice at a time.
Don't get bogged down in the concept of the next 10 years. Instead position clarity and intention into each new day, starting today. Then chase every one of those intentions with an in-the-moment commitment and solution toward living a legendary life!