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10 Questions With Grammy Winning Jazz Songstress, Cécile McLorin Salvant

People

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'!

3 Min Read
Business

Five Essential Lessons to Keep in Mind When You're Starting Your Own Business

"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.

I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.

Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.

Find A Need And Fill It

I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.

I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.

Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.

Have Working Capital And Credit

There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.

I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.

Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.

My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.

Know Your Product Thoroughly

I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?

My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.

My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.

Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!

More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.

Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth

I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.

I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.

Delegate From The Bottom Up

I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.

In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.