On Thursday evening, the Grammy-award winning jazz singer Cécile McLorin Salvant and pianist Sullivan Fortner performed together at Koerner Hall. The two presented original pieces and covers of songs from artists like Hoagy Carmichael, Bessie Smith, Stevie Wonder and more. Salvant made it easy for the audience to connect with her through her spunky delivery and relatable song choices. In each song you heard emotion, range and attention to the tiniest of vocal details. Although it’s unjust to choose favourites, here are my top three songs performed that night.
This theatrical jazz rendition was originally from Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella, first performed on television in 1957. During the performance, McLorin Salvant effortlessly shifted her voice to really capture the true essence of the evil stepsister— she did this without losing her smooth syrupy tone. In an interview with NPR, Salvant said she related more to the stepsisters because they were often invisible and looked over. “I just didn't feel like I could relate to the beautiful princess or the girl who gets the guy or - you know, I could relate with that yearning and that jealousy and frustration more.”
Bread and Gravy
Who knew food could sound so sensual. Salvant’s cover of Hoagy Carmichael’s Bread and Gravy (originally recorded by Ethel Waters in 1939) showed off her duality by displaying her smooth and husky voice. The singer had all eyes on her as she sang to a room full of attentive fans. Everyone was hanging on her every word, perhaps it was because the singer was trying to convey something deeper through her delivery. In a biography titled, Stardust Melody: The Life and Music of Hoagy Carmichael, Bread and Gravy is described as a celebration of “happiness achieved after times of poverty and slender means, and sustained by faith.” The idea is if you work hard good things will come. Salvant truly got that message across with this performance.
This song was powered with emotion from start to finish. The strength in Salvant’s voice had the whole room silent and Fortner was right there with her, adding point and counterpoint to her powerful phrasing. The effect added to the richness of the piece. At one point, the flow of the song changed— leaving me with chills. As someone seeing them for the first time, I was floored by the way Salvant and Fortner were able to play off one another; it was a very unique and special partnership.
With the TD Toronto Jazz Festival now over, I can confidently say Salvant’s show was my favourite from the 10-day long event.