Cécile McLorin Salvant leads Duke Ellington tribute at 2012 Edinburgh Jazz Festival
Showcase of legendary composer, bandleader and pianist's songbook
This article is from 2012.
One of the absolute highlights of the 34th Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival is a performance of legendary jazz composer, bandleader and pianist Duke Ellington’s music. A selection from Ellington’s songbook, including his 1943 symphony ‘Black, Brown, Beige’, 1966’s ‘Far East Suite’ and ‘The Queen’s Suite’ (which the Duke originally dedicated to Elizabeth II and which is being played to mark the Diamond Jubilee), will be performed by the World Jazz Orchestra, featuring musicians assembled from 16…
One of the absolute highlights of the 34th Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival is a performance of legendary jazz composer, bandleader and pianist on Duke Ellington’s music. A selection from Ellington’s songbook, including his 1943 symphony ‘Black, Brown, Beige’, 1966’s ‘Far East Suite’ and ‘The Queen’s Suite’ (which the Duke originally dedicated to Elizabeth II and which is being played to mark the Diamond Jubilee), will be performed by the World Jazz Orchestra, featuring musicians assembled from 16 different countries and every continent.
The Orchestra is to be led by veteran Scottish saxophonist and bandleader Joe Temperley who toured and recorded with the legend himself in 1974. Completing the line-up for this appropriately grand event to join Temperley and the Orchestra on the big stage at the Festival Theatre will be the award-winning young French-American singer Cécile McLorin Salvant, who returns following her festival debut last year.
‘Duke Ellington is my favourite musician and composer of all music genres and of all time,’ says Salvant, speaking down the phone from her hometown of Miami. From there, she will fly to France and perform two concerts ahead of her arrival in Edinburgh. ‘He is also probably my favourite pianist. He’s very underrated as a pianist, actually. A lot of people only think about how creative he was as an arranger, a composer and a bandleader. I admire Ellington’s vision of the music, which is very expansive. He saw it as art and he painted with music. That’s very rare. His music is very accessible and at the same time extremely intellectual; it’s challenging music, but music that can also make you dance. There’s everything in Ellington. When you listen to his early music, when he was just starting out, it’s incredible to see, even then, how avant garde he was, how ahead of his time he was; out of his time, even.’
Salvant was born and raised in Miami, the daughter of a French mother and a Haitian father, and she started making music at a very young age. At four she was studying piano, and by the age of eight she was in a choir and learning about opera and baroque music at the University of Miami. After Salvant finished high school she went to France to continue her music studies at the Conservatory in Aix-en-Provence and it was there that she switched from classical music to jazz after meeting and subsequently being mentored by the French saxophone player Jean-François Bonnel.
‘I was very into classical music,’ says Salvant. ‘I auditioned for Jean-François just for fun, because I was interested in getting into the classical voice class, and he said I had a voice that was well suited to jazz. So I started taking classes with him. But I never had a vocal teacher. I always had instrumentalists teaching me. Jean-François gave me a bunch of records – Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday – and I learned to sing through them. That reminded me of my childhood when my mom used to play a lot of Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington records, and I would imitate them and sing back the songs. I’ve always had music in my life whether it be jazz or classical or Cuban or Haitian music.’
Salvant’s big break came in 2010, when she won the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Vocal Jazz Competition. ‘It opened a lot of doors,’ Salvant admits. ‘It accelerated everything. And I got to meet Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter! It was amazing and surreal.’ Since then Salvant has been making waves with her unique interpretations of jazz standards. After her appearance in Edinburgh, she’ll be returning to her new home in New York to record some of those interpretations.
Meantime, Salvant’s eagerly looking forward to interpreting Ellington. ‘I’ve always loved singing Ellington’s songs,’ she says. ‘They’re so well constructed; they’re wonderful. So it’s really very exciting to be part of paying homage to such a master.’
Cécile McLorin Salvant Quartet, Salon Elegance, George Square Gardens, 0131 473 2000, 26 Jul, 8.30pm, £15; World Jazz Orchestra, Festival Theatre, Nicolson Street, 0131 473 2000, 28 Jul, 8pm, £15.