Cecile McLorin Salvant’s “Sam Jones’ Blues” celebrates independent women

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Cecile McLorin Salvant is an accomplished young jazz vocalist. Her attention to vocal nuances, the quality of her voice and her attitude allow Salvant to take an intelligent approach to expressing a song’s larger idea. “Sam Jones’ Blues” appears on Salvant’s forthcoming album, “Dreams and Daggers.”

An Introduction to Cecile McLorin Salvant

By all accounts, Cecile McLorin Salvant’s background is as exotic as her name. A native of Miami, she is of Haitian and French heritage, according to an online biography. Salvant has studied both jazz and classical music. Her recording career commenced in 2010 after she won first place in the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz International Vocals Competition. The contest was judged by Al Jarreau and Patti Austin, among others. By 2015, Salvant had released three albums. The third, 2015’s “For One to Love,” earned her a Grammy Award in 2016.

Maybe it is her relative youth (28), coupled with a string of laudable accomplishments that make Salvant compelling to listen to. Certainly she is a role model for would-be jazz singers who are even younger than she is. Also, the titles of Salvant’s works make potential fans wonder what the songs will be about. Thus, there are layers of intrigue that surround Salvant and her work.

Cecile McLorin Salvant’s vocal qualities

It is rare that performers live up to the hype that surrounds them. Past works are not always indicators that a current release will be great, although listeners hope that it will be. Time constraints do not always permit me to listen to a numerous songs by an artist who is new to me. However, I found the time to listen to Salvant. Salvant’s voice moves between volume dynamics and registers as easily as an actor donning disguises to become a character. “I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate,” is not only funny in Salvant’s treatment, but it is true to the vocal characteristics prized in the early 20th century when the song was new.  Her interpretation of “St. Louis Blues” was soulful and engaging. That performance, coupled with that of “Sam Jones’ Blues,” and made it clear that Salvant was living up to the accolades afforded her.

Salvant’s voice is rich at any register. Her diction is crisp, no matter how fast the tempo. The effect is almost dizzying on some songs. It is clear that Salvant enjoys what she does, and she is backed by talented musicians whose work highlights her own.

“Sam Jones’ Blues” by Cecile McLorin Salvant

“Sam Jones’ Blues” is a cover of Bessie Smith’s 1923 classic. The song tells the seemingly well-known story of how a man struck with a case of infidelity, strays for a year, leaving his long-suffering wife in his wake. However, the wife does not suffer for long. She reclaims her maiden name, as the chorus informs the prodigal husband, “You ain’t talkin’ to Missus Jones/You speaking to Miss Wilson now.” The song details how the title character returns to find his wife has changed the locks, claimed the house for herself, and more importantly, reclaimed herself. Her freedom is more important than being married to Sam Jones.

In the soundscape created by Salvant, the song opens with a Gospel-sounding piano roll. Salvant sings with a warm voice that highlights the rhyme and humor of the song. The song sounds like a two-person narrative in Salvant’s treatment. Sam Jones sounds serious, but his wife flaunts her legal freedom.

The vocal quality Salvant uses is both Gospel and jazz oriented. The smooth, confident sound of Salvant’s voice draws listeners in, and the song’s story entertains. The teaser recording of the song is live. Hearing a contemporary audience appreciate Sam Jones’ long-suffering wife new freedom, reinforces how classic the song is, and how it takes a confident personality to pull off the interpretation of a woman who has come into her own.

Salvant’s new album, “Dreams and Daggers” is scheduled for release Sept. 29, 2017.

 

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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