REVIEW: Cécile McLorin Salvant at Ronnie Scott's

Cécile McLorin Salvant, Ronnie Scott's, May 2014.
Photo credit: Benjamin Amure. All Rights Reserved

Cécile McLorin Salvant 
(RonnieScott's. Second night of two. Also live-streamed. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

"You're not there to review the audience," film critic Barry Norman once said. But when you see a performer who can keep everyone in a room so completely silent and spellbound as Cécile McLorin Salvant did at Ronnie Scott's last night, it might, actually, not be a bad place to start.

Most people who saw last night's gig will probably have done so via the live-stream, so the feeling of intense concentration in the room probably also . It was quite something: the gig induced the collective sense of an audience which has completely stopped breathing, exactly the atmosphere which Ian Shaw had described so well in his introduction.

The first thing which struck this listener about the 24-year-old Miami-born singer, winner of the 2010 Thelonious Monk competition, is quite how unbelievably clear her diction is. Can there be another singer who enunciates words with this level of communicative engagement? (The only other one I can think of is Marlene Verplanck). The mention of the Monk competition brings with it an irony and a telling contrast: the previous vocal winner Gretchen Parlato has headed completely in the opposite direction, and developed a way of singing in which the words are cloaked in mystery, subsumed into the music. Salvant makes the meaning of absolutely every syllable count. But hold on, she has a French mother and a Haitian father? Maybe there is a connection there.

The range of colour in the voice, and the freedom to switch within that range were mesmerising. And then there's the musicality. And add to that the musical vocabularly. Plus the breadth of her range of reference - Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most seemed to have a back door opening and shutting into Kenny Dorham's Blue Bossa, for example. And the fact that she can take a line wherever she wants it. The one song of her own that she sang, Womanchild, was a masterclass in approaches to the beat, attacking it, deaying it, skirting round it,caressing it. And then there's the variety of vocal charaacterization, the way she can summon up so many characters along the way, from sweet/innocent schoolchild, to the knowing, to the sassy, to the diva, and all bases in between. Wonderful.

Her trio are a very classy unit. Pianist Aaron Diehl is equally at home in Bach-ian counterpoint as he is in hard swing. Drummer Pete Van Nostrand and bassist Paul Sikivie found ways to support a pulse which was often tantalisingly, daringly slow, notably in the quiet desolation of Shirley Horn's He's Gone Again.

Some people ask what happened to the real jazz singers, to Ella, Billie, to Sarah Vaughan? There can be no more powerful and complete heir to the totality of this tradition than Cécile McLorin Salvant. And the really exciting prospect is that she has a whole lifetime ahead of her to take it further.

Support was from Tom Cawley, Sam Burgess and Joshua Blackmore, in the trio format Curios, who were seeking out, and finding, the quiet, the abstract and the spacious in Tom Cawley's tunes.

Pete Van Nostrand, Paul Sikivie, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Aaron Diehl
Ronnie Scott's, May 2014. Photo Credit: Benjamin Amure. All Rights Reserved


1) When Rome I do as the Romans Do (Coleman/Leigh)
2) Nobody ( Bert Williams)
3) Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most (Wolf/ Landesman)
4) Laugh Clown Laugh (Lewis-Young-Fiorito)
5) The Stepsisters' Lament (Rodgers/Hammerstein)
6) They Say it's Spring (Marty Clark, Haymes)
7) Trolley Song - "Clang clang clang" (Blane /Garland /Martin)
8) Womanchild (McLorin Salvant)
9) He's Gone Again (Curtis Lewis)
10) What a Little Moonlight Can Do (Harry M Woods)
11) I didn't know what time it was (Rodggers/ Hart)
Encore) Goodbye (Gordon Jenkins)

LINK: Jade Lauren's review of Cécile McLorin Salvant's first night at Ronnies in October 2013


  1. I travelled from Norwich, Norfolk all the way down to Six-Fours-les-Plages on the Cotes d'Azur to see her last week. She performed a similar set list to the above and mesmerized the French audience. She is a staggering talent. I wonder, will Ronnie Scotts produce a dvd? The streaming was excellent with some brilliant camera angles.

  2. Saw her in Cambridge, MA at the Regattabar and she blew everyone away. Not only is her vocal style eerily reminiscent of Sarah Vaughan and Betty Carter but she has a broad repertoire covering both classic standards and forgotten historical show tunes. Amazing dramatic presentation and sheer fun!