Cécile McLorin Salvant, from classical to jazz
Cécile McLorin Salvant, from classical to jazz © Radio France

VIDEO: Cécile McLorin Salvant, from classical to jazz

Jazz or classical? "Everything is connected, it is 'porous'", explains to us the Franco-American singer Cécile McLorin Salvant, whose incredible and unique voice is rooted in both musical genres.

I feel it's important to stop creating a distinction between the two techniques. Cécile McLorin Salvant

France Musique: Why classical music?

Cécile McLorin Salvant: What appealed to me most about classical music and about lyrical singing was the grandeur of the characters the costumes, the style, the theatricality. It’s like a ballet for the voice we push the voice to its limit in terms of sound, vocal projection the highs, and the beauty of the instrument, and how it is developed. It is possible that I was first attracted to classical music after hearing Sarah Vaughan sing. Sarah Vaughan’s voice sometimes leaned towards the classical genre and those kinds of timbres.

FM: What makes a beautiful voice?

CMS: It is important to hear a great vulnerability. To hear weakness, humour, both youth and old age at the same time. I’m not interested in simply hearing a pretty voice or technically perfect voice.

FM: Why jazz music? 

CMS: We often listened to jazz music at home, and I always found it very beautiful without really knowing why. I decided to continue singing jazz music because it was the first time that I sang with other musicians with whom there was a real dialogue, we could surprise one another and communicate, I loved it!

FM: Jazz and classical, two opposite styles?

CMS: I was worried I would sound too “classical” as a jazz singer so I really made a separation between the two styles between the two vocal techniques. I used to think that jazz singing came more from a spoken voice, with much more vocal contrast, whereas in classical singing it was all about homogeneity and that vocal projection mattered most. Now I’ve come to understand that it’s the same thing, in reality. I feel it's important to stop creating a distinction between the two techniques, stop considering them as opposites.

FM : What are the links between the two styles?

CMS: Several things I learned through jazz, such as the freedom of expression, a desire to improvise, to surprise oneself, and to communicate with other musicians these are things that we can also do in classical music, and more importantly that we must do in classical music. Several things that I learned by performing classical arias and baroque music, such as the precision of the text and the interpretation, are notions that I brought with me to jazz singing. For me, it is “porous”, if you see what I mean !