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Cécile McLorin Salvant 

If you go to hear Cécile McLorin Salvant at Kilbourn Hall, you might find yourself squirming in your seat. McLorin Salvant has no qualms about singing songs like "You Bring Out The Savage In Me," a tune few have dared to touch since Valaida Snow sang it in the 1930's.

"I've had time to delve into the history of early 20th-century American music, vaudeville, minstrel shows, coon songs, and some jungle music," McLorin Salvant says. "I discovered this fascinating repertoire."

Ironically, she might not have heard these relics of American culture if she had not gone to study law and classical voice in France. At Darius Milhaud Conservatory in Aix-en-Provence she met saxophonist/clarinetist Jean-Francois Bonnel, who recognized her potential and lent her recordings of great jazz singers. She devoured them.

Born in Florida to a French mother and Haitian father, McLorin Salvant grew up listening to the music her family played. She heard jazz, Portuguese, Senegalese, and Haitian music along with 1990's R&B, hip-hop, and pop. With friends she listened to the Spice Girls, boy bands, grunge, and, she adds, "classical music of course."

But her own style is informed by past generations: "Louis Armstrong — especially his early stuff," McLorin Salvant says, "Bessie Smith, Abbey Lincoln, Shirley Horn, Betty Carter, Carmen McRae, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Ethel Waters, Blanche Calloway, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Babs Gonzales, Fats Waller, Nat King Cole, and Peggy Lee. And Blossom Dearie really influenced me a lot."

McLorin Salvant's repertoire is unlike any other in jazz today. It's as if she's confronting America's troubled legacy in a way that still reverberates.

"I don't know why I have such a fascination with coon songs, these extremely racist songs, written and sung by people who played in string bands," McLorin Salvant says. "If I were to hear those live in some random bar, I would probably be scared but there's something about them ... I can't get enough. I'm going to try to find more and more. On my computer I've been collecting the covers of sheet music of various coon songs. Just the way they draw black women; it's incredible, it's crazy.

"I'm curious about that part of history and the entertainment industry, people wearing blackface for their shows and how crazy it is that you would be stereotyped for a white audience to laugh at. And then they love you, but you're also black — the complete irony of that situation. And, at the same time, how strong you have to be; in a sense you're transcending your whole condition doing that, but in a sense you're perpetuating it.

"It's very weird to me and it raises a lot of questions. Obviously black face is taboo today but there are several instances even now in music and movies and where certain people are portrayed in a very stereotypical way and they're doing it knowingly."

Of course, not all of McLorin Salvant's repertoire is controversial; she also mines the great American songbook. While the title tune of her latest album, "WomanChild," is an original, it's the only song she wrote on the record.

"I try to write my own songs but I have really high standards," McLorin Salvant says. "The covers I choose to sing are written by some of the most amazing songwriters who really honed their craft, people like Cole Porter and Richard Rogers.

"I think there's something odd about being in your own thing all the time, performing your own music. There's something great about that when you can really share something personal and authentic and genuine but there's also something nauseating to me about being in my own self with my own ideas all the time."

In 2009, McLorin Salvant released her debut album in France. But it got nowhere in the U.S. The following year she won the prestigious Thelonious Monk Vocal Competition.

"I was really shocked and scared. I didn't expect anything like that to happen. I thought suddenly everything was going to change. I was going to have more responsibilities, I wasn't ready and I didn't know anything about music. A month went by and things were moving forward in a gradual way, so I relaxed."

Things did change, but in a positive way. She was able to embark on an American musical career. "It opened a lot of doors that were closed to me. I met my manager at the competition and musicians who have invited me to perform with them."

But having resurrected century-old songs from obscurity, McLorin Salvant is well aware of how fleeting a performance can be.

"You're working with time and things are passing by you. You can never really hold it for long because the music just keeps going with time. So it's this very elusive thing and I absolutely love it."

Cécile McLorin Salvant performs Sunday, June 22, 6 and 10 p.m. at Kilbourn Hall at Eastman School of Music, 26 Gibbs Street. Tickets are $25, or you can use your Club Pass. Cecilemclorinsalvant.com.

In This Guide...

    Jazz Festival Guide 2014

    CITY Newspaper's guide to the biggest music festival in Rochester! For more coverage, check our website every day of the festival for reviews, blogs, photos and more!

    Festival Information

    The 2014 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival Friday, June 20-Saturday, June 28

    Friday, June 20 - Schedule

    4:30 p.m.: Hilton High School Jazz Band City of Rochester Jazz Street Stage (FREE) 5:15 p.m.: Canandaigua High School Jazz Band City of Rochester Jazz Street Stage (FREE)

    Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

    I called up Big Bad Voodoo Daddy's trumpeter Glen "The Kid" Marhevka to discuss his band, its brand of swing, its longevity in the swing scene, its hepcat haberdashery, and its impact on swing. That's right — swing, swing, and more swing.

    Friday, June 20 - Musician Bios

    Akiko Tsuruga Quartet When the Lou Donaldson Quartet played the XRIJF a few years ago, the audience couldn't help but notice a second star on the stage. Behind the B-3 organ playing one great solo after another was Osaka, Japan, native Akiko Tsuruga.

    Saturday, June 21 - Schedule

    3:45 p.m.: Brighton High School Jazz Band Jazz Street Stage (FREE) 4:00 p.m.: Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers Featuring Edie Brickell Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre (SOLD OUT)

    Jason Marsalis

    With pianist Ellis Marsalis and his famous sons, Wynton (trumpet), Branford (saxophone), Delfeayo (trombone), and Jason (drums/vibes), the Marsalis family of New Orleans can stake a claim as the first family of jazz. But if that conjures up images of a father and his sons jamming in the living room, well... that's just not how it was.

    Saturday, June 21 - Musician Bios

    78 RPM Big Band Starting out as Oktoberfest band The Happy Wanderers, back in 1973, the 16-piece 78 RPM Big Band is based in classic big band, but often branches out into unique versions of contemporary cuts. (JC) 78rpmband.com

    Sunday, June 22 - Schedule

    3:45 p.m.: West Irondequoit High School Jazz Band Jazz Street Stage (FREE) 4:30 p.m.: Newark High School Jazz Band Jazz Street Stage (FREE)

    Sunday, June 22 - Musician Bios

    Benedikt Jahnel Trio With titles of tunes like "Equilibrium" and "Modular Concepts," you might think the Benedikt Jahnel Trio is too cerebral to enjoy the wonder of jazz. On the contrary, the German-born pianist is a joyous player, with a shimmering, melodic sound and a dynamic touch.

    Monday, June 23 - Schedule

    12:00 p.m.: John Nyerges Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County (FREE) 1:00 p.m.: John Sneider Student Workshop Eastman School of Music (Room 120) (FREE)

    Vijay Iyer

    If you visit the website of pianist-composer Vijay Iyer, you will be greeted with a blurred portrait of a man, vaguely recognizable as Iyer, dashing through an urban landscape. It's a fitting visual metaphor for the frenetic musical journey Iyer has taken over the past two decades.

    Monday, June 23 - Musician Bios

    Bonerama No, it's not a Vanessa Del Rio flick, it's a four-trombone-powered outfit from New Orleans that makes Phil Spector's "wall of sound" seem like a cardboard fence. This 'bone barrage is the brass band equivalent of a muscle car with a horny teenager at the wheel.

    Tuesday, June 24 - Schedule

    12:00 p.m.: Gabe Condon Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County (FREE) 1:00 p.m.: Sophie Bancroft & Tom Lyne Duo Student Workshop Eastman School of Music Ray Wright Room (Room 120) (FREE)

    Louis Hayes

    Louis Hayes was just 19 and living on Detroit's west side when his reputation caught up with him. Pianist Horace Silver, fresh out of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, had heard about the young drummer.

    Tuesday, June 24 - Musician Bios

    Blind Boy Paxton Despite his abbreviated age, Jerron "Blind Boy" Paxton is a master of pre-war, acoustic blues. We're talking the storied sounds of Lonnie Johnson, Robert Johnson, and Bessie Smith — to name a few — wrought by a multi-instrumentalist in his mid-20's.

    Wednesday, June 25 - Schedule

    12:00 p.m.: Mel Henderson and Paradigm Shift Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County (FREE) 1:00 p.m.: Jonathan Gee Eastman School of Music RAY WRIGHT ROOM (Room 120)

    Diane Schuur

    Through the snap, crackle, and pop of a long distance phone call, and suffering from jet lag, Diane Schuur's voice is still absolutely beautiful. She has just returned from an engagement in Osaka, Japan.

    Wednesday, June 25 - Musician Bios

    5Head Rochester madcap ska skanksters 5Head are full of pants-optional hi-jinx and contagious back beat that starts at your feet and ends with you attempting dance moves that would have put Fred Astaire in traction. This band features lighthearted fun played by some of the best musicians this town has.

    Thursday, June 26 - Schedule

    12:00 p.m.: Nate Rawls Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County (FREE) 1:00 p.m.: Ian Shaw Eastman School of Music (Room 120) (FREE)

    Thursday, June 26 - Musician Bios

    Anders Hagberg Quartet If you caught Yggdrasil in one of its appearances at the XRIJF, you've heard the wonderful range of sounds Swedish musician Anders Hagberg coaxes out of his soprano saxophone and flutes. When he plays the gigantic contrabass flute, it's a thrilling journey, filled with percussive breathing and scat-singing, and sounds like the workings of several musicians.

    Friday, June 27 - Schedule

    12:00 p.m.: Vince Ercolamento Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County (FREE) 1:00 p.m.: Pat LaBarbera Quartet Eastman School of Music Ray Wright Room (Room 120) (FREE)

    Friday, June 27 - Musician Bios

    Bill Frisell's Guitar In the Space Age Every time Bill Frisell has appeared here, it's been with his eyes on the sonic future; sounds and progressions rarely, if ever heard. This time around, he's got his eye on the origins of his instrument.

    Saturday, June 28 - Schedule

    3:45 p.m.: MCC Jazz Band Jazz Street Stage (FREE) 4:30 p.m.: Webster Schroeder High School Jazz Band Jazz Street Stage (FREE)

    George Thorogood

    You wanna survive in showbiz? Wanna last in this rock 'n' roll racket?

    Saturday, June 28 - Musician Bios

    Chuck Mead & His Grassy Knoll Boys Chuck Mead burst on the scene with the three-time Grammy-nominated retro-hillbilly outfit BR549. With the band officially on hiatus, Mead has focused on a solo career and producing the Broadway hit "Million Dollar Quartet."

    Club Pass Schedule Chart

    View the chart (web-sized) | Download the chart (print-sized)

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