REVIEW: Cécile McLorin Salvant and Aaron Diehl, piano

Last Thursday, jazz vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant and pianist Aaron Diehl performed two back-to-back sets at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre at 7 pm and 9 pm. I only attended the 9 pm show, but afterwards, I found myself wishing that I could have gone to both!

What struck me most about the performance was the spontaneity and casualness of the entire evening. “We don’t have a set list for this show,” Cécile McLorin Salvant told the audience, “so I’m going to pitch a few options to Aaron.” It seemed unrehearsed in the best sort of way, and I think that this allowed the audience to connect with the music on a level that perhaps wouldn’t be possible in a more formal setting.

Despite the lack of a pre-planned set list, the evening ended up including a wide variety of songs, including “Black Mountain Blues” (which was frequently performed by Bessie Smith), “I Didn’t Know What Time is Was” by Richard Rogers, and “Glitter and Be Gay” by Leonard Bernstein. As an encore, Ms. Salvant and Mr. Diehl performed “You’re the Top,” a song by Cole Porter from the Musical Anything Goes. Before or after most of the songs, Ms. Salvant took the time to introduce the song and its background, as well as to tell her own personal stories about the people who wrote or frequently performed the songs.

Musically, the voice control that Ms. Salvant has is amazing – she can mold and turn a phrase in a way that appears completely effortless. I was consistently impressed by her vibrato, which she would add at exactly the right moment to make a line sparkle and fade away in a flash of color-change, or to make the sun rise in burst of warmth.

It was also evident that Aaron Diehl is a very skilled pianist. In addition to his improvisational prowess, his technical skills were also highly impressive. Neither Mr. Diehl nor Ms. Salvant had a single page of sheet music on the stage, and the two conversed in musical improvisation, the audience merely lucky spectators of a profound exchange. At one point in the concert, Mr. Diehl performed a Philip Glass etude, much to the crowd’s awe and delight.

I’ve wanted to see Cécile McLorin Salvant for more than a few years now (I missed her UMS concert last year with the Monterey Jazz Festival), and Thursday evening’s concert was more than worth the wait. For 90 minutes in the Mendelssohn Theatre, nothing mattered than the music that was being made onstage, and that music won’t be something that I will soon forget.


JM is a dual degree student in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance and the College of Engineering. Some of her favorite things include running, reading, all things creative, purple, and zebras.

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