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Nate Chinen

Nate Chinen is Director of Editorial Content at WBGO, in partnership with NPR Music. A former music critic for The New York Times and columnist for JazzTimes, he’s a 10-time winner of the Helen Dance-Robert Palmer Award for Excellence in Writing. His work appears in Best Music Writing 2011 and Pop When the World Falls Apart: Music in the Shadow of Doubt. His new book, Playing Changes: Jazz For the New Century, will be published on Knopf this fall.

"Wild Women Don’t Worry: Cécile McLorin Salvant’s Politics of Desire"
On the first night of her weeklong run at the Village Vanguard this summer, Cécile McLorin Salvant was informed, by two separate admirers, that she simply had to sing “The Island.” She didn’t know the song, but she knew how to take a hint.
The following night, backed by pianist Sullivan Fortner, she gave voice to the voluptuous trance in Alan and Marilyn Bergman’s lyrics: “Taste me with your kisses/Find my secret places/Touch me till I tremble/Free my wings for flying.” Afterward, Salvant noted it had been her first time through the song. “I didn’t know it was such an intense and sensual experience,” she said.
Sensual was only the half of it. Salvant, the finest jazz singer to emerge in this century, has found special resonance in the interrogation of feminine desire and insecurity, objectification and control. More than most artists in her chosen lineage, she has brought gender dynamics to the center of her discourse: as a form of critical engagement with jazz conventions and the standard songbook; as a means of enforcing boundaries with an audience, or drawing it close in confidence; as a tether to early 20th century mavericks like Ida Cox and Bessie Smith.
But the woman who named her first American album WomanChild has never settled for simple binaries. Drawing on interviews as well as recordings, I’ll frame Salvant’s stance as a complex mode of resistance and a salutary retort to jazz’s codes of decorum — looking not only at her standard repertoire but also her original art songs. And I’ll consider a suite-in-progress that she has titled L’Ogress, about a female ogre who, spurned by the object of her romantic obsession, chooses to literally devour him.