Three Jazz Singers
Review by Willard Manus

As a wise man once said, "It is the best of all trades, to make songs, and the second best to sing them."

Here are three young jazz singers who are certainly making the best of their trade these days:

NATALIE CRESSMAN--TURN THE SEA. Cressman is not only a vocalist and trombonist but a lyricist with an uncommon way with words. Building on her debut album, Unfolding, Cressman has just released a 9-track CD, TURN THE SEA, which showcases her triple-threat talents in captivating fashion. Her warm, feathery voice on the title tune gets the session off to an intriguing start. Cressman writes up, not down--her lyrics tell complex, unique stories which she delivers with heartfelt emotion. And when she picks up the trombone and begins soloing, things really begin to heat up and take flight.

Backed up by an eight-piece band, Cressman puts her innate musicality and melodic gifts to splendid use on this quirky but highly-recommended release. (

Natalie Cressman and Gretchen Parlato are not dissimilar singers. Both of them have light, whispery voices which they use in unusual and arresting ways, casting a haunting spell over the listener. But where Cressman is just establishing herself in the jazz world, Parlato has been much acclaimed over the last ten years, winning prizes from the Thelonius Monk Institute, Billboard and NPR. Her voice has also been featured on over seventy recordings by such artists as Terrence Blanchard and Kenny Barron, and she has cut three albums of her own.

Her latest, GRETCHEN PARLATO--LIVE IN NYC, revisits some of the tunes she has previously recorded, but this time in a live setting (Rockwood Music Hall) which enabled her to rework and expand on the original versions. The 9-track album is accompanied by a DVD which provides a close-up portrait of the artist as she works through four of the tunes on the CD.

Intense, introspective and tender are just a few of the adjectives that characterize Parlato's approach to the jazz vocal. Backed by a trio of sympathetic musicians (especially Taylor Eigsti on keyboards), Parlato offers up compelling interpretations of tunes by the likes of Herbie Hancock, Lauryn Hill and Wayne Shorter, delivering their lyrics in her strikingly original way, then shifting gears and singing in wordless fashion, turning her voice into a virtuosic musical instrument.

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Another recent winner of the Thelonius Monk vocal competition is Cecile McLorin Salvant, whose Mack Avenue release, WOMANCHILD, inspired Wynton Marsalis to praise the singer for her "poise, elegance, sensuality, power, virtuosity, range, insight, intelligence, depth and grace." If that's not good enough for you, here's what critic Stephen Holden had to say in the New York Times: "If anyone can extend the lineage of the Big Three--Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald--it is this 23-year-old virtuoso."

The daughter of a Haitian father and a French mother, Salvant was born and raised in Miami but moved to France in her teens, where she studied and played with Jean-Francois Bonnel, who helped shape her unique, oft-startling singing style. On WOMANCHILD Salvant digs deep into a wide range of music, everything from such traditional tunes as St Louis Woman and John Henry, to modern classics by Rodgers & Hart, Fats Waller and Bert Williams. She also offers up three songs of her own, Womanchild, Le Front Cache Sur Tres Genoux and Deep Dark Blue--and plays piano on Jitterbug Waltz.

Obviously, this is a singer with wide interests and the kind of voice that can encompass them, whether it's a tune Bessie Smith made famous (St Louis Woman), a bittersweet relic of black vaudeville days (Bert Williams' Nobody), or a redhot, raucous ditty like You Bring Out the Savage in Me. As Wynton Marsalis said, Salvant can do it all and do it well.

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