Jazz vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant sympathizes with the common critiques of her genre—it's too serious! too precious!—because she used to feel the same way. "As a teenager, I thought jazz was corny cocktail music for old fogies," says McLorin Salvant, 28, a Miami native who began singing at age 8. "And I thought all jazz artists were dead."

But in 2007, when she traveled to a small conservatory in France to study classical voice, McLorin Salvant discovered how alive and swinging the style was. "I met a teacher who encouraged me to sing jazz," she says, "and I met musicians my age and younger who were actually playing it." McLorin Salvant pursued the new opportunity with vigor, refining a richly acrobatic voice that by turns evokes Bessie Smith's bawdiness, Billie Holiday's pathos, and Nina Simone's supple storytelling.

In January, McLorin Salvant took home her second Grammy for best jazz vocal album for Dreams and Daggers, which she's currently touring. And she's expanding the genre's repertoire. "This music isn't the same ten songs all the time," she says. "People need time with jazz because it can be deep and complex." Her top picks for dream collaborators? "James Blake, D'Angelo, and Björk. And Kendrick Lamar! I love him."


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