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After many phone calls and emails exchanged with the kind and enthusiastic Michael Grofsorean—longtime director of Spoleto’s jazz series—for a profile in our May 2012 issue, I was happy to finally see him in person Friday night, taking the stage at the Cistern to give a short and smooth introduction for songstress Cécile McLorin Salvant.

Stepping out in a sparkling blue dress and her signature white glasses, the 22-year-old commanded a powerful presence as she joined Manhattan’s Aaron Diehl Trio—with Charleston’s own Quentin Baxter on drums—to start the show with a beautiful “You Came a Long Way from St. Louis.” After sharing the folk tale of “the steel drivin’ man” in a storytelling voice I could have listened to all night, Salvant threw herself into “John Henry,” giving Baxter the opportunity to fill the Cistern with the first of several drum solos. But it was Salvant’s sexy-cheeky rendition of Bessie Smith’s “You’ve Got to Give Me Some” that really loosened the audience up. A pair of ladies seated in the back shouted out rambunctious “owwws” that got us all clapping in excitement. RiverDogs game fireworks started up as Salvant went into Chet Baker’s “There’s a Lull in My Life,” the auditory mix a thrilling reminder of the festivities filling the city that night and for weeks to come.

Salvant and the trio (Diehl on piano and Paul Sikivie on bass each had impressive solos on their own) ended the concert on the literal high note of a Billie Holiday tune, bringing the crowd to their feet. We left satisfied from the mix of songs that was sultry, soul-filled, and just playful enough to show that this emerging talent isn’t taking herself too seriously. Want to see her for yourself? Tickets are still available for her encore performance tonight at the Cistern.

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