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The Gypsy

music CyrilleFrench-born jazz vocalist Cyrille Aimée lives for musical freedom and improvisation

Cyrille Aimée is a musical gypsy. Her sound incorporates elements of Latin American, American, Brazilian and other styles of jazz, she has recorded albums as a duet with Diego Figueiredo, she currently performs with the Surreal (same pronunciation as her first name) Band, and she is working on a new album with yet another band.

As it happens, Aimée can actually blame gypsies for her love of jazz. “I grew up in Samois-sur-Seine, which is a little town in France where Django Reinhardt used to live,” she says. “Every year they have the Django Festival in his honor, and so gypsies from all parts of Europe come and honor him and play guitar. I started hanging out with the gypsies and became obsessed with their music, their way of living, their freedom. What drew me to jazz music was the freedom of it, all the improvisation, and the fact that it’s a style of music that is constantly changing.”

Aimée loves experimenting with her own music. The Surreal Band plays more straight-ahead jazz, with drums, saxophone, trumpet and bass surrounding her, while the group she has assembled for her next project includes three guitars—gypsy, Brazilian and jazz.

“I wanted to have a different kind of band this time,” says Aimée. “My favorite instrument is the guitar, so I wanted to have three guitars in the band. And despite my love of gypsy guitar, I have not yet done a project with that in it, so that’s something we are including in this new project. It’s been really fun and interesting.”

For Aimée, the evolution of her sound throughout the years has been influenced by the people she knows.

“My mother’s from the Dominican Republic, so that’s where I get the Latin vibe from. I play with a lot of Brazilian guitarists, so that’s where the Brazilian influence comes from. And I live in New York so there’s the American jazz,” she explains. “But really, I just like good jazz. I don’t care what people want to call it—traditional jazz, modern jazz, Latin jazz, whatever—I just like music that makes people feel something.”

One of the biggest influences on her music and live show was the time she spent touring and performing with the gypsy jazz band Caravan Palace in 2008. The experience required Aimée to exude an entirely different sort of energy on stage.

“That was insane,” she says. “It was giant festivals with 10,000 people jumping around. We were dancing around on stage and everything. I learned a lot about stage presence there. In a small jazz club you don’t move a lot, you know? You stand there, you sway a little and you keep your eyes closed a lot of the time. But when you’re on a giant stage like that you have to inhabit the whole space. … Once I got the hang of it, I loved it.”

That energy and passion is prevalent throughout her fifth album, released in March, entitled Live at Birdland. The perfect demonstration of Aimée’s wide range and diverse influences, the album features an enchanting cover of the classic Cinderella song “A Dream Is a Wish,” scatting a la Karrin Allyson on the lively “Caravan,” and the musical chops of her band members, like tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm. But perhaps the most impressive track is “Nuit Blanche,” a stunning example of live-looping magic that shows off Aimée’s beat-boxing skills and smoky French vocals.

“Whenever you hear music it instantly puts you in a certain mood,” Aimée says. “It can pick you up. It makes you want to dance or cry. It is incredibly powerful for being something you can’t even grasp!” 


Cyrille Aimée will perform at 7 p.m. Monday, June 3 at Kuumbwa Jazz, 320-2 Cedar St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $20/adv, $23/door. For more information, call 427-2227.

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