In singer Cyrille Aimée’s bio, there’s a story that seems too good to be true. It says that when she was a child in France, she lived in a town that hosted an annual festival named for innovative Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, and the event attracted Gypsies who camped near her home. After her parents were asleep, she would sneak out of the house to sing with the Gypsies and take in the sounds and the atmosphere.
It’s absolutely true, swears the singer, who’s coming to the Folly Theater on Saturday, Feb. 17. Her parents weren’t happy when they found out about it, but, “In the end my parents accepted the Gypsies and saw what great people they were,” she says. “And after a while, the Gypsies would come with soap and towels and line up to take showers at my house.”
But don’t assume that Cyrille Aimée (who says you can pronounce it “Surreal M-A”) is stuck on old-style Gypsy jazz, intoxicating as it is. She knows jazz history from New Orleans to now and has incorporated parts from all over the world in her dizzying style.
She grew up surrounded by all kinds of music, she says. The biggest early impression was made by Ella Fitzgerald: “She got me started and she’s still my Number One.” You can hear that influence very directly in the sheer energy of Aimee’s vocal improvisations.
And she was an impressive singer from an early age. As a teen, she was invited to appear on a French television singing-competition show, something like “American Idol.” But she didn’t accept the invitation. “When I got in and they said I wouldn’t be allowed to sing jazz, I left. … You never know what’s going to happen in jazz, and on a TV show they have to know what’s going to happen.”
After the TV debacle, she moved to the Dominican Republic, the country of her mother’s birth. “I was the only jazz singer on the island. I had all the gigs. I didn’t have anyone pushing me.
“So I came to New York. I wanted to study and get my butt kicked. And basically, I did.”
She spent about a decade in New York, building knowledge, experience and a career.
She’s known for singing in French, but at this point most of what she sings — standards and originals — is in English. “To speak French, you need to keep your mouth very small. For singing, that’s not practical. In English you have those long vowels that are very chewable, very agreeable. It opens your mouth. I really like singing in English.”
Just as her music is a mix of influences from around the world, so is her touring band: She’ll be accompanied at the Folly by pianist Hila Kulik, bassist Tamir Shmerling and drummer Dani Danor, all from Israel, and trumpeter and songwriting collaborator Wayne Tucker, “from Syracuse.”
Her career is still growing, and she’s still open to new influences, including possibilities opened up by technology. On tour, she’s bringing her sampler, which she calls Rupert the Looper, to sing in a chorus of Cyrilles. And there might be some new influences in her music very soon, since she recently moved to New Orleans.
“I fell in love with the people and the energy and just wanted a change,” she says.
Since she was a girl sneaking out of the house to the Gypsy camp, Cyrille Aimée has wanted to be where the musical energy is. Expect her to transmit a lot of that energy to her Folly audience.
The show is at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 17, at the Folly, 300 W. 12th St. Tickets are $15-$55; check follytheater.org or call 816-474-4444.
▪ Alto saxophonist Bobby Watson, the reigning chief of Kansas City jazz, has been on a high-profile gig with a really big band, the Kansas City Symphony. They’re presenting “A Tribute to Kansas City Jazz: From Basie to Bebop” in Helzberg Hall at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 11, at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Helping in the presentation are singers Deborah Brown and David Basse, trumpeter Hermon Mehari and historian Chuck Haddix. Tickets are $35-$70 at kcsymphony.org or 816-471-0400.
▪ The Blue Room, 1600 E. 18th St., has bassist Jeff Harshbarger’s trio at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 15; the Band Oasis at 8:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 16; and singer Ida McBeth at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 17.
▪ The Green Lady Lounge, 1809 Grand Blvd., has singer Eboni Fondren and pianist Charles Williams at 6 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 11, followed by drummer Natalie Bates’ quartet at 10:30 p.m.; organist Chris Hazelton’s trio at 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 12, followed by the Villinger-Schlamb Trio at 10:30 p.m.; guitarist Matt Hopper at 6 and 8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 13, followed by the Spaits & Perkins Trio at 11:30 p.m.; organist Ken Lovern’s OJT at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 14, followed by bassist Tyrone Clark’s trio at 10:30 p.m.; Lovern’s trio at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 15, followed by Guitar Elation at 8 p.m. and sax man Todd Wilkinson’s trio at 11:30 p.m.; pianist Tim Whitmer’s quartet at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 16, followed by Embrey, Lovern & Strait downstairs at 8:30 p.m. and Chris Hazelton’s Boogaloo 7 upstairs at 9 p.m., then organist Matt Villinger’s trio around midnight; and singer Kathleen Holeman at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 17, followed by Lovern in a trio at 6 p.m. and in a quartet at 8 p.m., Hazelton’s trio downstairs at 9 p.m. and tenor saxophonist Stephen Martin’s quartet at 11:30 p.m.
▪ Meanwhile, next door at the Black Dolphin, 1813 Grand Blvd,, bassist Joey Panella’s KC Monktet performs at 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 16, and trumpeter Clint Ashlock’s quartet performs at 9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 17.
Joe Klopus, 816-234-4751