French Singer Cyrille Aimée Gives an Encore Performance at Blu Jazz+
words by Andrew Leask; photos by Svetla Morrison
To introduce a song in her set at Blu Jazz+ on February 28, French-born jazz singer Cyrille Aimée told a story. One night, she and her bandmate, Michael Valeanu, were heading home to their respective apartments in New York City after a late jam session. As was their custom, Valeanu walked her to her subway stop first, and because it was late, waited for her train to come. Since the platform announcement screen showed that the next train would be arriving in nine minutes, Valeanu took out a book of poetry from his pocket and read to Aimée until her train arrived to take her home.
Days later, Valeanu asked Aimée to help him finish a song he had started writing. The name of the song: “Nine More Minutes.”
When Aimée finished telling the story, the audience at Blu Jazz+ hooted and clapped. Valeanu—who was accompanied Aimée on guitar—grinned and pretended to brush dirt off his shoulder. It was Aimée’s second time performing in Akron, and it was clear that the crowd, many of whom had seen her show last year, loved her.
It’s easy to see why. Rich, but buoyant; airy, but profound, Aimée’s voice lilts along to the rhythm of her four-piece backing band in a way that makes you just want to get into the groove, man. Before you know it, your head is bobbing and your fingers are snapping along to the music. It helps that Aimée’s attitude, like her music, is infectious. It’s cute, but not cloyingly so—a difficult needle to thread, but she does it with ease.
Then again, listen to her sing, and it becomes clear that Aimée is a master at threading needles. From the bluesy shuffle of her rendition of Stephen Sondheim’s “Live Alone and Like It” to the gypsy swing of “Three Little Words;” singing in English, French, and Spanish; Aimée makes the music her own, even as she demonstrates an impressive stylistic range.
Speaking with me after her performance, Aimée attributed her stylistic range to her upbringing. Aimée, who is half French and half Dominican, grew up in a small town on the outskirts of Paris which hosts a yearly gypsy jazz festival in honor of Django Reinhardt. “Each of these styles, they’re all in me,” she said “So, I just try to be honest, and that’s what comes out.”
Yet Aimée was not ready to say she is finished finding her sound. “I’m still looking for it,” she said. “And I’ll be looking for it forever, because it will always change.”
In the meantime, Aimée continues to tour, sharing her unique voice and talent with music fans throughout the world. In her travels, she has witnessed the growing popularity of jazz music abroad, where jazz performers are greeted by young and enthusiastic audiences. It is something she would like to see more of in the United States, where jazz music was born, but has over time become a niche genre with a dwindling audience.
Fortunately, Akronites have Blu Jazz+. In the little more than a year since it opened, the jazz club has attracted national attention, and continues to regularly sell out shows and draw talent from across the country. As I spoke with Aimée, we were frequently interrupted by fans who wanted to thank her for sharing her music with them. They exchanged hugs, had Aimée sign CDs, and told her they hoped she would return soon. Without a doubt, jazz is still alive in Akron.
Andrew Leask spends his spare time plucking ineptly at his electric guitar, while his wife, Amy, and their two cats cover their ears.