Gypsy jazz in full swing at Kerrytown with Cyrille Aimée and The Guitar Heroes

By John Bohn, Daily Arts Writer
Published February 8, 2013

In 1930s France, guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stéphane Grappelli pioneered a style of jazz known as gypsy swing. As a self-proclaimed gypsy himself, Reinhardt drew on his background with gypsy music culture to create the unique sound now heard internationally among groups called “hot clubs,” named after Reinhardt’s original Quintet du Hot Club de France. This Friday, gypsy jazz will be in full swing at the Kerrytown Concert House, where Cyrille Aimée, an up-and-coming voice in the genre, will perform with her newly formed band, The Guitar Heroes.

Cyrille Aimée and The Guitar Heroes


Friday at 8:00 p.m.
Kerrytown Concert House
$15


Aimée’s story takes her close to the roots of gypsy jazz movement. Born in Reinhardt’s hometown of Fontainebleau, Aimée became acquainted with the style at an early age. Gypsy culture persists into the modern day with an estimated 500,000 Romas living in France, and since 1968 — 15 years after Reinhardt’s death — enthusiasts and descendants of the culture have gathered in Samois-sur-Seine near Fountainebleau to commemorate the pioneer’s life and legacy through a yearly music festival.

“I started singing when I first met the gypsies,” Aimée said. “I was obsessed with the gypsies and their way of living and their culture.”

Over the past decade, this style of music has flourished, especially in American cities like San Francisco and Austin, Texas. Detroit has its very own group of musicians, the Hot Club of Detroit, which regularly performs gypsy jazz in southeast Michigan, as well as across the country.

“They were one of the first to make a career like this, just with this music,” said Kerrytown Concert House Director Deanna Relyea.

She added that the group enjoys playing in Ann Arbor.

“They call twice a year, three times a year, depending on whether they are in town," Relyea said. “And the audience is crazy for it, and they always do something different.”

It was with the Hot Club of Detroit that Aimée made her first appearance in Kerrytown. The last few performances the club hosted, the group brought a musician. Each time, the concert has sold out. Aimée’s appearance met a similar reception.

“Remembering her visit here, she’s kind of all about her music,” Relyea said. “She’s a nice person. She’s a serious musician.”

The inclusion of Aimée in the Hot Club’s performance made perfect sense. Both of their styles can be described by their occasional departures from the typical Django Reinhardt format.

“(The Hot Club players) have an adventuresome tendency so that it’s not all what Django and Grappelli were playing,” Relyea said. “It’s that, plus a different angle. They go off into a freestyle for a minute, and then come back. These are all very great musicians and they play in all sorts of styles.”

“She’s very imaginative. She’s not your usual stand-up-and-sing crooner,” she added.

Not only will Aimée perform her own original material, she’s also brought together her own band that showcases the uniqueness of her taste.

“Guitar is my favorite instrument,” Aimée said. “So, I put together a band where there were different styles of guitarists ... So, it’s going to be gypsy swing with jazz and Latin rhythms.”

This will be the first tour for Cyrille Aimée and The Guitar Heroes. The band is currently working on an album together, the material of which can be heard at its performances.

In addition to this medley of guitar styles, the band will include more songs in French and a recent development in Aimée’s repertoire: the use of a loop pedal.

“I always imagined that this thing existed,” Aimée said. “And, then, when I saw a guitar player using it, I went out and bought one.”

Aimée uses the pedal to build up chords on stage, as well as provide her own backbeat. The loop pedal merges newer technology with this older cultural style, but, even with this fusion, the lifestyle of the gypsies will never be lost for Aimée.

“For the gypsies, the music is a part of their everyday life,” Aimée said. “They can’t live without it. They always have their guitar on them. It’s not like a jazz piano trio. The music is there all the time. We’re eating, and they take the guitar out and then lunch becomes a big jam. Same for dinner.”