Mike Ragogna: Cyrille, of course, I have to ask you…is it a good day?
Cyrille Aimée: Yes, it is a fast and urgent day! (laughs)
MR: Terrific! Okay, on It’s A Good Day, you visit standards as well as originals. How did this project come together?
CA: For this album, I really wanted to create a sound that was mine and mine alone. I tried to dig into who I was and what I wanted to share musically–growing up with gypsies and then coming to America to learn the American Songbook and then going to Brazil to do some records with Diego [Figueiredo]. I realized that there are a lot of things that are in me and so I kind of decided to put it all together into one sound using the guitar as the common thread throughout the album. I had a Latin guitar, a gypsy guitar, a jazz guitar, and it created an original sound because these 3 types of guitars were not meant to be together. For the songs, I like a lot of different kinds of music. I don’t like categories in particular. From Michael Jackson to Peggy Lee, I like it all. I just think of songs that make me feel good, remind me of something or that I like the lyrics to.
MR: Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” is one of the first songs you ever learned, right?
CA: Yes, I learned that with the gypsies.
MR: How did it feel coming back to the piece? How has it evolved within you over the years?
CA: Now I understand it more. First of all, when I learned it, I learned it phonetically. And I didn’t speak English as well as I speak it now. So, I guess it is the same with all of the songs from the American Songbook. At first I fell in love with them for their melody and their harmony. I came to America to study harmony and rhythm and improvisations and got deeper and deeper into the lyrics and what the songs actually meant. Now the lyrics are one of the most important things to me.
MR: Would you say with Michael Jackson’s “Off The Wall,” you are relating to those lyrics as well?
CA: Yes! I love the lyrics. It’s exactly as I see life, to not just follow everything, but follow your instinct and live off the wall.
MR: With the approach you took with this album arrangement-wise, it were as if there were “voices” employed by the various guitar instruments, like you were performing duets with virtual vocal artists using these instruments.
CA: Yes! But it’s not really “duets,” as there are more than two of us and more than two guitars but the guitar is definitely a voice to me. I love the guitar for so many reasons. First of all because I grew up around the gypsies and that is the instrument that they play and they use the guitar not just for its common role, but as a percussive instrument, because the drum set didn’t fit in the caravan (laughs). So they had to use a different instrument to make the percussive sound. I love the guitar because you can bring it everywhere and you can start a jam wherever you are.
MR: What is your musical evolution?
CA: Many different ways. My first memories of music are of my mother playing Dominican music in the house because my parents love to dance. They love to throw parties and dance, so there was a lot Latin music in the house. My father loved listening to classical music, but when I met the gypsies, that’s when I knew I wanted to make music as well. And then from the gypsies I discovered Ella Fitzgerald and then that got me into the American songbook. From there I got really into all the instrumentalists like Miles Davis, piano trios, and then I got into the Brazilian stuff because I met Diego. It’s still going on and I keep growing as a musician.
MR: With Diego, what are the dynamics when you guys are playing together?
CA: It really is incredible. The first time we met in 2007, I was the winner of the voice competition in Montclair and he was the winner of the guitar competition and a year later he contacted me via MySpace and asked me to come to Brazil to play some gigs. We had never played together, but I really wanted to go to Brazil, so I went and it was an instant connection. We realized there was something really strong in the music we played together and we could share many things because I have my French side that I brought into the duet and his Brazilian side that he brought, and we have the American songbook in common that we both really loved. It’s really special.
MR: You’re not easy to put into a genre because although you perform jazz, you have other influences. How would you define yourself as the artist you are now?
CA: I really don’t think too much about that. I just want to be happy. My main goal in life is to be happy. If I can make other people happy by doing what I love, then I feel like I’ve done everything in life that I’ve wanted. I just want to make people feel good and change people’s lives with music and that’s it.
MR: You were spotted by Stephen Sondheim and were in one of his productions. How did that come together, what is that story?
CA: It’s really different from what I used to do. It was a challenge and I love challenges. I learned a lot from it and I actually started taking acting lessons from that day on.
MR: How did he discover you?
CA: They contacted Lincoln Center looking for a jazz singer and that’s how they found me.
MR: Cyrille, what advice do you have for new artists?
CA: Keep following your dreams. Live “off the wall” (laughs) and as long as what you are doing is what you want to do, then it should work…if you are honest.
MR: Ideally, what would you want to do next?
CA: I want to do a lot of things–I want to act, I want to sing, and I want to meet new people!