Buried within the dozens of online video clips of jazz singer Cyrille Aimee in performance sits a quiet little treasure, a three-minute reading of something wholly unexpected.
It's not a standard like You and the Night and Music, although she has frequently performed it with a quiet Latin-esque lushness. It's not a show tune by Stephen Sondheim, although this French-born songstress brought a number of his songs to life in the company of Bernadette Peters and Wynton Marsalis with the 2013 revue A Bed and a Chair. It's not even the more untamed intonations of Thelonious Monk or numerous other jazz giants that echo through her performances.
No, this clip is of the 1969 Creedence Clearwater Revival hit Fortunate Son, an electric protest anthem from the Vietnam War era that its composer, John Fogerty, still performs with proper venom. But in the clip, Aimee makes the song seems like a tropical breeze, an exotic and cross-cultural incantation that is more like Jobim than rock 'n' roll.
"I think when you cover a song, you have to give your take on it and play it different from when it was done originally," says Aimee, who performs Thursday at the Norton Center for the Arts' Weisiger Theatre in Danville.
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"It's a combination of things, really. But for me, the lyrics are very important. I know when the music gets picked, I can do whatever I want with the arrangement. But I have to be really connected with the lyrics. I like to pick songs that I can relate to and, I hope, that other people can relate to — songs that I believe in when I sing them."
Raised in Samois-sur-Seine by her French father and Dominican mother, Aimee became infatuated with what she heard at nearby gypsy camps assembled for the city's annual celebration of the iconic guitarist Django Reinhardt. But her fascination went further than the music.
"At first, it was really the people who made the music that got me in love with it," she says. "They really live every day like it's their last. They are so free. The way they play their music is the same way they live their life.
"It's not coming from the brain. They don't read music. They don't think about it. They just do it, from the heart. That's what made me fall in love with the music."
The gypsy inspiration then collided with a broader spectrum of sounds she was introduced to at home.
"My parents, they are not musicians, but they love music," Aimee says. "Ever since I was little, they would play a lot of music in the house. My mom is from the Dominican Republic, so I heard salsa, meringue and cha-cha. Also, she loved country music and French chanson and Spanish music. My father loved classical music but Michael Jackson was always playing in the house, too. There were all sorts of music."
That helps explain the influences that Aimee, now a New Yorker, brought to her 2014 album, It's a Good Day. The repertoire runs from Rodgers and Hart's Where or When to the Jackson pop hit Off the Wall to the Duke Ellington staple Caravan. But perhaps the most telling tune of the record is Aimee's version of Love Me or Leave Me. While the singer said she was guided by epic renditions from Nina Simone and Billie Holiday, her new reading purposely avoids comparisons to such legends by opting for a hushed but powerfully soulful update with a modest touch of gypsy soul.
"Is there a thread with all this music? Well, yeah. The thread is me," Aimee says. "I love all these styles. I don't think they each belong in a box. All of it is my story.
"Basically, the biggest challenge of the album was to make these styles all sound like one music for the whole record. It defines the sound for whatever we play. And that sound is ours."