Read the latest edition of Hot House Magazine!  View and download here in Acrobat: September 2014

Winning Spins by George Kanzler

CyrillePopular music and jazz have long been entwined, but this incestuous relationship is the most entangled when it comes to singers. Endless debates arise not only about what constitutes jazz singing, but even: Who qualifies as a jazz singer? Do they have to improvise? To scat? Does it depend on the material being sung? The musical context?

Back in the 1950s, Mercury Records actually divided the output of Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington between two labels, reserving Mercury for “pop” and Emarcy for “jazz,” based largely on the musical backing and the repertoire.

Today, we readily put the jazz label on singers who perform with jazz musicians or who interpret the classic, pre-rock, American Popular Songbook―preferably with more than a modicum of that ineffable quality called swing. One singer featured in this Winning Spins, Rebecca Kilgore, comfortably meets those criteria. The other, Cyrille Aimée, challenges our conceptions of jazz singing, although she does things definitely associated with that genre, including scatting, which Kilgore mostly ignores.

While both are accompanied by combos, the instrumentation and dominant jazz styles are very different. The Harry Allen Quartet, backing Kilgore, is a swinging, mainstream jazz band. Aimée’s quartet/quintet features two or three guitars, bass and drums playing predominantly in a gypsy jazz style. While Kilgore delves into classic and more obscure popular standards, Aimée’s selection ranges from Michael Jackson to bebop, chansons in French to Ellingtonia.

It’s A Good Day, Cyrille Aimée (Mack Avenue), features her band concept combining a gypsy and a jazz guitar with bass and drums with a Brazilian guitar added on eight of the 13 tracks. Aimée grew up decades after Kilgore, at the end of the 20th century in a corner of France imbued with gypsy music and the legacy of Django Reinhardt’s gypsy jazz. Aimée’s pert, velvet-toned voice can be reminiscent of Madeleine Peyroux or Stacey Kent, as it is on the opening standard, “Where or When,” gently swung in a Django style. However, her voice lacks the melancholy of Peyroux or Kent’s jazz-pop formalism. Aimée’s sunny, ebullient singing is perfectly captured in her sun-drenched images in a bright, flower-print dress on the CD cover.

Her lightly skipping, fast-clip vocal on the title song (another Peggy Lee tune) is as lithe as a summer breeze. Her own “Twenty Eight” and “One-Way Ticket” are love songs so joyous that their very naiveté is appealing. She’s also a fearless musical adventurer: transforming the Michael Jackson hit “Off the Wall” into a folksy shuffle, scatting on her chanson “Nuit Blanche,” making her lyrics part of the band on “Caravan” and zooming through “Love Me or Leave Me” with the breakneck finesse of Anita O’Day. Capping it all off is a hip duet: scat vocal and bass on Oscar Pettiford’s bop classic “Tricotism.”

Alex Sipiagin leads a quintet that duplicates the personnel of Opus 5 at Smalls August 13-14.

Coming next: Release party ofI Like Men, by Rebecca Kilgore with the Harry Allen Quartet (Arbors Records) at Birdland Sept. 25.

“PJ Rasmussen interviews Bucky Pizzarelli as part of his Boardwalk Jazz concert series. For 17 weeks, PJ brings jazz legends, Grammy winners, and rising talent to the Jersey Shore. See more videos and upcoming schedule at”


Heart and soul

PollyFor singer Polly Gibbons, “Music is one of the most wonderful gifts we have as humans—it doesn’t exist without us. I expect my music to grow and change as I do, to evolve as I do. There’s so much possibility.” She had “the obligatory piano lessons” while growing up in Sussex, England and learned some breathing exercises “so I didn’t damage my voice.” But her musical training has largely been the on-the-job variety and listening to everything, including blues, soul, R&B and jazz. “I never really thought about style: I knew the music and feelings I was interested in. I like music for emotional reasons. It has never been a head-y thing for me,” Gibbons says. She moved to London at 18 and attracted the attention of jazz singer Jacqui Dankworth (daughter of Cleo Laine and Johnny Dankworth), who sang Gibbons’ praises to vocalist Ian Shaw and he became her mentor. Gibbons visited the Big Apple for the first time just three years ago and made the rounds as a listener, stopping in at the 55 Bar, the Blue Note, B. B. King’s and other venues. “I saw a lot of good music and it was lovely to see it on the territory,” she says. She’s back in town—performing this time around. For her New York debut at the Metropolitan Room on Sept. 15, Gibbons will feature material from her new CD/DVD, Many Faces of Love (Resonance), which includes compositions by Al Jarreau, Dr. John, Percy Mayfield and others, plus songs associated with icons like Betty Carter, Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae. The tunes detail the passage of love from first spark through the final throes. “I’ll mix in a few other standards and a couple of originals that are in keeping with the theme. I’m not going to be too dogmatic about following the timeline, though, I don’t want to end the set on a low note,” Gibbons says.