Now that the trend of aging rockers cutting albums of show tunes and standards seems thankfully to have run its course, we're back to vocalists with a real feel for and understanding of the jazz tradition doing them justice. Nashville's Monica Ramey is a shining example. Her excellent release Make Someone Happy offers resourceful, soaring and engaging interpretations of material from The Great American Songbook.
Ramey, who'll appear Friday night at F. Scott's, credits her producers Nashville Jazz Workshop co-founders bassist Roger Spencer and pianist Lori Mechem — as well as vocal mentor Sandra Dudley and ace instrumentalists George Tidwell and Denis Solee — with giving her the guidance and assistance necessary to make memorable versions of classic and numbers.
"I was a member of the All American Grammy High School Jazz Band & Choir, which changed my musical life," Ramey recalls. "From that experience I knew my purpose was to do whatever I could to preserve jazz as a vital art form of our culture and society. I also give the Nashville Jazz Workshop immeasurable credit for my training and appreciation of jazz as well."
Ramey's been a Nashville resident since 2000 and a singer since childhood. Make Someone Happy features her rhythmically intense, sophisticated and strong renditions of such tunes as "Dream Dancing," "Tenderly," "Passion Flower," and "I Didn't Know What Time It Was." Her command of flow, tempo and pace (not to mention her understanding of approach in terms of storytelling and lyric emphasis) is impressive, and Ramey's list of top contributors includes special guest Beegie Adair, Roy Agee, Jame Hollihan, and the Lori Mechem Trio.
While she's a huge fan of classic songwriters such as Alan & Marilyn Bergman, Cy Coleman and Johnny Mercer, Ramey has intriguing plans for future projects that will incorporate the works of contemporary performers and songwriters.
"George Tidwell and I are working on a few pop and R&B arrangements for my book right now," Ramey adds. "I have a wish list of everyone from Stevie Wonder and Barbra Streisand to U2, Prince and others that I am anxious to sing. I love the idea of taking some of the tunes that I grew up listening to that are not jazz and marrying them into my world now."
She cites the NJW as vital to not only her career, but the development of jazz in the region overall. She's somewhat optimistic about the music's current state in Nashville, though she echoes sentiments constantly heard from area jazz singers and instrumentalists.
"What I've sadly discovered is the number of musicians struggling to make a living doing what they should be doing, playing music," Ramey says. "It's easy for venues to hire musicians who are eager to work versus those who are far superior, but want or need to be paid for their work.
"Beyond that, there are venues that appreciate the music but cannot afford the cost of hosting live jazz, and those who capitalize on having live music but don't want to pay the musicians properly. It makes it difficult for most of the great artists to play in town. Many take the work where they can get it or play on the road. It all contributes to keeping the jazz scene a secret."
What's promising, Ramey says, is the number of local business owners and musicians who advocate the integrity of the local musicians and the music.
"I believe most people and venue owners want to do the right thing," she says. "There are just so many moving business parts that make it all very complex and taxing. There are many folks who are eagerly watching the evolution of jazz and live music in Nashville."
Ramey's equally upbeat and excited about her future projects and plans. "You can expect a couple more albums in the near future, international peformance dates and must hear collaborations." she says. "I also want to share what I learn and know about music performance and the art of being an independent artist. More than anything I just want to keep making great music, working with world class musicians who challenge and inspire me. As always, I want to continue to give back to others who wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to hear or learn jazz."
Monica Ramey appears 7 p.m. tonight at F. Scott's. Make Someone Happy is available on several websites, including Amazon and CD Baby.The Rev revs up
The Rev. Keith A. Gordon was a familiar name on the Music City rock and pop scene for a number of years, thanks to his erudite and frequently acerbic reviews, essays, commentaries and columns penned for various Nashville publications. Though now an East Coast resident, the Reverend remains very connected to Middle Tennessee, and his latest book Trademark Of Quality: Rants, Reviews & Essays by Rev. Keith A. Gordon circa 2007-2010 (Excitable Press) includes ruminations on indie rock, metal, pop and occasionally blues performers from his current blog.
Determined to revive (or at least rekindle memories of) longform music criticism, Gordon's pieces aren't the snarky one-liners, brief paragraphs or cursory quips that have become the standard in today's space-challenged publications. He goes into extensive detail about releases and performers, offering opinions on riffs, instruments, choices of singles, record label mistakes, personnel defections, internal band squabbles — in short, all the things music fanatics care about, along with passionate and energetic analyses and reflections.
The true test of any music writer is the ability to interest readers in songs, albums or performers they might otherwise miss or not even consider. Trademark of Quality does that frequently, and Rev. Keith A. Gordon's work is consistently stimulating.
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