Born: August 19, 1977 Primary Instrument: Vocalist
“When you see Monica Ramey step onto the stage, you're not quite sure what to expect. But when this Nashvillian opens her mouth, a smooth, velvety voice formed by years of study and countless performances comes tumbling out, putting her own fresh spin on jazz standards.” Angela Patterson - The Tennessean
This kind of reaction is a reoccurring theme in the case of Midwest native Monica Ramey and artists like Donna McElroy, Jim Ferguson, Denis Solee, Jeff Steinberg, Lori Mechem, Roger Spencer, George Tidwell, Sandra Dudley and Beegie Adair are just a few who are singing her praise.
Monica is a native of Francesville, one of Indiana’s smallest town. The youngest of three children, her father is a retired farmer and her mother a retired music teacher. As a child, Monica would sing and dance on stage with her mother’s high school show choir, and at the age of 3, she stood on the grand piano at the school’s cabaret and performed Tomorrow from the musical, Annie. By the age of 11, she had become well known in Indiana after starring in several local and professional Broadway musical productions. As a teenager, she studied at the Los Angeles County High School of the Arts, and in 1995, Monica was selected to become a member of the GRAMMY National All American High School Jazz Band and Choir.
This break would become one of the most important opportunities in Monica's life. Being one of 12 selected nationally for the choir, Monica had little jazz experience, but while performing with some of the music industry's finest, she discovered the impact of jazz music in her own life and in our society. The responsibility all performers have to its preservation and authenticity left a profound and lasting impact on her.
Monica studied Music Performance at Indiana State University and was a member of the ISU Jazz Singers. She became a favorite singer among many faculty members and even the President of the university. This led to many performances at university functions and sporting events. She interned for the NARAS Foundation in Los Angeles, where the preservation of jazz music became a focal point of her responsibilities.
In 2000, she moved to Nashville to pursue her singing career, where she discovered the Nashville Jazz Workshop. NJW has given Monica the opportunity to study under some of Nashville finest musicians including Lori Mechem, Roger Spencer, Sandra Dudley, Beegie Adair, Jeff Steinberg, Rod McGaha, Jim Ferguson, Roy Agee, Annie Sellick and Jeff Hall as well as create a family away from home.
On her debut album, Make Someone Happy, Monica is joined by the Lori Mechem Trio and special guest, Beegie Adair. This special project hosts many standard tunes with horn arrangements by Denis Solee and two original tunes by Lori Mechem, Beegie Adair and Hal Stephens. Produced by Lori Mechem, Roger Spencer and Sandra Dudley, the album captures the finest example of Monica's musical capabilities at this point in her career.
Monica performs regularly in various venues and private events in Nashville. When not studying or performing, Monica enjoys spending time by the pool with her friends, with her family in Indiana and volunteering at the Nashville Jazz Workshop. Monica also supports the Man & Woman of the Year campaign for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
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.
-Ron Wynn Nashville Scene