Bulgarian jazz vocalist, band leader and composer Ami Oprenova kicked off a UK album tour at London venue Toulouse Lautrec on Sunday 26th September 2021, presenting arrangements of original tracks from her album ‘Precious Days’, released on 5th November. Ami has previously toured Europe and already has two albums under her belt: ‘Introducing Coco ‘n’ the Fellas’ (2016) and ‘Some of our Favourite Tunes’ (2017).
‘Precious Days’ is Ami’s third album, although it’s the first album in her own name. It really gives a true sense of the honesty and passion behind this unique artist, almost a window into the soul of Ami. The album is based on life experiences with a positive, feel-good vibe, combining everything Ami has learnt from playing Gypsy Swing, Blues and Bebop together with her childhood upbringing of listening to Soul, Balkan Folk & Gospel.
Ahead of a collaborative gig with Ami as part of the tour, I had the pleasure to catch up with her and delve deeper into the workings of this intriguing, unique performer whose passion and performance I truly admire. I asked Ami what had inspired the album and what we can expect?
“This album means so much to me! Each track has a unique story behind it and has been composed after a deep personal experience.”
AO: “After the pandemic, stress and pressure we all experienced, I feel the importance of appreciating each day we are given even more. My vision for the album was to create a positive, feel-good atmosphere combining everything I’ve learnt. I started working on the album almost 3 years ago. It is an all-originals album with 3 of the 9 tracks co-written with incredible guitarist Daniele Ciuffreda. The other band members (Joe Perkins and Havard Tanner) were also heavily involved in shaping the pieces and creating the sound of the album together with some incredible guest musicians and producer John Merriman. It was a time in my life when many changes were taking place. Many opportunities had arisen and I had taken the first step into having a solo career as a jazz artist. John really helped me round up my ideas and encouraged me to keep going with what I wanted to write. The whole team at Crown Lane Studio are just the most amazing and talented bunch. I’m so pleased to have been able to record there.”
KC: You trained as a classical violinist at The National Music School of Sofia in Bulgaria and then studied a Bachelors in violin and composition at the Birmingham Conservatoire. How did this evolve into becoming a jazz vocalist?
AO: “I think I always knew I wanted to be a vocalist but pursued it quite late in my musical journey as a teen. I owe the initial spark of interest to my incredible uncle who was the first person to sit me down with a bunch of jazz CD’s and educate me on the styles of jazz. I was so intrigued by the scatting I heard for the very first time when I was 15, I was hooked forever. My parents aren’t musicians however, they did their best to give me an opportunity to develop my skills. It was then up to me to find my path and the style that I loved the most – Jazz.”
KC: You have been tutored by some of the very best jazz vocalists including Cyrille Aimeé, Liane Carroll and Anita Wardell. How have you brought together everything you’ve learnt into your own style?
AO: “What I learned from these incredible jazz artists has directed the way I perform and the way I work with other musicians. But when it comes down to style, I strive to be true to myself. I want each person who’s taken the time to listen to me to go back home happy. I just try to share my love for music, and hope the audience enjoys the music with me.”
“My duty as a performer and recording artist is to entertain the audience with my music.”
KC: Your improvising appears to be totally natural and spontaneous, often inspired by nature (a sunset or bird song etc). Are you expressing whatever comes into your mind or are you drawing upon on a bank of phrases and melodies you have created and stored?
AO: “Well, we all have our favourite lines and phrases stored somewhere and they always seem to creep up, even when we don’t want them to, but I have recently discovered that the present is more powerful than anything in the past and more exciting than anything in the future. That’s helped me draw awareness of all the amazing things that can influence our improvisation skills. I believe it’s not only down to what harmony is playing behind us, but what nature is doing, or what mood we are in that day. That’s what makes improvising exciting and different every day!”
KC: Tell me about your trademark scatting; how it has evolved, what / who have been your biggest influences and how have you developed your unique style rather than a generic technique?
AO: “I first began by studying all the greats and transcribing each note they sang. Ella Fitzgerald was of course my absolute favourite, but I also studied a lot of Cyrille and Liane’s work. That said I have had the amazing privilege to play with many guitarists in the Manouche style specifically. I would often learn guitar solos and sometimes write out duo solos. I love learning instrumental solos because they challenge me to sing in a completely different way. I love trading with an instrument and working out on the spot what I can take from their solo and develop even further.”
KC: You have a beautiful baby boy, Theo. How have you found juggling music and motherhood? Has Theo inspired any of your music?
AO: “Yes, I became a mummy last year and a wife the year before. I had a difficult birth and my baby was born two months early but he is perfectly fine, growing big and strong and making us laugh daily! Juggling music and concerts is extremely difficult, but thanks to our incredibly supportive relatives and my amazing husband, getting back to performing has been possible. I’ve had some inspiration to write about my little family but this is the most personal my music has ever been, so I’m not sure when I’ll be ready to share it with anyone…”
KC: You have been performing a series of ‘Jazz in the City Sessions’ ‘live’ from Sofia in Bulgaria. Tell me more…
AO: “I have been living between UK and Bulgaria the last year. In Sofia, where my family is from, I had a vision to start a jazz event series. With the support of many around me we had started regular events, which are Live from Sofia and streamed for free through Facebook. It’s a very new project and I’ve only had a few musicians guest with me so far, but I think the next one will be around Christmas and I have to admit I am very excited.”
KC: I absolutely love the ‘Coco ‘n’ the Fellas’ music and videos. Do you have plans to do more with this band?
AO: “Coco ‘n’ the Fellas was a pure joy and came out of an experiment for my final project at the University. Only by chance did we get a gig right after which turned into an amazing run of tours over 3 years. I truly love the fellas as my brothers, but it was time to move on to new projects. Thanks to them I’ve matured as an artist and I owe them so much of my career. But I think we have all grown away from the style we were doing then and we are now spread around the world involved in such different but wonderful things. Nevertheless, I secretly hope I’d be able to convince the boys for a reunion concert in the future.”
KC: What are your plans for the future?
AO: “My plans for the future are to see what doors open ahead for me. I am a person of faith so I’m not often worried about the future. I am looking forward to some new projects coming up and spending this precious time with my family. And to be honest I’m planning to buy my first ever Christmas tree! That’s the best future plan, ha-ha.”
I couldn’t agree more with Ami’s appreciation of life, truly valuing each day we are given – precious days indeed. It is clear that Ami has poured her heart and soul into her new album ‘Precious Days’, spreading positive, feel-good vibes. The music is totally infectious and her performance is captivating. There are wonderful melodies and heartfelt lyrics clearly derived from Ami’s experiences in life. I know Ami continues to be inspired by life experiences so it will be very exciting to see where her creativity takes her next. Ami is very much an artist of my own heart. No wonder I enjoyed performing alongside her so much!
‘Precious Days’ is available here: Precious Days Bandcamp
Album review here
Ami Oprenova website
Ami Oprenova Facebook
Ami Oprenova Instagram
Ami Oprenova Twitter
Last modified: November 8, 2021