For Ami Oprenova scatting isn’t just a generic technique but a way of life! By opening herself to the unknown and taking a journey of incredible musicianship Ami has been mesmerising numerous audiences around the world with her energy and pure style. From a childhood of violin virtuoso, composing and conducting, to becoming an exceptional jazz performer and leader, this social butterfly under the name of Ami Oprenova, has remarkable achievements behind her back.
Born in Bristol, England, Ami lived the first years of her life in London. Feeding ducks at the park, or dancing to ‘Thomas the Tank engine’ were her routine toddler activities. Her parents, both Bulgarian born, decided to move back to Sofia, Bulgaria when Ami was only four years of age. Realising how musical this little girl was, they found it inevitable to give her a chance to learn an instrument.
“My parents aren’t musicians, although my dad had thought himself to play the guitar, so their first instinct was to start with what seemed the most complicated instrument – the violin.”
Despite her early age she was eager to start lessons. By the age of 6, Ami was already a soloist for the National Chamber Orchestra and was given a place at the National Music School of Sofia. By the time she was a teenager, she had toured with the National Youth Orchestra and won numerous Violin, Theory & Harmony Competitions.
“Looking back to my school years I am starting to piece together the little influences that I had, connecting the dots into what I do now! Without even realising I was exposed to so many styles! I would go to school and learn to play violin and piano and build my knowledge of any classical composer you could think of. Afterschool activities included Latin dancing, hand bells choir, etc. It was a crazy busy childhood, to be honest. I’d often visit my grandpa who was obsessed with Bulgarian and Macedonian folk music. The drums and accordion would come out and we would play, dance and sing all afternoon. The week would finish with the most brilliant gospel music at our regular Sunday church services. I loved all these styles of music and enjoyed every part of it, but the turning point of realising what I really connected to was a visit to my uncle’s house when I was 14.”
That was the day when Ami was first introduced to the albums of Norah Jones, Ella & Louise, Benny Goodman, Glen Miller and many more. This was a turning point and the moment that sparked her obsession with jazz!
After graduating from school she returned to the UK to study violin at the Birmingham Conservatoire where she was awarded a scholarship towards her education.
“Even though I had good success with my instrument, I was in complete denial that I wanted to be a jazz vocalist. I remember sitting in the jazz area, pretending to be waiting for a rehearsal room, but actually listening to jazz musicians’ practice, whilst singing along.”
Soon after the first year some had noticed her interest and Ami was offered to record with jazz musicians, perform with local Big Band and even join an Andrews Sisters Tribute Band, which then used part of her name as the Nova Sisters.
“That was really my first band, I had no idea what I was doing – trial and error constantly, poor girls… but thanks to these wonderful ladies I started the path of band leading, performing, recording jazz, arranging and writing, as well as preparing the script for our first shows, styling and learning what comedy on stage was.”
By the second year Ami had been awarded the official Prize for Orchestral Composition for the ‘The Thracian Horseman’ and had passed an audition to sing with the Christmas Pops Orchestra.
“I was like a little bunny, butterfly if you prefer, flying through each department, jumping from style to style not knowing where to land. It was actually hilarious watching my journey. It was once again a complete mix and excitement, participating in a Gospel Choir, singing with the local Big Band and Nova Sisters, Composing and working on collaborations with the technology department, and finally touring with two prime local folk bands.’’
She had written so much material by this time that her composition tutor, Martin Riley, encouraged her to do a concert of her pieces. The success of the event resulted in an offer for Ami to switch department. She was accepted to carry on her education as a composer & violinist, keeping her scholarship and given the opportunity to develop and discover all that she desired for.
“It’s not often that you go into your bachelor’s as a violinist and come out the other end as a composer, but I think the tutors quickly noticed that I was searching for more.”
She was also invited by the head of the Jazz department to participate in a summers jazz course in Fife. The chase was on, but the peak of it all was singing at the Fairport Convention Festival and filling the ears of an audience of 20 000 + with her unique voice. That same summer she was accepted in Guildhall School of Music & Drama to pursue a Master’s in Jazz Vocals.
Ami’s passion for music gave her the energy to dig deeper into her incredible knowledge as an instrumentalist and present it through her voice! When arriving in London Ami found the Dixieland the Manouche music scene.
“I decided to do something fun and started a Gypsy Swing Quartet for my final project. I was also introduced as a guest vocalist to the Swing it Dixieland Band founded in Norway. At the time I thought it was all a bit of fun really…”
She passed her finals with remarkable success only to find out how unique her style was. The combination of scat singing and French jazz was not a popular feature for London, and within only two days after her exam she had already been offered a gig.
“We didn’t know what was happening, but we thought we might need a name, and that’s when Coco ‘n’ the Fellas was born.”
Thanks to Havard’s creativity and energy, and Joe and Daniele’s exceptional musicianship, the ensemble took on a journey of performing, touring, recording and writing music throughout the next 3 years!
“I cannot give enough thanks to my Fellas, my tour managers and tutors, all the promoters who booked us and the incredible way they helped me grow as an artist, vocalist, band leader and even show woman. The boys in particular were so honest, but kind, when we worked together and shaped the performer I am now. I owe them so much! As well as my biggest achievement so far – our sold-out show at Ronnie’s.’’
Although Ami had toured across countries such as Scotland, Italy, Bulgaria and many others, the peak of her career was the following she had gathered in London and the recognition she has received from word class musicians and influences within the scene. She often guests as a soloist, arranger and composer for many ensembles and orchestras.
“This is my favorite quote as I love my job and I’d give everything I could into performing live shows, but there comes a time when an artist wants to improvise in life and change goal as well as direction. For me this was spending some time on my personal life and with the people I love the most.”
In 2019 Ami married the love of her life, Greek Cypriot raised Christopher Stavrou, and a year after became a mum to their beautiful son Theodore. Despite the difficulty of the pandemic they grew stronger as a family enjoying the little things in life.
“I really needed a creative break, but that said I am more than ready to come back to the entertainment industry and making people happy.”
With her last project ensemble Coco ‘n’ the Fellas Ami had started writing her own material and recorded an all-originals album.
“I am so excited to have the opportunity to create something under my own name, alongside Daniele, an incredible writer himself, and many other guest musicians. I feel this album is a true representation of who I really am. With all my crazy ideas and energy, it combines every aspect of my music journey and the new chapter I have opened.”
Moreover, her latest music is a balance of meaningful lyrics, incredible production and abundant love poured into each piece!
“After the pandemic stress and pressure we’ve all experienced, I can feel the importance in appreciating that every day we are given even more.”
‘Precious days’ is Ami Oprenova’s first solo album and the official online release will be in September 2021.
‘It isn’t where you came from; it’s where you’re going that counts.’ Ella Fitzgerald