Born in Cincinnati,
Ohio, on April 17th 1931, Bill Ramsey grew up with the abundance
of musical styles found in the "Queen City" of the thirties and
forties. At home, music played an important role. Bill's father,
a talented amateur pianist, played the classics and enjoyed listening
to jazz; his two teenage sisters were avid collectors of the records
of the big bands of the era: Benny Goodman; Glenn Miller; Artie
Shaw; Ellington; Basie. The great folk artist, John Jacob Niles,
was a close family friend and frequent visitor; an early influence
on Bill's musical tastes. But the sounds of the city were the ones
that eventually formed Bill's deepest musical interests. Headquarters
of KING Records, famous for Jazz, Blues, R&B and Country -- all
of which were daily fare for the city's five or six radio stations
-- Cincinnati was also a favorite venue for the big bands, and its
downtown clubs offered plenty of swinging, live music.
His first real
exposure to 'live' jazz came on a trip with his father to New York
and a visit to Café Society Downtown, where Meade 'Lux' Lewis, Albert
Ammons and Hazel Scott were the stars, and it was not long after
that visit that Bill began playing a little "Boogie", by ear. Later,
his love of vocal jazz took over and he began singing the blues
-- and studying the work of the famous jazz singers. His favorites?
Jimmy Rushing, Louis Jordan, Fats Waller. Folk singers like Josh
White and Big Bill Broonzey. Leadbelly. The great Joe Williams (who
would later become a life-long friend and mentor). They all added
bits and pieces to the musical mosaic that would become the Bill
Ramsey style. As his interest grew, so did his repertoire. Ella.
Nat Cole. Dinah Washington. Billy Eckstine. Bill listened -- and
sang whenever and wherever he got the chance.
When the Korean
War broke out, Bill was studying Sociology at Yale. He enlisted
in the Air Force and, instead of being sent to Korea, found himself
in Frankfurt, Germany, a city that had developed an especially lively
postwar jazz scene and was beginning to create some major jazz names
(Albert Mangelsdorff; Vera Auer; Atilla Zoller) as well as attract
established stars like Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Don Menza and Dave
Amram. In a short time, Bill was part of that scene.
His work in the
Air Force as "Chief Producer" AFN-Frankfurt, the key station of
the American Forces Network, kept him busy with the world of Jazz.
His boss, Programm Director Johnny Vrotsos, also functioned as Norman
Granz' partner for the Frankfurt area and gave Bill the assignment
of supervising the recording of the big Jazz Concerts that came
to the area (Count Basie; Duke Ellington; Louis Armstrong; Stan
Kenton -- to name a few). After recording a terrific "Jazz at the
Philharmonic", Bill was invited to join Vrotsos. Granz and some
of the musicians, including Ella Fitzgerald, for a nightcap. At
the hotel bar, much to his embarassment, Vrotsos and some of his
AFN colleagues asked Bill to sing for the JATP stars. After the
first chorus, Ella turned to Vrotsos and said: "All you got to do
is close your eyes." For her, Bill was -- at least acoustically
-- black. As far as Bill was concerned, it was "the greatest compliment
I've ever had".
Again, it was Johnny
Vrotsos who encouraged and helped Bill to appear at military and
civilian Jazz events, which led to his appearance at the 1st and
2nd German American Jazz Festivals in Nürnberg, singing with Germany's
top big band: the Kurt Edelhagen Orchestra. Even as a GI, Bill became
so well-known to the German jazz public that in 1954, still in unifrom,
he was voted the number two jazz vocalist in Germany by the magazine
"Gondel" (then Germany's "Downbeat").
Taking his discharge
in Germany, Bill entered Frankfurt's University and continued his
jazz activities, on the side. In May, 1955, he appeared at the German
Jazz Festival -- the first American to do so -- with the Jutta Hipp
Combo, and, later that summer, made it another first by touring
Yugolslavia with one of Germany's top traditional bands, the "Two
To augment a meager
GI-Bill income, Bill appeared regularly on weekends as a blues-
and folk-singing MC at military clubs throughout Germany and France.
During this time he also appeared in two German films. At the end
of 1955, he returned to the United States for a short period, before
coming back to Germany, permanently, in 1957. In two years, not
much had changed. He returned to the University, played the clubs
-- and spent every free evening jamming in Frankfurt's famous "Domicile
Through 1957, Bill
concentrated on jazz, appearing with the "Two Beat Stompers" at
the German Jazz Festival; Later joining the "Frankfurt All Stars"
on another Jazz Federation tour, this time to Poland, starting with
the "2nd Sopot Jazz Jamboree" and ending up at the Culture Palace
in Warsaw. A live recording of the Sopot concert (released on the
Polske Nagrania label and now a collector's item in Poland) has
recently been reissued (September 1997) as part of a compilation
CD "Caeldonia & More", Bear Family Records BCD 16151. Only two weeks
after the Polish tour, Bill appeared in Scheveningen, Holland at
a concert arranged by Paul Acket (founder of the North Sea Jazz
Festival), performing with "Eric Kran's Dixieland Pipers" plus Albert
Nicholas, Bill Coleman and Beryl Bryden. From this concert came
his first single "Caldonia" and "Big Fat Mama" and first EP "Jammin'
the Saints", released on Columbia, Holland.This too is part of the
compilation CD "Caldonia & More".
A SLIGHT SHIFT
About this time,
Heinz Gietz, a jazzpianist-arranger and close friend who had gotten
Bill started in German movies in 1955, asked if he would be interested
in making a pop record. Gietz had become one of the most successful
players in the German pop music scene. Composer, arranger and producer,
Heinz Gietz had made his name working with such tops stars as Caterina
Valente. Bill thought his proposition was interesting. Asked whether
he would rather do rock and roll or something amusing, the jazz
singer opted for the latter and his first recording was a moderate
success. The second, the German cover version of "Purple People
Eater", was a major hit. It was followed by a long string of top
ten songs (no longer cover versions), written for Bill by his friend
Gietz and two of Germany's most successful lyricists. Bill has recorded
50 singles, 30 LP's & CD's, hosted various musical and children's
TV shows, appeared in countless TV and radio broadcasts and managed
to act in 28 German, Austrian and Swiss films.
as a pop singer had one negative fallout: jazz purists thoroughly
dis- approved of the newly born "Entertainer" Ramsey, and for many
years excluded him from their jazz scene. For an American, used
to the blurred border between jazz and popular music (Ella; Satchmo;
Sinatra), this was both a disappointment and an unpleasant surprise.
However, his continued success throughout the German-speaking world
as a popular, sought-after entertainer (who just happens to sing
jazz very well) has led to "forgiveness", and the purists have,
once again, embraced him in their world. Perhaps more important,
Bill's pop audiences began to attend jazz concerts and to expect
some jazz along with his old pop hits at every personal appearance.
BACK TO THE
These days, Bill
only records occasionally -- and mostly jazz. Eight CD's are currently
available: two compilations of the old hits "Souvenirs" and "Ohne
Krimi geht die Mimi..."); the above-mentioned "Caldonia & More",
a compilation of various early live jazz performances; two re-releases
of jazz LP's: "When I See You" with Toots Thielemanns + Trio and
one "The Other Side - Dedicated to Nat King Cole" with the Zürich
Radio Orchestra; two recent productions with the Stuttgart Radio
Big Band "Gettin Back to Swing" and "S'wonderful - The Songs of
George Gershwin", a Gershwin 100th birthday tribute together with
Etta Cameron; and finally, released in May 1999, "Hamburg keine
ist wie Du", a tribute to his new home town and his favorite ship.
Over the years,
even at the height of his commercial record career, Bill has continued
to do jazz radio concerts and radio archive recordings with the
big bands of the German, Austrian and Swiss radio networks. He has
performed jazz on countless television shows, appearing with such
bands as Ted Heath and Peter Herbolzheimer's Rhythm Combination
and Brass. He has appeared, live, in concert (among many others)
with Chris Barber, the Dutch Swing College, European Swing All-Stars,
Charlie Antolini's Jazz Power, Rod Mason & his Hot Five and the
Young Olympia Brass Band from New Orleans. He currently works with
solo piano, trios and quartets and big bands with a main-steam repertoire
that includes ballads, blues, standards and bop-scatting. He has
always found his audience.
A CAREER: A FEW HIGHLIGHTS
- A series of
concerts, including the German Jazz Festival, with the great
Kurt Edelhagen band, Germany; Holland; Belgium; the "Olympia",
Paris; the Casino in Monte Carlo -- plus about 30 archive recordings
for West German Network.
- First American
jazzsinger to tour of Yugoslavia and appear at the "Polish Jazz
Jamboree II" Sopot and Warsaw.
- TV Portrait
for German First TV Program.
- "Nalen" Stockholm,
with Stan Getz.
- First Jazz
LP "Ballads & Blues" (COLUMBIA SMC 84065) Paul Kuhn, one of
Germany's top jazz pianists and an international, All-Star Septett.
The jazz critic for the magazine "Der Spiegel" (Germany's TIME)
21/66 wrote: "This is the best vocal jazz production in Germany
since the war." - now on CD "Ballads & Blues and Songs From
Home" Bear Family Records BCD 15693.
- National Television:
"Not just a Pop Clown". A jazz-portrait of Bill Ramsey narrated
by Siegfried Schmidt-Joos, Music Editor of "Der Spiegel".
- Jazz Festival,
Prag, with Paul Kuhn (p), Pierre Favre (dr) and Jimmy Woode
(bass). Live recording "Jazz Festival 1966" (SUPRAPHON, Prag
5 0101 H). Currently available on compilation CD " Caldonia
- 11. Jazz Jamboree
- Warsaw with Zbigniew Namyslowski Quartett.
- Jazz Festival
- Zürich, presentation and as soloist with the Basie Alumni:
Joe Newmann (tp); Hal Singer (ts); Gene "Mighty Flea" Conners
(tb); Jimmy Woode (bass); Michael Silva (dr); Lennie Felix (p).
- Solo Evening,
Austrian Radio (ORF), with ORF Big Band featuring Art Farmer.
hosted and sang on series "Geheimtip" ("Insider Tip") for the
German Third Programm, nine 45-minute shows, presenting well-known
pop vocalists who were, unknown to the general public, excellent
blues, jazz or jazz-rock singers. One of those was, of course
- Milan, "Frankfurt-Milano
Culture Week". Jazz-rock concert in the Plaza de Scala.
Hamburg, presentation and soloist (among others) with Eric Clapton.
- Between 1978
and 1985, more than 250 live concerts and five television broadcasts
with the jazz guitarist, Juraj Galan.
- December 1980,
LP "Ramsey & Galan - Live im Mainzer Unterhaus" (Stockfisch
SF 5027). Awarded German Jazz Critics' Prize. It is also on
CD "Caldonia & More".
- December 1980,
Digital-LP "When I See You" with Toots Thielemans (harmonica
+ guitar); Rob Franken (piano+ Hammond); Isla Eckinger (bass);
Billy Brooks (dr) (LP JETON/ERUS digital 0907 332). Re-released
and now available on CD BELL Records BLR 84022.
- "BIG BILL-Jazz
with Bill Ramsey" German national and regional television.
(jazz-singing and presentation) at Hamburg Music and Drama University.
- German Television:
"Bill Ramsey, a portrait", stressing and illustrating the realtionship
between popular music and jazz.
- Over 100 concerts
and 3 TV shows with the Ron Wilson Trio.
- Since 1984,
co-founder, producer, director, host and occasional soloist
for the annual Jazzband Ball, Kurhaus, Wiesbaden.
- Since 1985,
host on the weekly radio show "Swing Party" Hessian Radio, Frankfurt
-- one of the oldest jazz shows on German radio.
- Over 100 live
concerts and three television shows with Ron Wilson Trio.
- Since 1985-89
President of the Association supporting the Landes Jugend Jazz
Orchestra Hessen (Hessian Youth Big Band). Big band experience
to young musicians (under 25). Bill was instrumental in arranging
two TV shows, which he hosted and sang in. Also arranged a number
of live concerts and two CD's (see below).
- April 90:
CD/MC "Kicks & Sticks" with Landes Jugend Jazz Orchester Hessen
(ARIS-BMG-ARIOLA 882 241) "It's All Right With Me" (Arr: John
Clayton) and "I'd Rather Be a Gambler" (Arr: Bill Holmann).
94: CD "Gettin' Back to Swing", Bear Family Records BCD 15813
AH. Big Band Swing with the Stuttgart Radio Big Band.
95: Double-CD "celebration - 10 jahre LJJO" (LJJO-Label 260895)
"Just The Way You Are".
- Metropol Theater,
Vienna: two-week engagment "Bill Ramsey Show", jazz, jazz-rock,
old hits. Taped for Austrian national television.
Jazz-Cruise (Mediterranean), MV Aegean Dolphin, together with
Paul Kuhn (p), Gene "Mighty Flea" Conners (tb), Colin Dawson
(tp), BARRELHOUSE and the EUROPEAN SWING ALL STARS.
- In November
1998, Bill sang at the "Salzburg Jazz-Fall", on the same program
with his old friend and mentor, Joe Williams. And on December,13th
he sang at Joe's 80th birthday party in Las Vegas -- at Joe's
June 26th, "5th New Orleans Festival" Magdeburg with Achim Kück
- November 11th,
"7th Bremerhavener Jazzfestival" with Achim Kück Trio.
"Musikprofessor Borstelmeier", cameo role, "Sesame Street",
The new Millenium
August 26th, "5th Köpenicker Jazz & Blues Festival" with Rolf
Nordenskjöld Big Band.
3rd, awarded the "Louis Blues Prize" at the "20th SWR Blues-Festival"
(SWR = Southwest Radio). Short set with Achim Kück solo-piano.
production "Why and How" Hip-Hop remix of a Mark Murphy original
for UNIVERSAL/Jazz, released in December.
CD "Ballads, Streets & Blues" with Peter Weniger and The Achim
Kück Trio in Achim Kück's Studio, Bennigsen (near Hannover)
Bill Ramsey production for MONS Records.
- November 11th,
"14th International Sonneberger Jazz-Days" with The Thilo Wolf
- November 18th,
"Lübecker Jazz and Blues Night" with The Jazzand Ball Orchester
April 17th, "70th Birthday Party" in the Kurhaus in Wiesbaden.
Once again - as at the 50th, also in the Kurhaus in Wiesbaden
- about 40,000 DM in gifts for UNICEF. MONS Label CD "Ballads,
Streets & Blues" officially released.
- April 18th,
"Bill Ramsey 70", TV portrait broadcast Germany, Austria, Switzerland
- June 29th
to July 1st, 3 concerts at the "Ascona New Orleans Jazzfestival"
in Tessin, Switzerland with The Jazzand Ball Orchester (Krakau,
- July 6th,
"6th Köpenicker Jazz & Blues Festival" with Rolf Nordenskjöld
- August 8th
to 12th Nürnberg, Bavarian Radio Studios, CD production "Big
Band Boogie - Bill Ramsey Meets The Thilo Wolf Big Band" for
Reader's Digest, Bavarian Radio and MONS Records, produced by
- August 19th,
"Old Jazz Meeting" Ilawa (Masuren), Poland with The Jazzand
Ball Orchester (Krakau, Poland).
6th, Mainz, ZDF/3SAT, taping 90 minutes "Bill Ramsey Meets The
Thilo Wolf Big Band" broadcast Germany, Austria, Switzerland
at midday on December 27th.
- Bad Kissingen,
"Kissingen Winter Musikfestival" with Jiggs Whigham anThe BBC
February 13th, in the Philharmonie, Munich and 24th in the Alte
Oper, Frankfurt "Hot Jazz Meeting 2002" with Münster's Old Merry
- June 29th
to July 1st, 3 concerts at the "Ascona New Orleans Jazzfestival"
in Tessin, Switzerland with the Paolo Tomelleri Big Band from
What's in the future?
- Keep on singing,
keep on swinging...