Jazz Society of Oregon's Jazzscene Magazine
January 2005 MUSICIAN OF THE MONTH by Rita Rega
EARLY YEARS/EDUCATION: Born in Monterey, California, my parents were jazz musicians. My Mom is jazz pianist Serena Wright who was classically-trained at the University Of Oregon Conservatory at a time when jazz was not allowed. She tells stories about how she and Ralph Towner and Glen Moore would go into the practice rooms late at night to have jam sessions. They had to post somebody downstairs to look out for a professor because if the school found out they could be expelled for playing jazz. My Mom also had a "chick" band back then in the 60's and Nancy King was the drummer. My Dad, Donald Underwood, was a horn player in big bands in the 50's who invented the first bridge-mounted pick-up for the acoustic bass, the "Underwood Pick-up". He was often playing jazz records at home. My parents had jam sessions at our house all the time, and as a child I met Nancy King, Bob Dorough, Glen Moore, Ray Drummond, David Friesen, and dozens of other musicians whose names I don't remember. These parties went on into the night (usually after a barbeque and my Dad's famous beer shrimp) and nobody wanted to stop playing and singing. These musicians were like family to me and my sister, and we called them "Aunties" and "Uncles", even though they were only related to us through the music. Educationally, I took violin lessons from the age of 8 and my Mom taught me piano and harp. She got me started on the bass in high school and my senior year I got a scholarship to go to Australia with the Monterey Jazz Festival Honor Band as a bass player. After graduation I got a Clint Eastwood music scholarship for college. I was always interested in science and astronomy so I went to UC Berkeley for Astro-Physics. My plan was to be an astronaut. While getting my B.S., I also enrolled in the Air Force RO TC program to be a pilot. At one point I decided I didn't like the flying community, they didn't take me seriously as a pilot even though I had better scores than most of the guys. I guess I really didn't like the pilot-types, they were not accepting of female pilots. I continued to study music and play in bands during this time. I went to the Jazz School in Berkeley and had gigs. I guess I felt musicians were more tolerant of women and I realized I could make a living playing music.
PORTLAND: I'd been taking private lessons from David Friesen for two summers when I decided to move up here. I had felt there was more of a music community here as opposed to the Bay Area and more access for me as a young musician. I also like the landscape, the greenery and the rivers. I really wanted to find my community. I had met so many musicians here already studying with David. As an assignment he had me go to four jazz venues a week and write reports of what I'd observed, to really listen to the music.
BANDS: "Underwood Jazz", Belinda's jazz combo in a variety of configurations. "Beliss", a sister duo with her sister Melissa, a guitarist and multi-instrumentalist. "Pachamanca", a Latin-jazz band with Ramsey Embick on keyboards, and percussionist Martin Zarzar, among others. And the Middle Eastern group, "Wazn al Sharq" led by David Reihs.
MUSICAL INFLUENCES: My influences come from many genres. Besides my parents the biggest influences are: Nancy King, David Friesen, The Beatles, Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, Bjork and Bobby Gentry. There's also: Mozart, Bach, Stevie Wonder, Avishai Cohen, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Ennio Morricone, Jeff Buckley, Ella Fitzgerald, Gary Karr, Edgar Meyer, Chick Corea, Billy Strayhorn, Marvin Gaye, Susana Baca, Bartok, Gil Scott-Heron, Sting and Omar Faruk Tekbilek.
MOST SATISFYING EXPERIENCE: This is hard to narrow down, I have had so many fascinating experiences: hiking alone on the lave fields in Hawaii under a full moon, studying Cuban music for a few weeks in Havana (after getting completely lost for a whole day!), taking my older brother flying and hearing the people at the airport ask him, "Oh, is this your student?", riding the Orient Express through the French Alps and seeing all the castles go by; I think that my most truly satisfying experiences are those that involve the creation of something and those that teach me something. I love the feeling I get when I've written a new song or when I harvest ripe tomatoes from my front yard or when I create a beautiful day for myself by seeking out lovely scenery. Creative and educational activities bring me the most joy and the ultimate creative/educational activity is to design and live my own life. I love the details....cooking, practicing...even chores like vacuuming and feeding the chickens!
FAVORITE RECORDINGS: Bill Evans - "Waltz for Debby", Miles Davis - "King of Blue", The Beatles - "Abbey Road", Joni Mitchell - "Blue", Chick Corea - "Light as a Feather", Luciana Souza - "Brazilian Duos", Marvin Gaye - "What's Going On", Portishead - "Roseland NYC Live", Goldfrapp - "Felt Mountain", Zap Mama - "A Ma Zone", Joe Henderson - "Lush Life", Ennio Morricone - soundtrack to "The Mission", Jill Scott - "Who is Jill Scott? ', Tweet - "Southern Hummingbird", Bjork - "Vespertine", and the recordings of Django Reinhardt and all of Ella Fitzgerald's output.
DISCOGRAPHY: "Underwood Uncurling" is my debut jazz CD. It was done in three recording sessions in Berkeley and at Billy Oskay's Big Red Studio in Corbett, Oregon. It has six original compositions and jazz standards. It features me mostly singing but I do play the acoustic bass and the baritone ukulele on some of the tracks. Included on this recording are: John Gross, Dan Balmer, Airto Moreira, David Friesen, Phil Baker, Clay Giberson, Martin Zarzar, Chad Wagner and Jason Levis. "Uncurling" is available through Cosmik Muse Rekords, www.cosmikmuse.com . Or by contacting Belinda at www.belindaunderwood.net
WHERE PLAYING CURRENTLY: I'm doing folk-oriented, singer-songwriter stuff with my sister Melissa at the Portland Coffee House, 603 SW Broadway on January 7, from 8:30 to 10:30; at Red & Black Coffee, 2138 SE Division, on January 13, from 7 to 10; at Coffee Time, NW 21 st and Irving, January 14, from 7:30 to 9:30. My CD "Underwood Uncurling" will have its release party on Friday, Feb. 4 at Abou Karim Restaurant, 221 Pine St., (503-223-5058) from 8:30 - 12 pm. with Randy Porter, John Gross, and David Friesen. (Belinda's note: the actual musicians for this night are Randy, Phil Baker and Martin Zarzar)
FUTURE PLANS: I want to be part of the music industry bringing better music to the mainstream, spreading musical awareness. I want to tour and play with the local musicians in the places I visit.
Music is a much greater part of people's lives in other countries.
Interviewer's note: I'm really enjoying "Uncurling"...some of my favorite tunes are beautifully retold by this stunning new artist.