Belinda Underwood & Benny Green © Andrea Canter
“…I want to create music that lifts people up, gets people down, causes beautiful feelings as well as uncomfortable feelings... whatever it takes to help people (myself included) break free from the habitual ways of thinking about ourselves and about life… I feel that I have been called to create music to put some positive energy into the universe and also because making music is a journey that takes me deeper into myself.” –Belinda Underwood
Portland-based multi-instrumentalist/singer/songwriter Belinda Underwood is a young star on the rise. On her 2005 debut recording, Underwood Uncurling, the talented Underwood not only sings but also plays bass and ukulele. “It's hard to classify myself but here goes,” she says, “.....jazz, Latin jazz, vocal jazz, instrumental jazz, swing, blues, vintage jazz, lounge, free jazz, big band, pop, rock, folk, country, middle eastern, world, electronica, singer/songwriter....I dabble in it all because it is all valid and interesting to me.” Belinda will be more than dabbling when she and pianist Benny Green bring their quartet to the Dakota in Minneapolis (August 29th) and the Green Mill in Chicago (August 31-September 1).
Daughter of a jazz pianist, Underwood notes that she was exposed to jazz in the womb, and from birth as she napped under her mother’s piano. As a child she studied violin and harp, falling in love with the upright bass at age sixteen. In high school she traveled to Australia with the Monterey Jazz Festival Honor Band as a bassist, and in college played and traveled with the UC Berkeley Wednesday Band. She came rather late to vocal jazz: "It was hard for me sometimes, to translate my musical thoughts onto the bass during improvisation. There were lines in my head but my fingers couldn't find them fast enough, and rather than get frustrated during practice, I would just sing the bass solo.” While at Berkeley, she met David Friesen at a workshop, and after a short detour to study dance and music in Havana, moved to Portland to study with Friesen. She attributes her interest in song writing to Friesen, who appears on her recording.
Belinda Underwood © Andrea Canter
The self-produced recording Underwood Uncurling features Friesen, Airto Moreira, John Gross, Dan Balmer, Clay Giberson, Chad Wagner, Jason Levis, and Pink Martini members Phil Baker and Martin Zarzar. Primarily a vehicle for her vocal chops, the recording includes Underwood’s original compositions as well as jazz standards. Wrote George W. Carroll (The Musicians’ Ombudsman), “She can burn hard on her acoustic bass, while she delivers her rendition of The American Songbook. Belinda possesses a voice that renders song with a mastery of inflection.......All backed up by her bold, innovative, non-compromising, and tight jazz group.”
Around Portland, Belinda gigs with several different ensembles: Beliss (a sister duo), Underwood and Friends (jazz quartet), and Sarab (Middle Eastern music). Now a frequent partner of pianist Benny Green, she is preparing to release her second recording in early 2008, with Phil Baker – bass and Martin Zarzar - drums and percussion. The new album features six originals, including a blues in 9 and a song from the perspective of Polar Bears (co-written with her sister). Vocalist Nancy King and her sister, vocalist/saxophonist Melissa Underwood, also appear on the recording.
“Benny Green could be the monster pianist of the 21st century.” Thus prophesized no less than the incomparable Joanne Brackeen in describing the Oscar Peterson protégé. Now 44, Green followed his lineage (dad was a jazz saxophonist), playing with Eddie Henderson as a teenager before joining Betty Carter, then Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, and then Freddie Hubbard. In 1993 Oscar Peterson chose Greem as the first recipient of the City of Toronto's Glen Gould International Protégé Prize in Music. Shortly thereafter, Green replaced Gene Harris in Ray Brown's Trio, working with the veteran bassist until 1997. From that point on, Benny resumed his freelance career, leading his own trios and performing solo piano. After recording for Criss Cross and Blue Note in the 1990s, Green moved to Telarc in 2000. His most recent releases are two duo sets with guitarist Russell Malone, with whom he tours when not busy with Belinda Underwood’s ensemble and his own solo efforts. Citing his key influences as Art Tatum, Erroll Garner, Hank Jones, Ahmad Jamal, Phineas Newborn, Bud Powell and Oscar Peterson, Green summarizes his approach to jazz as “…to just swing and have fun, and share those feelings with the audience … and if I'm able to convey that, then I feel like I'm doing something positive.”
The collaboration of Belinda Underwood and Benny Green promises a “dynamic musical team characterized by unmistakable onstage chemistry” (Bakes’ Place). Individually, their artistry commands attention. The opportunity to hear them together, live on the Dakota stage, is one of the best bets for late summer music.
Belinda Underwood and Benny Green appear on August 29th (7 and 9 pm) at the Dakota in downtown Minneapolis, 1010 Nicollet Mall (www.dakotacooks.com). On August 31-September 1, catch the duo at the Green Mill in Chicago (www.greenmilljazz.com). More on Belinda Underwood online at www.belindaunderwood.com. Visit Benny Green’s site at www.bennygreenmusic.com