Sound Check

Friday, January 19, 2007


The band members that bassist/singer/composer Belinda Underwood brings to Jimmy Mak's have played together before, just not all at the same time. No fear; Underwood has played with all of them.

For Benny Green, who was in the ultra-demanding role of Betty Carter's pianist, it is a newborn collaboration. For bassist Scott Steed, it is the teacher playing with the student, and for drummer Ron Steen -- well, is there anybody in Portland he hasn't played with?

Underwood is the daughter of former Portland singer Serena Wright. Dad Don Underwood is the inventor of the industry-standard bass pickup that bears his name. She and her sister Melissa make up the singing duo Beliss.

The big difference about this performance is that she's not going to play bass. She said, "I feel like I learn a lot listening to what other people play. There is a lot of focus required when I'm both singing and playing. It's really nice to just do a show and be the singer. I love having bass players on my gig."

Steed was brought in by the Monterey (Calif.) Jazz Festival to hold clinics at local schools. Underwood was one of his students when she was at Carmel High School in California.

Although playing with another bassist has its good points, at times she doesn't quite know what to do with her hands. "There is a whole self-consciousness about standing in front of people singing only, rather than being behind the bass, which is a comfort."

And yes, sometimes she finds herself playing air bass.

Underwood met Green at a music festival and hit it off. "He listens well and is amazing at co-creating music with me."

The ubiquitous Steen has been a friend of her family before it was a family. "Ron used to sit in with my mother here in Portland," Underwood said. "She played with Mel Brown, and Ron would come in and sit in as a teenager."

As a result, she's excited about the gig. "Already, energetically I know it's going to be a very cool night," she said.

The band will mix styles and content. Some straight-ahead jazz, some Latin and a new waltz she's written, as well as tunes contributed by the other players. Songs with a social point of view are to be expected from Underwood. She will debut a new song about one of the consequences of global warming.

"I have a blues (song) about polar bears," she says, "written from the reference point of a polar bear who has been swimming and swimming and can't find an iceberg. Some people want to label it political, it's not like we're arguing philosophy."

Tom D'Antoni is a Portland freelance writer;



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