Although jazz singer Dee Bell made her first critically applauded albums back in the ’80s with the likes of Stan Getz and Eddie Duran, her name is unlikely to be familiar to many jazz fans. As James Gavin’s liner notes to her new album with pianist Marcos Silva, Silva – Bell – Elation, tells it, the Indiana-born Bell came to Northern California to pursue a singing career in 1978. She was working as a waitress in a Sausalito music club when she got up to sing “Happy Birthday” to a friend. Guitarist Eddie Duran caught her song and soon she was sitting in with his trio. Stan Getz heard her sing and was willing to listen to a demo tape. He liked what he heard, and she got a gig with Concord Jazz resulting in two albums.
While her recordings got a lot of attention and she continued to work around the San Francisco area, she was not exactly making a fortune. She had to take a full time job. In 1990, she self-produced a third album, Sagacious Grace, but the master was defective as the result of a poorly placed mike and the album couldn’t be released. Disappointed by the expensive failure, she devoted herself to marriage, family and a job as a music teacher. Twenty odd years later, with a bit of digital know-how, the technical problems were corrected. In 2011, the album was released.
Now she has teamed up with Brazilian-born Marcos Silva for an album that she calls, at least in part, “a laid back white jazz singer floating over his Brazilian rhythms.” And it works, she handles Brazilian songs like Toninho Horta’s “Beijo Partido/Broken Kiss,” Marcos Valle’s “The Face I Love,” and especially Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Dreamer” with the finesse of a native. They’ve even arranged the Gershwins’ “S’Wonderful” as a samba.
The set opens with a cover of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” featuring 17-year-old Chris Sullivan playing four different sax parts. There is also a little Lennon/McCartney with a sweet version of “I Will” and Joni Mitchell’s “Night in the City.” They infuse “I’ve Got the World on a String” and “Nature Boy” with the flavor of the Caribbean, aided by steel drummer Andy Narell. Her version of Abbey Lincoln’s “The World is Falling Down” gives the tune a new life. The set ends with a wordless meditative dialogue with Silva on piano.
Silva – Bell – Elation is a tantalizing album that will leave the listener mourning for the 20 years of great music missed out on while Dee Bell was recovering from the Sagacious Grace fiasco.