Belinda Underwood
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Belinda Underwood


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"LA Times"

Underwood, who is a bassist and singer, has a fragile, youthful-sounding voice. But the emotional thrust of her vocals and the lyrical imagery of her original songs are the product of a seasoned creative mind. Portland, Oregon-based, she is accompanied by some of that city's fine players, including bassist David Friesen and guitarist Dan Balmer. Her laid-back versions of standards such as "How Deep Is the Ocean," "You Don't Know What Love Is" and "There Will Never Be Another You" are intriguing examples of what a new generation of musical artists can bring to this classic material.

- Don Heckman, L.A. Times

"Lilith's Child Webzine"

Bass savvy, coupled with modern jazz song writing. Belinda Underwood’s debut CD, Underwood Uncurling, is a journey in today’s jazz harmony with yesterday’s rustic charms. Underwood invokes eclectically thought provoking lyrics in her storytelling approach to composition. Her soft falsetto and strong chest voice is reminiscent of the late Billie Holiday.

Underwood, a native of California, grew up in a musical family. Her mother trained classically on piano at the University of Oregon. Her father, a horn player and inventor of the Underwood bass pick-up, exposed her to music on a daily basis. Underwood began music lessons on violin and piano as a youngster. As a young adult, she studied at the University of California at Berkeley. An early childhood family friend, David Friesen, came to teach a master class. This was a turning point in Underwood’s future. She was so impressed with the amount of knowledge she gained from one master class, that she asked Friesen if she could study with him, but his answer was no.

Underwood, convinced this was her direction, continued to be insistent with Friesen. He agreed upon one condition, she would move to Portland to study with him. It was in this time she began to hone her skills as a bassist, vocalist and songwriter.

Underwood Uncurling is a culmination of her journey and experiences combined with classic standards that present a pleasing and compelling release. The release begins with Born to be Blue, a wonderful jazz standard written by Mel Torme and Robert Wells. Underwood approaches this cut with a matter of fact phrasing that compliments the storyline of the lyrics. Another highlight on this track is bassist, Phil Baker. His intonation and execution is superb.

While listening to the cut Trees, penned by Underwood, you become enveloped by an airy palate of emotions. Underwood’s ability to convey raw emotions and convincing delivery within her phrasing is present throughout the release. An even stronger ability Underwood exhibits is her songwriting style. Her contemplative lyrics compliment her sophistication of harmonic complexities within the music.

Underwood’s connection to David Friesen brought another special guest to the album, the famous Brazilian percussionist, Airto Moreira. At times Underwood’s unhurried delivery and willowy vocal tone is an incarnation of Moreira’s wife, Flora Purim, most notably known for her work with Chick Corea and Return to Forever. There is even a cover of Corea’s, You’re Everything which is complimented by Underwood’s originals Later Baby and Unspoken Thoughts creating a inter-woven theme between these three compositions.

The CD ends with a stripped-down setting of bass and voice featuring Underwood and Friesen in a duet. It leaves you with a calming effect that exhibits jazz in its most beautiful state, raw and uninhibited, a perfect ending to a fabulous debut by a blossoming songstress. I look forward to more from Belinda Underwood as a vocalist and most certainly as a songwriter.

- Carmel DeSota, Lilith's Child Webzine (Focused on Women in Music) May 2005

- Carmel DeSota

"Jazz Police"

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.

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 ( On August 31-September 1, catch the duo at the Green Mill in Chicago ( More on Belinda Underwood online at Visit Benny Green’s site at

Belinda Underwood © Andrea Canter
- Andrea Canter

"LA Jazz Scene"

Vocalist (and also bassist), Belinda Underwood made an anticipated return appearance to Steamers, January 26 th , bringing phenomenal pianist, Benny Green with her for a two night engagement. Rounding out the quartet was prevalent bassist, Dan Lutz and very sturdy time keeper, Kevin Kanner at the drums.

Not too far back, Belinda met Green at another musical setting, she told the Steamers audience. She wished she'd be able to work with him at a future time and later was surprised to be able to have the dream come to actuality. Benny Green is one of the top pianist in all of today's jazz scene and has already accomplished an amazing list of endeavors, including recording with major jazz artists as Oscar Peterson, Russell Malone (an ongoing project to share to audiences, their CD dedicated to late bassist Ray Brown), Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Betty Carter, Ray Brown, Freddie Hubbard, Diana Kral, and Milt Jackson to name a few. His musical influences are Art Tatum, Erroll Garner, Hank Jones, Ahmad Jamal, Phineus Newborn, Bud Powell and definitely Oscar Peterson. He resides in New York, now many years, but grew up earlier in Berkeley, CA.

The Green trio opened with two delicious tunes, "Time After Time," neatly arranged and very smoothly performed. They played in a suave, but brisk two beat, then engaging a four beat time sequence. His piano work is full of tastily voiced chord progressions and impeccable right hand piano executions. Lutz captured the audience early on with his strong soloing followed with Kanner's definitive and illustrious solo rhythmic patterns. Randy Weston's "High Fly,"is a solid upbeat number and again Lutz and Kanner showed their wares in some awesome soloing.

Benny Green gave a nice introduction bringing Underwood to the stage. In this first set, my favorites of several, were the famous "Long Ago, and Far Away," "Blue Gardenia," and the wonderful "Invitation." She sings very alive, enunciates clearly and performs the lyrics brilliantly with a lot of feeling and emotion, moving beautifully with music. The audience was given to all of performing and stayed for almost all of the evening.

The second set gave the Green trio another opportunity playing the great standard, "When the Lights Are Low." Right away, I noticed shades of Oscar Peterson's style integrated in this smooth trio number. Their second selection - a Coltrane piece, "Moment's Notice," was played up tempo. Underwood joined to the stage giving us a pretty ballad, "While My Lady Sleeps," and the trio then backed her in the rhythmical beginning of "No Moon At All." Lutz and Kanner drove the quartet well as it went into a full swing. Green's amazing right hand solo endeavors accompanied by his grand and noble chord voicings sparkled this and other numbers of the evening. She sang her own composition, "Uncurling" from the same title of her CD of the same name with some very expressive lyrics. Other fine standards, "My One and Only Love," "The Shadow of Your Smile," and another Underwood original, "Seeing Red," also from her current CD, Uncurling closed the set.

A very worthwhile musical journey at Steamers was enjoyed by all. - Glenn A. Mitchell

"The Oregonian"

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; - Tom D'Antoni

"The Oregonian"

WHERE BASS INSTINCTS MEET MELODIC JOY -- The image is of something natural and lovely, a sign of growth and a symbol of optimism. In Belinda Underwood's song "Uncurling," "the simple joy of a delicate fern uncurling" serves as a metaphor for the emotional openness that new love can bring. But the phrase might also be used as a description of "Underwood Uncurling," the Portland singer/bassist's beguiling debut album.

A collection split evenly between well-chosen jazz standards and Underwood's own compositions, "Underwood Uncurling" is softly lyrical and intimate, sophisticated yet unassuming, contemplative but never ponderous. It's a very promising introduction to a young talent. And for Underwood herself, she sees it as a representation of her growth as a musician, songwriter and person.

The 28-year-old California native has been uncurling in several directions of late. In addition to jazz gigs, she performs in Beliss (an eclectic, ukulele-based folk duo with her younger sister Melissa), the Latin-jazz band Pachamanca and a Middle Eastern group called Wazn al Sharq.

She grew up in a musical household, her mother a jazz pianist (classically trained at University of Oregon, alongside the likes of bassist Glen Moore), her father a horn player and inventor of a popular pickup microphone for the acoustic bass. That background gave her the advantage of violin and piano lessons as a youngster, and a close-up look at jam sessions when her parents' friends dropped by. Family connections have continued to be a plus. For one thing, she can supplement her nightclub gigs with work for her father's company, Underwood Pickups. For another, she wound up with the internationally renowned Portland bassist David Friesen as a teacher and mentor.

Underwood had taken up the bass during high school, then while attending the University of California at Berkeley (initially to study astrophysics) began to take music more seriously. Friesen, an old friend of her parents, came to teach a master class.

"I remember one of my teachers calling me into her office and saying, 'You have to take this class,' " Underwood, a willowy beauty, recalled recently, sitting with drummer Martin Zarzar over steaming bowls of pho at a downtown Portland restaurant. "I showed up for the class -- late. And afterward he said that when I'd walked in he recognized me from having met me when I was a baby."

That brief class was a turning point. Feeling she'd learned so much in that single session, she asked Friesen to give her lessons. He said no. But she kept asking and months later, convinced of her seriousness, he relented on the condition that she move to Portland.

Arriving about two years ago, she found inspiration not only in Friesen, who she credits with pressing her to become a songwriter, but also in a jazz community she says is much more inviting than that in the Bay Area.

"Underwood Uncurling" takes advantage of that community in the talents of Zarzar (of Pink Martini and Pachamanca), guitarist Dan Balmer, saxophonist John Gross, and pianist Clay Giberson. And though Underwood handles the big upright herself on a few tracks, she leaves the heavy lifting for Friesen and another Portland stalwart, Phil Baker.

Friesen's involvement also helped secure another guest star, the famed Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira. And at times Underwood's pillowy vocal tone and unhurried melodies recall the original incarnation of Chick Corea's Return to Forever, which included Moreira and his wife, singer Flora Purim. There's even a cover of Corea's "You're Everything" from that period.

This is a jazz singer, though, who counts Bobby Gentry and Bjork among her favorites, along with No. 1 influence Nancy King. As she continues to fashion those disparate tastes into a style of her own, chances are she'll uncurl more and more into, simply, a joy. - Marty Hughely, The Oregonian, February 04, 2005


She's sultry, assertive, compelling.............And, nice looking too!
Oregon based Jazz singer Belinda Underwood comes to us multi-honed.......A double threat..........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, & tight jazz group. This is one hell of an argument for a junket to Portland, Oregon to imbibe the animated & pro-active artistic offerings a great jazz town proffers. - - by George W. Carroll / The Musicians' Ombudsman

"Jazz Improv Magazine"

Portland Oregon singer/bassist Belinda Underwood’s first CD as a leader is one that sounds as if it were the result of a mature talent—one who shuns the too-often-heard tendency to include as many varying styles as possible, however tangential they may be to the musician’s central interests, in order to include references to a lifetime of influences. Instead, Underwood arrives fully formed with a central theme governing the content of Underwood Uncurling and a subtle consistency of feeling that hints at the roiling undercurrents of conflicted emotions. In addition, she is a writer of haunting lyrics, some painfully romantic and others environmentally observational, that attract the listener’s attention, so non-traditional and poetically written are they. The other half of the tracks on the CD include standards that reinforce Underwood’s feelings of disappointment, world weariness or undeterred pursuit.

With exacting articulation and dynamic understatement allowing the words to speak for themselves, Underwood, initially a bass player, implies a pulse, though unsung, as she holds out notes. On a few of the tracks like “How Deep Is the Ocean” or “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” Underwood takes up the bass for self-accompaniment, returning to her origins where she sang some of the lines that she imagined while playing bass. Even on those standards, though, Underwood sings with the coolness of a Chris Connor, never raising her voice but instead painting a scene or making a statement. On “Born to Be Blue,” it’s easy to believe that Underwood knows what it’s like to be blue, the knowledge of such melancholy seeping through in her voice. And on “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” Underwood sinks so deeply into the meaning of the song that it seems that she’s conveying lessons that she learned through her own experience, whether or not she is. “Invitation” comes across with similar combinations of sultriness and caution instilled by hurt. And Underwood’s bounding bass playing on “How Deep Is the Ocean,” which leads into a bass walk in mid-song, makes clear the source of the pulse felt in her singing.

Underwood’s own compositions, though, include infatuation and head-long involvement despite the knowledge gained from being burned in the past: “Earth school can be cruel,/Love is in short supply/I feel insane from the joy/Of simply having met a boy/So willing to learn.” And her Later, Baby puts forth this sentiment: “Don’t think I don’t want you/If I ask you to go away…/Someday I’ll be grown-up, responsible,/And you’ll like me better anyway.” But like Patricia Barber or other singer/songwriters with minds of their own, Belinda Underwood’s effectiveness derives equally from her musical sense that sustains a rhythm in the words she sings or even in the rests between notes, largely because of her groups’ like-mindedness from playing in other groups with Underwood.

    Fortunately, the person responsible for Underwood’s move to Portland, Dave Friesen, appears on the CD’s most memorable song, “World Peace Blues,” whose lyrics consist of just two words—yes, “world” and “peace.” Underwood scat-sings throughout the remainder of the track, which includes one of Friesen’s distinctively melodic solos and an urgent solo by tenor saxophonist John Gross. All in all, Underwood Uncurling introduces a jazz singer with her own perspectives coloring her first CD’s songs, and she does it with casual confidence.
- Bill Donaldson

"Still Another Jazz Show"

BELINDA UNDERWOOD is next if you please, because this young lady doesn’t need the directions to Knott’s Landing. Underwood is hip, young and cool.  The East Coast may have Nellie McKay. We, of the Left Coast now have Belinda Underwood. She has the same honest “Kevin Spacey” quality of a Blossom Dearie and Nellie McKay.  For we are admittedly an old softie for a good homespun hip lyric. Belinda Underwood has that ability with her new UNCURLING.   Her song “Trees” is positively ecological, as pianist Clay Giberson creates a seductive atmosphere, a majestic song.  We also played “Later Baby” and Underwood’s lyric is ironic, understated and charming as McKay.   “World Peace” features scat vocalization by Underwood, Dave Freisen, bass and Airto Moreira on drums with tenor saxophone player John Gross.   “Say My Name” is a sensuous love song with Underwood playing baritone ukulele with percussion. She has the unique sadness and sensuality of many Portuguese singers.  No wonder Orson Welles did not want to leave Rio in the forties.  Underwood’s
from Oregon, I think... She’s lovely like an Ava Gardner, a good singer, song writer.   Watch this one!!!!  

"The Jazz Nation"

If you like it straight-ahead, then you'll enjoy Underwood Uncurling. Jazz singer Belinda Underwood has an innate lyrical sense with intonation that is second to none. Released on the Cosmik Muse label, this is an artistic record that goes above and beyond. Check out Underwood Uncurling. She's unbelievable!

Half of the songs performed on this project showcase original compositions by Underwood and not only do her songwriting skills show maturity, they reveal a social conscience as well. The title track, Uncurling, is a very pleasing number featuring this songstress' pure vocals, as well as a gorgeous piano solo by Clay Giberson and rounding out the ensemble with the perfect balance of drum/bass lines are Martin Zarzar and Phil Baker respectively. While the ballad Trees features the same musicians, it holds a more mysterious feeling. Then showing an even more reflective side is one of my fav songs, World Peace Blues. Underwood's impressive scatting is complemented beautifully by the collective improvisation of tenor saxophonist John Gross, bassist David Friesen and Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira. An added surprise to the disc is Underwood's acoustic bass and baritone ukulele performances and she includes them on the melancholic, Say My Name.

Her interpretation of the Mel Torme song, Born to Be Blue is so natural it seems like she was born to sing it and Irving Berlin's, How Deep Is The Ocean is guaranteed to have your fingers poppin' and your toes tappin'. This upbeat number features some outstanding piano (Chad Wagner) and acoustic bass work (Underwood). While the Chick Corea track, You're Everything, is a fine example of musicians communicating in song and letting each other shine. Then closing out the set with just vocals and acoustic bass is the endearing, There Will Never Be Another You.

There's an underlying vibe of peace and understanding that permeates Underwood Uncurling. A refreshing and artistic offering, she sings of human experiences and desires, of love lost and love found. And I loved every minute of it!

For more info on Belinda Underwood, please visit her website at
- - D.J. Fazio, March 2005


Underwood Uncurling - 2005 - played at over 150 stations across the USA, Canada, and Europe.

Greenspace - 2008 - just released - played at over 200 stations across the USA, Canada, and Europe.

You can download her music on iTunes, Amazon, CDBaby, and other music sites.



Belinda Underwood

A Quick Herstory

Belinda's first exposures to music occurred five nights a week while she was captive in her jazz-pianist-mother's womb. With birth, the nightly exposure continued while she napped under the piano in a car seat.

After a childhood of violin lessons, harp lessons, orchestras and choirs, music became her choice when she fell in love with the upright bass at age sixteen. In high school she traveled as a bass player (on scholarship) to Australia with the Monterey Jazz Festival Honor Band, and in college she played and traveled with the UC Berkeley Wednesday Band.

Singing professionally didn't occur to her until years later when she was playing the bass at the Jazz School in Berkeley. There Belinda studied with Mark Levine, Ledisi, Raz Kennedy, Stephanie Bruce, Brian Pardo, Glenn Richman, and Frank Martin. The Jazzschool is also where she met David Friesen during a workshop and decided to go to Portland for bass lessons (after a quick trip to Cuba to study music and dance at the University of Havana.)

When asked what she valued most from her lessons with Friesen, she replied, "He was the first person who encouraged me to write songs."

Her debut album was launched in March 2005. Entitled "Underwood Uncurling", it features David Friesen, Airto Moreira, John Gross, Dan Balmer, Clay Giberson, Chad Wagner, Jason Levis, and Pink Martini members Phil Baker and Martin Zarzar. She sings (and plays some bass too) on the album, which is comprised of six original jazz compositions and six jazz standards.

In 2006, Belinda started performing and touring with New York jazz pianist Benny Green as her guest, and in 2008, she featured him on her latest jazz release, "Greenspace." Both national and international jazz audiences have enjoyed the chemistry of this dynamic musical team, a combination of Green's jazz lineage and Underwood's emotive story-telling.

The album Greenspace shows a new sophistication in Belinda's songwriting while paying homage to her jazz roots, evidenced by her choice and interpretation of lovely forgotten jazz standards. Grammy-nominated Nancy King appears on several tracks as well, and the rhythm section is rounded out by Pink Martini members Phil Baker and Martin Zarzar.

The last several years, Belinda has been making trips to Egypt to study with Dr. Alfred Gamil, a head professor at the Arab Music Institute in Cairo. The richness of Middle Eastern music has added new textures and colors to her songwriting as well as broadened the musical circles in which she performs.

Between tours Belinda plays and sings around Portland with Beliss (a sister duo,) Underwood and Friends (jazz quartet,) and Sarab (traditional Middle Eastern dance music.)