A dusky vocalist whose warm sound evokes the breezy sophistication of ‚50s West Coast jazz, Dee Bell first came to the public‘s attention with her 1982 debut, Let There Be Love, featuring legendary saxophonist Stan Getz. A regular presence in the Bay Area, Bell spent several years away from performing before returning to consistent work in the 2010s. In 2014, she debuted her ongoing collaboration with Brazilian pianist Marcos Silva on Silva Bell Elation.

Born in 1950 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Bell was encouraged to play music from a young age, and started out on clarinet. She also sang, and from age ten onward performed in an a cappella trio. After high school she attended Indiana University, where she earned her bachelor of science in arts education. While there, she further honed her vocal skills studying with noted opera singer Eileen Farrell. Interested in nutrition, she initially pivoted away from the arts, instead founding the Earth Kitchen vegetarian restaurant in 1972. During this period, she lived in a two-room cabin on the edge of the Hoosier National Forest, where she often spent her off hours singing outdoors. In 1978, she moved to Northern California with hopes of pursuing her singing career. It was there, while waitressing at the Sausalito restaurant Trident on the San Francisco Bay, that she befriended jazz guitarist Eddie Duran and began sitting in with his trio. Around the same time, a chance encounter with Stan Getz at the famed Keystone Korner nightclub led to Bell recording her debut album, Let There Be Love. Released on Concord in 1982, the album showcased Bell alongside Getz and Duran. A second album, One by One, followed in 1984 and featured a guest appearance by trumpeter Tom Harrell.

While Bell enjoyed a steady flow of gigs and a loyal following, she still made ends meet by working a day job at an ad agency. In 1990, she planned on releasing her third album,
Sagacious Grace, featuring saxophonist Houston Person. However, a recording glitch discovered during mastering rendered the album unreleasable. Over the next decade Bell slowly moved away from performing, balancing the occasional live show with raising her son and working as a children‘s music teacher. It would be over 20 years before she returned to more active performing. By then, advancements in digital remastering allowed the Sagacious Grace tapes to be salvaged, and Bell finally issued the album in 2011.

Around this time, while performing at a tribute to longtime Bay Area jazz publicist Merrilee Trost, Bell caught the ear of Brazilian-born multi-instrumentalist Marcos Silva. She had lost her longtime music director, Al Plank, to cancer in 2003 and was looking to put together a new project. The duo struck up a friendship, and collaborated on the 2014 album Silva Bell Elation, which found them reinterpreting standards, pop tunes, and Brazilian songs. In 2018, Bell and Silva returned with Lins, Lennox, & Life, another set of Brazilian-infused jazz, featuring guest trumpeter Erik Jekabson.

~ Matt Collar
Apple Music