Vocalist/pianist Barbara Bentree wasn’t particularly impressed the first time she heard a
recording of the late vocalist/pianist Blossom Dearie. Bentree’s husband, pianist John Rangel, suggested that she check out the singer, whose career spanned seven decades and who won the respect of some of America’s greatest songwriters. “Then, of course, what I would pull up was ‘Peel Me a Grape’ or something,” says Bentree, “and I was ‘Hmm, I don’t know.’ ”
One day, though, Bentree entered Dearie’s name into the iTunes search field, and over 400 recordings came up. “I went, ‘Wow, that’s significant,’ ” she says, “and then, so I just started
playing them and then downloading them.” Bentree enjoyed the material that Dearie chose for herself, and the more she heard, the more she realized that the singer was not as “cutesy” as she had first believed, and had a wonderful “range in her sound.” When she started researching Dearie’s life, Bentree found a strong woman ahead of her time.
With Thursday’s concert at the Outpost, Bentree, who won the 2012 New Mexico Music Award for Best Vocal Performance on her album Green, hopes to raise Dearie’s visibility a bit, with the help of Rangel, guitarist Michael Anthony, bassist Andy Zadrozny, and drummer John Trentacosta.
Both Dearie and Bentree, who share a Norwegian heritage, got their start in choirs. In high school, Bentree was chosen for the all-state choir in her native Minnesota, a state known for its choral traditions, and went on to win a spot in a national choir that toured Europe.
That background, says Bentree, gives a singer a good sense of intonation. She notes that Dearie, who’s known for her intonation, recorded in an era in which pitch fixing was unknown.
That intonation do doubt came in handy in the a cappella jazz quartets in which both Dearie and Bentree spent some time: Dearie in the Blue Stars of France, Bentree in the award-winning Terra Nova during her time in Los Angeles.
The other thing you get from choral singing,” says Bentree, “is the ability to change your vocal sound a lot.” That’s an important tool in Bentree’s vocal toolbox. “I really improvise on my vocal quality,” she says. “I can make it really breathy, I can make it really bright, I can belt, and I often use those changes in sound to
interpret the lyric.”
Dearie’s attention to the lyric is another quality that Bentree admires. “It’s another thing we have in common,” says Bentree, who points out that Dearie was singing the tunes of Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, Cy Coleman, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and Steve Allen.
“Such a wide range [of material]. There’s stuff that just about breaks your heart, and then there’s other stuff that’s just hysterically funny. It really makes for an entertaining show,”
Bentree says. She notes that the material is a little outside of the standard jazz repertoire. “It’s more musical theater, which is definitely my background,” she adds. “Songs that tell stories, or just beautifully descriptive in their lyric.”
Dearie wrote the music for quite a few tunes, with others supplying the lyrics, and Bentree finds herself drawn to those melodies. “Some of them are pretty hard to sing,” she says, “a lot of
An Actor’s Feel
Bentree approaches songs with an actor’s sensibility and an actor’s training to “stay in the moment.” “I think of myself as an interpreter,” she says, “and I probably don’t sing a song the same way twice.”
That shouldn’t be a problem for her band, accomplished jazz artists one and all, for whom staying in the moment is second nature.
Bentree counts herself lucky to have these guys at her back, and she can’t help but sing her husband’s praises as an accompanist. “He listens to breathing and
anticipates,” she says. “It’s like being on a big comfy couch. There’s literally nothing I can sing that’s going to go bad. . . . If I make a creative choice that goes in a strange direction, he’ll
instantaneously put it into some chord that makes it sound like Wow, that was really cool.”
Bentree can hardly contain her excitement about the band and the upcoming show. “It’s going to be cooking,” she says. “I love every single song in it.”
Barbara Bentree Sings Blossom Dearie
Thursday, April 30, 7:30 p.m.
Weil Hall at the Outpost Performance Space
210 Yale SE, Albuquerque
Tickets $20/$15 members and students
For tickets or more information, go here or call 505-268-0044.
© 2015 Mel Minter. All rights reserved.