Being raised in a small town in northern B.C., having five siblings and watching parents who always sang Christmas carols can do wonders.
Whitehorse jazz singer Rebekah Bell cannot say exactly where she gets her vocal and instrumental talents from, but they might stem from all the above.
“Having four older brothers makes you a lot of things I’m sure. It helped me really want to be independent,” she said.
As a child, she thought every family sang. Her parents would always be invited by churches in Fort Saint John to join choirs and perform duets.
“He sang the stink out of Holy Night,” she said of her father.
The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. Her father won a singing contest in his late teens and won a prestigious award to train in Europe. He couldn’t claim the prize because his father passed away at the same time.
She’s now picking up from where her father left off, launching a debut jazz album with a pianist who once opened for Stevie Wonder.
She carved her path at a young age. At six, she took piano lessons but didn’t learn much because the notes were numbered. She taught herself how to play piano “by ear,” she said.
At 10, she picked up a flute and joined a band. In high school, she nabbed the lead part in the musical Oklahoma and ended up being the only teen performing for a college choir in town.
In Grade 9, she knew she wanted to be a music teacher, so she took formal piano lessons the following year to prepare for her audition into the music program of the University of Victoria. When she tried out, she had “the small fish in a big pond syndrome,” she said.
Bell ended up graduating with honours. Now, she teaches music at Porter Creek Secondary School.
Aside from teaching, she’s been performing for 13 years with the Big Band, who play large group jazz in the Yukon.
The sultry, raspy voices of Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Holly Cole, and Nancy Wilson captivated Bell since childhood. One can hear how their feminine, sassy depth influenced Bell’s style in her album, To Watch Over Me.
The 14 songs on the album are all covers of classic jazz songs, such as Billie Holiday’s God Bless the Child, Fats Waller’s Ain’t Misbehavin’, and Nat King Cole’s Blame it On My Youth.
The diversity of her song choices are what give the album a “good vibe feeling,” she said. It’s a cocktail of ballads, swing, blues, up-tempo tunes and even the Beatles – with a jazz spin on Oh! Darling.
Coupling Bell’s silky voice and harmonic flute talents with veteran jazz musician Bob Murphy’s sleek piano, the songs sound like originals.
Not like Bell didn’t already have a full plate – aside from teaching and performing, she swims, jogs, plays tennis, bikes, gardens, photographs and reads – like a typical Yukoner, she said.
Adding the album to her to-do list, Bell has been deprived of sleep since she committed to the project in January. But she’s learned a lot.
“I didn’t even know what a producer is,” she said.
But now she has the mentorship of two stellar musicians under her belt, as both her producer, Joani Taylor, and Murphy were nominated for Junos.
Together with Doug Stephenson on bass and Buff Allen on drums, the Vancouver-based band had a riot with Bell when they recorded the album in a mere three days. Their high energy, chemistry and professionalism allowed them to record each song in only one or two takes.
“We did everything live off the floor, but that’s how they used to do it when it was great music,” she said, adding that she also wanted to challenge herself.
Bell will be performing at the Old Fire Hall with the band on July 4. Tickets are available at the venue, but are already 60 per cent sold, she said.
Contact Krystle Alarcon at