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White Plains Pianist to Release Live Jazz Album

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- When Dennis Bell’s band was invited to perform at ArtsWestchester last winter, the White Plains pianist, composer and producer thought inviting his Mercy College students to record a live show would be a welcome challenge. The students captured such good tracks that the six-piece Bell Jazz NY band and signer Lynette Washington decided to release their tribute to jazz masters as an album.

“They’re so used to recording in a studio. When you record live music at a concert it’s totally different. There’s pressure. You can’t go back and fix mistakes. And you have the audience sitting there so you have all the applause and comments,” said Bell, who has been an adjunct music professor at Mercy College for 13 years. “I waited for it to come out before I decided to make it into a record because it was a student project and it could’ve been a disaster, but the recording came out excellent.”

Bell spent the summer editing and mixing the ‘Live at the X!’ double album featuring instrumental tunes inspired by Miles Davis’ 1950s and 1960s work and tributes to Manhattan vocalist Lynette Washington’s favorite jazz singers, including, Sarah Vaughn, Carmen McRae, and Shirly Horn. Bell was thrust into an early “iTunes introduction” concert this November by his son, the companies’ marketing director.  A few radio stations, including a Poland outlet, have begun playing ‘Live at the X!’ tracks, which are currently available on iTunes. However, the official release of the album is scheduled for January 1.

In addition to showcasing the talent of his students and Mercy’s music program, Bell said he hopes the album will draw attention to ArtsWestchester’s “importance” and “excellent concert series,” while honoring he and Washington’s major influences.

“Miles David was a tremendous influence on me, even though I’m not a trumpet player. I’m a piano player. I learned a lot from his style and Lynette learned a lot from the singers she was doing a tribute to,” Bell said of the pair’s first tribute CD. “I’m always looking to teach people about stuff. So what I was doing during the concert was explaining a lot of stuff about the songs because we had a young audience there.”

After retiring from performing, Bell began producing and handling the “behind scenes” work he enjoyed for artists such as U2, Slick Rick, Doug e Fresh. He began working with Washington about 25 years ago and continued to do so after he launched his own Guava Jamm Entertainment production company when the Internet first experimented with audio in 1999.

“I kind of like the behind the scenes part of the music business -- the arranging and the composing and the recording. Anybody that’s been out on the road will know that it's a really tough life. When I first went out on the road in my early 20’s I knew right away I didn’t like it,” he said of his travels as a jazz pianist.

Bell, who moved to White Plains from Manhattan about 10 years ago, said he picked up an appreciation for jazz from his dad.

“My father was a pianist of sorts. He played only by ear. He couldn’t read music, and played in the key of F# which was crazy,” said Bell. “He had a lot of jazz records around the house.”

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