A meandering journey brought Dee Bell back to jazz singing in the early '80s. She had sung through high school in Plainsville, Ind., but chose majors in pre-med and then art education at Indiana University. After graduation she ran a restaurant, "did all sorts of 'alternative' things" and sculpted "big welded pieces."

"Finally I realized," says Bell, "that I had put all these things in the way of what I had really wanted to do since I was 9, which was to sing. So I packed three bags and moved to San Francisco." Working as a waitress within three days of arriving, Bell was one night overheard singing "Happy Birthday" to a friend by house guitarist Eddie Duran. He invited her to sit in and they later made a demo tape that Duran passed on to his friend Stan Getz. Getz paved the way for an album on the Concord label and said he "would be honored to play on it." A second album was released earlier this year. Bell opens Tuesday for three weeks at Cates in Alexandria. Larry Eanet will be at the piano, Steve Novosel on bass.

"My sound works best with a melodic line," says Bell, "and I feel that there's a respect that should be paid to the composer so that you hear what they wrote at least one time."