On Friday, Nov. 8, at 7:30 p.m. at the Rose Wagner Theatre, multiple Grammy nominee Tierney Sutton and the Tierney Sutton Band will close out the first half of Jazz SLC’s 2013-14 series.
Along with the members of her band — Christian Jacob on piano, Ray Brinker on drums, bassists Trey Henry and Kevin Axt — the artist’s play list will include music from Sutton’s latest album "After Blue," as well as some of the band’s favorite arrangements.
Ask Gordon Hanks, founder of Jazz SLC, who his favorite female vocalist is and there is no hesitation in his voice. “Without question, Tierney Sutton is one of the best singers in the business, male or female. She’s in a class all on her own.”
Surprisingly enough, Sutton never imagined she would end up in the world of jazz. Quite to the contrary, she actually never intended to be a professional jazz singer. It wasn’t in her plans.
Over the phone, between moving furniture from one Los Angeles home to another, Sutton spoke of her early years. “I studied Russian language and literature at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, and one summer I took a job in a place where all the waiters and waitresses sang. It was pretty schmaltzy stuff but there was a small club that featured jazz, and after work I’d go over there and listen. It was my first exposure to jazz. There was a woman at the club, her name was Mary Jaye, and she was playing with a small trio consisting of herself, her son-in-law and her daughter, and it blew me away. I thought to myself, I might like to do something like that for a living.”
Sutton is so imbedded in the world of jazz that the casualness of her decision to "kind of study jazz" is easy to forget and hard to believe. From Wesleyan University to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Sutton began to establish herself immediately as a vocalist and composer. Her first album, "Introducing Tierney Sutton," garnered high praise. Twenty-five years and eight albums later, Sutton has produced and released "After Blue," a celebration of Canadian singer/song writer Joni Mitchell’s iconoclastic album "Blue."
“For the longest time I had friends tell me I should do something with Joni Mitchell’s music," she said. "To be honest, I didn’t really begin to listen to her music until 2000 when I started listening to 'Both Sides Now.' I immediately loved it and was nervous about doing something right away with her songs. It’s rich and deep, and I really needed time to let it sit so I could get it right.”
“That’s a great example of what makes Tierney Sutton so interesting as an artist,” Hanks said. “Here is a superbly gifted singer, who you think would have been completely aware of somebody like Joni Mitchell, but she wasn’t. And once she finally heard (Mitchell), she decided to celebrate her music in a big way.”
“When I finally started ‘After Blue,’ I really studied her music closely,” Sutton said. “You should have seen what my liner notes looked like. You wouldn’t believe them.”
For "After Blue," Sutton assembled a rather eclectic combination of musicians, including pianist Larry Goldings, flautist Hubert Laws, Serge Merlaud, Al Jarreau and the Turtle Island String Quartet.
But the biggest surprise of the interview came when I asked Sutton how Joni Mitchell responded to the album.
“I don’t know," she said. "I’ve never actually met Joni Mitchell. We’ve got a number of friends in common but the two of us have never met. I hope she likes it. I probably would have heard from her if she didn’t.”
If you go:
When: Nov. 8, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Rose Wagner Theatre, 138 W. 300 South
How much: $28.50, $10 with student identification
Jeff Metcalf is a professor of English at the University of Utah and an avid jazz fan.