May 22, 2024

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Interview with Tierney Sutton: I did not have a traditional jazz sound

Interview with vocalist Tierney Sutton. An interview by email in writing.

Dear readers, get to know more about our US/EU Jazz – Blues Festivals and the activities of our US/EU Jazz – Blues Association in the capitals of Europe, we will soon publish program for 2024, enjoy in the July – August – Brussels, Berlin, Prague, Warsaw, Sofia, new addreses this year, also in Amsterdam, Budapest and Liverpool.

JazzBluesNews.com: – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music. How exactly did your adventure take off? When did you realize that this was a passion you could make a living out of?

Tierney Sutton: – I grew in Milwaukee Wisconsin and discovered jazz when I was 19 years old. I was a singing waitress in Green Lake Wisconsin and there was good jazz trio playing near where I worked. The singer/pianist was named Mary Jaye and she was wonderful.

OUR US/EU Jazz and Blues Festivals 2023

I was a /phew, to spit your aggressor variety/ Russian major at Wesleyan University but when I returned to school in the fall, I had a new passion and saw great jazz performances by Betty Carter, The Heath Brothers and Sam Rivers the following year.

JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound?

TS: – I always knew that I did not have a traditional jazz sound. I don’t have a deep, rich voice like Sarah Vaughan or a wonderfully soulful voice like Dinah Washington or other jazz singers who come from the gospel tradition. Ray Brown advised me to look into my lower range a bit more, and I did. I also have been working with Hubert Laws and we do several things where I sing unison with his alto flute sound. Hubert’s sound is really what I aspire to.

JBN: – What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony? 

TS: – I don’t have a specific daily routine, although I do definitely have warm-ups that I do before my performances. My routine is a bit more holistic in that I need exercise, prayer, meditation and sleep. I also need to study deeply and know the music I am doing. I spend a lot of time memorizing lyrics and concentrating on the stories I will tell through the lyrics.

JBN: – Have you changed through the years? Any charges or overall evolution? And if so why?

TS: – I have changed a lot over the years. 30 years ago I would have given you lots of information about root motion and preparation for  improvisation … and now I only want to tell a story and work on tone…

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JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

TS: – What an interesting question … Although as I see it, we hope there is a unity between intellect and soul. I’m thinking of all of my favorite musicians.. especially in the Jazz world.. Pat Metheny is a great example. There is so much craft, virtuosity and “intellect” but always so much “soul” so much release of joyful energy… Maybe I would like to say that when we listen to Coltrane or Ellington…we hear intelligence AND soul always.. and maybe they are united…. I certainly feel like trying to create something intelligent or trying to do something challenging, requires love and soul.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?

TS: – I think there is definitely a two-way relationship between artist and audience. I always sing better when I feel I really am SERVING the audience. It makes an enormous difference.

JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of standard tunes are half a century old?

TS: – The standard tunes are old, but the “architecture” of these songs is a very good training. I always say that jazz is a skill that you can use on any song… it is not restricted to any specific set of songs.. it is a skill and a state of mind.

JBN: – John Coltrane once said that music was his spirit. How do you perceive the spirit and the meaning of life?

TS: – I can understand what he meant (to my limited capacity), I think Coltrane was referring to the absolute commitment he had…

JBN: – If you could change one single thing in the musical world and that would become reality, what would that be?

TS: – Wow… that’s a good question! I feel like the emphasis on you prodigies, in jazz and in all art, is a problem. It puts so much pressure on the young to be “complete artists” and we could all use a lot more patience and appreciation of the older generation of masters. In jazz, at least, we do still have this…

OUR US/EU Jazz and Blues Association 2023

JBN: – Whom do you find yourself listening to these days?

TS: – I listen to many things. My son has been introducing me to J. Cole. I’ve been enjoying Radiohead, Robert Glasper, Ledisi. But I also continue to listen to classic jazz records.. Cannonball Adderly, Nancy Wilson, Shirley Horn…

JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine: where and why would you really want to go?

TS: – I think I’d like to be 8 years old again and REALLY study piano seriously…

JBN: – So far, it’s been me asking you questions, now may I have a question from yourself…

TS: – I think your questions were great…

JBN: – Instead I have a negative attitude towards your non-art …

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Interview by Simon Sarg

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