Tierney Sutton’s recent appearance at the Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood was perfectly timed. For Tierney Sutton I would have braved bumper to bumper traffic, but light post-holiday traffic got us there stress-free. While there are several great female jazz vocalists, for my money Tierney Sutton occupies the top tier along with Diane Reeves, Ann Hampton Callaway, Diana Krall and Esperanza Spalding.
We had the opportunity to interview her before the show and was that special! Tierney was so into sharing that she dominated the conversation. She answered my questions before I asked them. What a treat! Her background is Omaha/Milwaukie/Midwest—not exactly a jazz hotbed, but Tierney found her way to the Berklee College of Music in Boston and eventually onto the faculty at USC. She instinctively gravitated to jazz music and learned her craft by emulating musicians, not vocalists. She eventually was inspired by singers Betty Carter (no surprise if you listen to some Betty) and Nancy Wilson. She also loves the jazz side of Joni Mitchell (yes 60s/70s rockers, it’s there!) to the point where she dedicated an entire album, “After Blue,” to Joni’s compositions. Buy it. It will blow you away.
This was all very revealing, because when she sings with the Tierney Sutton Band she is actually one of the musicians. She collaborates and becomes part of the harmonic tapestry along with the great musicians in the band: Christian Jacob, piano; Kevin Axt, bass; Trey Henry, bass; and Ray Brinker, drums/percussion. They were joined on this particular evening for several numbers by French guitarist Serge Merlaud and the iconic Great American Songbook Lyricist 94 years young Alan Bergman. He and his wife Marylin Bergman created the lyrics to many of the best songs from films made during the second half of the 20th century. Go to SongHall.org/Profile/Alan_Bergman to learn more about this wonderful lyric-writing team.
Tierney was somehow able to be abstract and ethereal and still swing, because “If it ain’t got that swing, it ain’t jazz! For this performance she featured her 9th Grammy-nominated album, “Screen Play,” which spans the first century of American film music. When she sang “What Are you Doing The Rest Of Your Life?” the entire audience melted. Having Alan Bergman on stage with her was also a very special treat. Since Mr. Bergman sang some of his own lyrics on Act One of this remarkable “Five Act” album, he joined Tierney on stage to sing “The Windmills of Your Mind.” He then later explained the logic behind the lyric. Steve McQueen’s “The Thomas Crown Affair” character (forget the mediocre remake) was locked into his emotions by the stress of trying to figure out what to do next to complete his criminal caper. After all these years the conversation made an existential lyric make sense. Of course, when it comes down to things existential, maybe it doesn’t have to make sense.
The evening was a smash! If you want to get to know more about Tierney Sutton, listen to some of her music at TierneySutton.com.