September 22, 2016 by Helen Borgers

Tierney is always on the go, and into something philosophically positive and artistically challenging. I spoke to her on the eve of her departure for France, where she is going for three weeks to coach a former French opera singer, Natalie Dessay. (This trip following right on the heels of her return from New York and the premiere of Sully, for which she had worked on the score, AND the release of her new disc, The Sting Variations.)


Although Dessay has given up the opera, she is a gifted stage actress and chanteuse. Last year, Tierney worked with her on Stephen Sondheim’s Passion. This year, they’re working on a song cycle by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, called “Pictures in America.” It’s an exhibition of Edward Hopper paintings, each accompanied by a standard song, performed live. The songs include “Detour Ahead” and “I Keep Going Back to Joe’s,” among others.


I asked Tierney how she got involved in the project, and like many things in her life, it went back to her long-time friendship with the Bergman’s. They had introduced her to Michel Legrand (with whom they had written the Oscar-winning song, “The Windmills of Your Mind”), and he later introduced her to Natalie Dessay, whom he had taken to hear Tierney sing in a French jazz club.


Interestingly, in a roundabout way, “The Windmills of Your Mind” has a connection with Tierney’s new CD release, The Sting Variations, which features a few of the many songs written by Sting.


I was embarrassed to admit to Tierney that I was unfamiliar with any of Sting’s work as a pop/rocker, but that I admired what he had done with some jazz standards. Tierney, always one to put others at their ease, told me that many people came to know Sting’s music in that way. We discussed his work with Joe Henderson on Joe’s disc of “Porgy and Bess,” his fine performance of “How Insensitive” on Antonio Carlos Jobim’s final release, Antonio Brasileiro, and his lovely rendition of “The Windmills of Your Mind” from the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair.


Originally, when Tierney was thinking of focusing on Sting’s music for her next exploration of an experimental and challenging artist (her last being the Joni Mitchell project, After Blue), she considered doing not only songs written by Sting, but also songs with which he was associated, some of the many standards he had performed. However, as she got to know his music, there were so many songs she wanted to record, she didn’t even get to include all of those! So she kept to his repertoire of originals.


The catalyst for this project was Sting’s Broadway musical, The Last Ship, which he wrote about the fishing town in Wales where he grew up. Both Tierney and Ray Brinker had been listening to the soundtrack and were quite taken with it. (Tierney calls it “magical.”) They brought it to the band and the collective began to work its magic. Trey Henry (the bassist) had the idea of starting the song, “Driven to Tears” (which opens the disc), with the famous opening of “So What” from the Miles Davis classic, Kind of Blue, and then “Miles kept popping his head in,” said Tierney. You’ll hear “Milestones” in “Synchronicity,” and “All Blues” in “Walking in Your Footsteps.”


The Tierney Sutton band works as a true cooperative, deciding together the songs and developing the arrangements they will undertake. Over the 25 years they’ve been together, they’ve learned to really listen to each other, both in conversation and in music. This makes it possible for them to truly communicate with each other, hearing each other’s ideas and, if there is disagreement, being able to give and take with each other without ill feeling. They can be both passionate and yet detached about their ideas at the same time, freeing them to keep or discard material without resentment.


This ability served them well when collaborating with Clint Eastwood on the score for his latest film, Sully. The final decisions were Clint’s, as director, but he was open to the band’s ideas, keeping or tossing out his own suggestions, working with them over every bit of the film as it screened and they improvised.


Christian Jacob and Tierney Sutton at the premier of Sully.

There’s not a lot of music in the film, but Varese Sarabande will be releasing a soundtrack album that will include both the music in the film and the music they didn’t use (either because silence was eerier or plane sound drowned it out, or whatever).  

Always in motion, Tierney will return from France to appear at Catalina’s Jazz Club in Hollywood from Thursday, October 13th, through Saturday, October 15th. It’s a CD release celebration. Then, off to Canada and some of the U.S. for a tour in support of the new release.  Busy, busy, busy! More information is available at tierneysutton.com.  


ADDITIONAL JAZZ NOTES:  Josh Nelson, CSULB Music Grad, pianist, composer, and KJazz favorite, will be paying tribute to his former employer, the late Natalie Cole, on Thursday, September 29th, with vocalist Sandra Booker. 


On-air personality, Helen Borgers, can be heard on KJazz 88.1 FM from 2:00 pm - 6:00 pm, Monday through Friday. As a jazz broadcaster, Helen has been invited to give pre-concert lectures at various performing arts centers, served on panels in jazz conventions all over the world, and lectured about the history of jazz in middle schools, high schools, and colleges. She has also written articles for international jazz publications and regularly emcees concerts, festivals, and club dates throughout southern California.

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