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Tierney Sutton At Monteleone's

Roger Crane By

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As Tom Monteleone seated us in his attractive San Fernando club, pianist Dave Mackay and bassist Kenny Wilde were doing some lovely things with I Can’t Get Started. Dave’s chords, in contrast to the extroverted masses that most pianists use, turn in and muse. No pianist gets a better sound out of the instrument. Kenny, who has played with Dave for many years, gave him magisterial support on this Vernon Duke evergreen. A quick pan around any room in which vocalist Tierney Sutton is performing provides a measure of respect that she engenders among her fellow musicians. During the first set trombonist Dick Nash was at one table, pianist Gerry "The Wig" Wiggins and his sweet wife, Lynn, at another. Sitting over near the bar were fellow vocalists Cathy Segal-Garcia, Julie Kelly and Les Barrett.
Most singers begin their sets with an up tune. It is probably even taught in music course "Singing in the Clubs 101." I’ve always admired vocalists who have the confidence to break with this tradition and lead off with a slow ballad. Tierney has that confidence as well as the required chops. She began her set with Rodgers & Hart’s Spring Is Here, quickly quieting the room and displaying why she is a master of ballads. She followed with a burning version of Cherokee, which reminded me a little of Karrin Allyson’s rendition. Tierney was sizzling and snapping with electricity, sliding across bar lines, slowing to a whisper, bending melody lines to her will. She was in charge and she was cooking. Tierney returned to Rodgers & Hart country with the 1941 ballad It Never Entered My Mind. If this is not a perfect song (especially as interpreted by Tierney), please tell me why. Lovely melody, a wondrous set of lyrics,interesting harmonics; there are no weaknesses and Tierney’s reading belongs with the definitive versions. Many, maybe even most, singers, stay with the same 200 or so standards. This is unfortunate, for there are numerous songs out there awaiting some superior singer to give them life. An example is Alec Wilder’s Moon and Sand, which Tierney sang next. She and the band gave this under-performed gem a slight Latin feel. Although Rube Bloom did not write it that way, most current singers perform Day In-Day Out as an up tempo jump tune. Tierney stayed with this tradition and sang it adante. She sings well at fast tempos but I remain unconvinced. Johnny Mercer’s excellent lyrics lose their meaning when read at such rapid tempos.
Speaking of lesser-known songs, Tierney also chose to do Only the Lonely, a lovely Van Heusen-Cahn tune long associated with Sinatra. In fact, who else has recorded it? (Think of all the superior songs that Sinatra recorded which no one thereafter attempted.) Only the Lonely is a slow-beat ballad that is, unfortunately, shackled with some rather awkward lyrics. For example the "picnics at the beach" line does not work well with the melody. But such quibbling aside, Tierney is a wonderful interpreter of lyrics and her performance was rewarding. The Irving Berlin standard Blue Skies was perhaps disposable. To my ears, it didn’t work particularly well. But it was fun and there is nothing wrong with that. No problems at all with Frank Loesser’s I’ve Never Been in Love Before. Pure magic from beginning to end. Most singers eventually attempt Lullaby of the Leaves. This jazz standard is an exceptional song and Tierney does it justice.. Everybody, except me, seems to love the Legrand song Summer Me, Winter Me, so I’ve stopped harping. But I must say that the lyrics seem very "busy." Tierney handled those busy Bergman lyrics just fine. I’m almost a believer. I have no such reservations about Cy Coleman’s recent gem With Every Breath I Take, which is slowly becoming a new standard. Lyrically and melodically it is a giant and Tierney’s interpretation belongs with the best I have heard. My wife Lynne and I had to leave after this song. But Coleman’s wonderful melody and Tierney’s lovely voice stayed with me on my drive home. Each of the songs in her set was perfectly delivered – thoughtful, graceful, peerless singing. Thank you Tierney. Thanks also to Dave Mackay, who is one of the world’s better accompanists. He makes Tierney stretch a bit, not allowing her to simply rest on the melody. Jazz has been called the "sound of surprise" and Dave was surprising us (and Tierney) all evening.

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