Tierney Sutton: The Pursuit of Happiness


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This time I knew that we had gone to a new place, in that we all allowed ourselves to be pushed hard. As we walked out of Capitol, we felt that this was our best record to date.
Tierney SuttonTierney Sutton having been nominated for a Grammy in 2005 for her work on I'm With the Band (Telarc, 2005), has achieved something truly groundbreaking and distinctive with her follow-up, On the Other Side (Telarc, 2007). It has been hailed by many as her best work, not only due to the musicianship, but also for the subject content in which she addresses the all-encompassing topic of happiness and its ever-present pursuit.

Sutton has collaborated with jazz greats ranging from pianist/vocalist Diana Krall to trumpeter Randy Brecker. Her exceptionally gifted vocal ability has proven to be an asset to the jazz community.

Katrina-Kasey Wheeler spoke to Sutton to discuss On the Other Side..

All About Jazz: When did you first realize that you wanted to pursue music?

Tierney Sutton: I always sang as a child, but I didn't want to be a professional musician until I heard jazz in my late teens.

AAJ: Is there one particular recording or artist that inspired you?

TS: Early on I was more into instrumentalists than vocalists. I was into a lot of early Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Bill Evans. I later started listening to singers, Nancy Wilson and Bobby McFerrin.

AAJ: Your voice has been featured on so many wonderful films, was that something that you wanted to achieve?

TS: I didn't really give it a lot of thought, to tell you the truth. As I was making my choice to move to either Los Angeles or New York—one of the elements of the business that I thought would be good to get involved with is film and television work, to help me survive as a jazz singer. I have been fortunate to do that. It has always been a lot of fun. It is great to have the variety of work that I do in Los Angeles.

AAJ: That is wonderful to have so many opportunities. You have garnered much critical acclaim and success. You were nominated for a Grammy, which is outstanding. Is that validating in any way?

TS: Honestly, I think that the most validating thing for me, by far, is the fact that the band has stayed together for as long as we have. I hold the musicians that I work with in such high esteem. The fact that they are willing to play with me after all these years is the biggest validation.

AAJ: That is a testament to your working relationship. So many bands break up, it is a pleasant surprise to see a band stay together, as your has.

TS: Yes, it has been a really hard thing to do, but it has been a wonderful, growing relationship. I feel that it is really better than ever.

AAJ: Your release, On the Other Side, has been called your best work to date. Do you agree?

TS: I can honestly say that this is the first time that I ever finished a recording and walked out of the studio and said, "This is the best record we have ever made. Always in the past, I had grown to accept the record before, and wondered if this record would be as good as the previous release. This time I knew that we had gone to a new place in that we all allowed ourselves to be pushed hard. As we walked out of Capitol [studio] we felt that this was our best record to date. I felt this way from the beginning, but I am already thinking about the next record, which I am sure will be the best record, I hope.

<AAJ: You have the intuitive ability to convey the emotional undertones of so many of these songs, within the broader topic of the pursuit of happiness. Do you hope that the listener will connect with this album on an emotional level?

TS: Making an album is kind of like painting a picture—you hope that you have created something beautiful and meaningful to you. I have been really happy with the amount of care that the band put into the sequencing of the record, which is being noticed by a lot of people. This record was more fully conceived than our other records. We had an idea of how this album was going to begin and end, and a certain sense of the music before it was completed. I think having that broad view of the project made it more comprehensive. I never like to assume what people should get from it, because I have already had responses to it that were really interesting and different

AAJ: That is a gift in itself. Why did you at this time, choose to talk about the pursuit of happiness, on this album?

TS: In my lifetime, there has never been a bad time to talk about this topic. From the moment that I started singing, I think that I have been inching my way toward recording a spiritual record. My idea of what spiritual is may be a little different than what someone else thinks to be spiritual. For me, the idea of spirituality is ultimately what is essential to us, rather than what changes and diminishes. Also, what is meaningful and will last in the long term. We live in a culture that really seems to deify short-term satisfaction to profoundly dire consequences. I am not twenty-five anymore, and I am thinking about these things in terms of: raising a child, keeping a family and band together, as well as the state of the world.

I was watching Bill Moyers' Faith & Reason and the guest, who was a Buddhist monk, said, "We hate unhappiness, but we are addicted to the things that cause it. That is really what this record is about. There is this underlying voice in our culture that says, "Be happy. There is something almost sinister about that, to a certain degree.

AAJ: I think it is a gift for an artist to have the ability to convey these things in their music.

Tierney SuttonTS: In this record, there really are some natural turning points that I intended. There is that message in some of the lyrics, "I want to be happy, but I won't be happy, until I make you happy, too. Then the very next song is, "Make Someone Happy, which is a more serious take on that. We are all linked to each other. The human race is like a human body: if part of it is suffering, then the rest of the body is affected. There is no turning away from it.

My mother recently passed away and, amidst her terrible illnesses, she frequently would say, "I am a happy woman, and I thought that was amazing. The whole idea of happiness—what brings it and what doesn't is the stuff of life.

AAJ: Is there anything you would like to say to your fans?

TS: I am so lucky, because I didn't really get serious about this until I was in my thirties, and I just feel so grateful that audiences are present to hear us perform and appreciate what we do.

Selected Discography

Tierney Sutton, On the Other Side (Telarc, 2007)
Tierney Sutton, I'm With the Band (Telarc, 2005)
Tierney Sutton, Dancing in the Dark (Telarc, 2004)
Tierney Sutton, Something Cool (Telarc, 2002)
Tierney Sutton, Unsung Heroes (Telarc, 2000)
Tierney Sutton, Introducing Tierney Sutton (A-Records, 1998)

Photo Credits:
Top Photo: Courtesy of
Tierney Sutton
Bottom Photo: Dragan Tasic

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