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Tierney Sutton: 'I'm With the Band'


This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

DAVID WAS reporting:

Jazz singer Tierney Sutton has a new CD out on the Telarc label called "I'm with the Band."

CHADWICK: Musician David Was with a review.

WAS: It's a title that testifies to her humility and her impeccable sense of democracy and fairness. She and her quartet, The Tierney Sutton Band, actually formed a corporation, which smells like some kind of Commie conspiracy to me. Since when does the honey-throated howler share the royalties with the cats backing her up? Is she looney?

(Soundbite of song, "Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise")

Ms. TIERNEY SUTTON: (Singing) Oh, softly as in a morning sunrise, your light of loves comes stealing into a newborn day. Oh, wah, wah, wah...

WAS: Let's just assume she's genuinely nice and appreciative of her fine musicians. A former choir girl from Wisconsin who escaped to evil Los Angeles a decade ago, Tierney Sutton radiates a sense of health and happiness in her singing that almost disqualifies her from the neurasthenic realm of the, quote, "jazz musician."

(Soundbite of song "'S Wonderful")

Ms. SMITH: (Singing) Oh, 's wonderful, 's marvelous, that you should care for me. 'S awful nice, 's paradise, 's what I long to see...

WAS: With a prestige day job as an instructor at USC's jazz vocal department and copious critical praise, perhaps she just doesn't have all that much to be blue about. And when you're blessed with crimson tresses and a chiseled angular beauty, why not be happy?

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. SMITH: (Singing) Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, some nights of fun, that's what I want.

WAS: Which is not to denigrate her ample gifts as a singer, primary of which is her judicious sense of restraint; secondary, her impeccable pitch and sure phrasing. But Ms. Sutton, a confessed devotee of Sinatra and Tony Bennett, is closer to that realm of quality saloon singing than she is to the Sarah Vaughans and Ella Fitzgeralds of this world, whose liberties with melody and rhythm seemed unforced, like a first language...

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. BILLIE HOLIDAY: (Singing) I've been around the world in a plane...

WAS: ...not to mention Billie Holiday, who, out of all singers, really was one of the cats. And her musicians often included the best that ever were, like Johnny Hodges and Lester Young.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. HOLIDAY: (Singing) And that's the spot called Salamander Park...

WAS: Carmen McRae, one of that small sorority of bonafide old-school jazz singers, once remarked to me that Billie Holiday always sang a note that meant the word. Improvisation wasn't an arbitrary process; it was a way of personalizing a song, of putting an emotional fingerprint on the performance. Sometimes Ms. Sutton's approach to the rephrasing of a hoary standard, which this album is chock full of, seems merely decorative, a canny way of avoiding the notes as written. The song itself comes in a distant second enslaved to the exigencies of mere variety...

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. SUTTON: (Singing) Watch the (scat singing)...

WAS: ...which isn't a bad thing. It just isn't a jazz thing.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. SUTTON: (Scat singing)

WAS: Tierney Sutton is a singer of superior gifts, whose diction and musicality would be equally at home on Broadway or in Bobby Short's old chair at the Algonquin. Her cheeriness is admirable. But somehow singing jazz without the existential credentials is like some prep school mama's boy trying to sound like Sid Vicious. If you're going to sing it, you gotta bring it.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. SUTTON: (Singing) Sow it softly as in a morning summer...

CHADWICK: Tierney Sutton's new recording is called "I'm With the Band." Our reviewer, David Was, is half of the musical duo Was (Not Was).

DAY TO DAY returns in a moment. I'm Alex Chadwick. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Was