A Jazz Star Plays Carnegie (and Bus Depots)
Timothy Cahill Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
Even after a dozen years on the road, life for jazz singer Tierney Sutton has yet to include private buses or stretch limousines.
It's still a matter of hauling around in a rented van, which is what Sutton was doing last month at the end of an early autumn tour, when she and her three-piece ensemble drove 3-1/2 hours across upstate New York from a date in Elmira to their final gig in Albany. It was a tour in which the jazz diva had performed in places as diverse as a bus depot in Dayton, Ohio, and a jazz bistro in Hollywood, Fla.
But a little luxury may be just around the corner for Sutton, who looks poised to enter the ranks of such successful vocalists as Madeleine Peyroux and Cassandra Wilson. Long one of the best-kept secrets in jazz, the singer is increasingly attracting praise from critics and audiences for her albums and live shows. This year (in addition to playing Elmira), she has performed with the New York Pops in Carnegie Hall and has been featured on the cover of the music magazine "Jazziz."
"My goal is to be a singer at oneness with jazz's great musicians," says Sutton, resting in a dressing room after her Albany concert.
When Sutton played Manhattan's prestigious Oak Room this past spring, the New York Times's Stephen Holden lauded her as "the real thing: a hard-swinging, soft-hearted devotee of a great tradition, a pure jazz spirit whose singing conjures up open skies and clean air."
September also saw the release of Sutton's latest album, "I'm With the Band," recorded live at New York's Birdland jazz club. The record is a showcase for the singer's astonishing voice, which is by turns supple, sultry, soaring, and ebullient. Sutton can, with equal flair, ease her way through an Irving Berlin ballad or scat Cole Porter into exuberant, blazing orbit.
Jazz tunes have been Sutton's companion for more than two decades, after she discovered them while studying Russian literature in college. Her first experience with the music was hearing a Sarah Vaughn recording in a jazz appreciation course. "I wept. It was the most gorgeous thing I'd ever heard," she recalls.
"But then I was a little angry," adds the former waitress from Wisconsin, tongue slightly in cheek. "I asked myself, 'How can this be out there and I've never heard of it?' I mean, I'd been listening to polka!"
After college, Sutton moved to Boston, where she studied improvisation with saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi. …