Her new release on Telarc this month, On the Other Side, is a minor-key study in discontent. Nearly every track has the word "happy" in the title, but Sutton renders the lyrics into melancholy. We've all experienced loss, she seems to say, so we should explore our emotions instead of seeking escape from them.
Her renditions stand in opposition to the forces of materialism and blind optimism -- what she calls "this vaguely oppressive drumbeat in our society to be all skippy-happy-peppy -- sometimes not so vague." But Sutton still clings to the hope of transcending this world: In Harold Arlen's "Get Happy," for example, she paints a vision of how "it's all so peaceful / on the other side."
But the music, she emphasizes, takes priority over the philosophizing -- as in her method of composing her version of "You Are My Sunshine." Most of us can sing the hokey version of this tune, but Sutton recalls being in her studio one day before her trio arrived, "and I just kept coming back to this ostinato, and that gave it a real darkness. And I knew that if I gave that to them, they'd make something beautiful."
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & S & lt;/span & utton's audiences are eclectic (not just jazz-oriented) in their tastes, perhaps because she was that way herself when she started out. She listened to "whatever was in pop culture -- Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor -- music with a strong jazz influence." She wasn't exposed to jazz herself in any intentional way until she was 19. "I had a job as a singing cocktail waitress in Wisconsin," she recalls. "And they were playing jazz across the street, and on my rare nights off, I would go over and listen to them. And I realized they were so good, even with an organ and an accordion and a drummer from Oshkosh. Harmonically, I appreciated them a lot. All the songs were standards, and there was a real integrity to it."
She's singing the standards herself now. The first half of Saturday night's concert will feature the Spokane Jazz Orchestra playing arrangements of tunes by Thelonius Monk, Count Basie and others. After intermission, Sutton will front the big band in arrangements of songs that she has recorded on her some of her seven albums. Then the highlight: Tierney and her trio wringing sadness and beauty out of works from the Great American Songbook.
Sutton doesn't simply wrestle with the sadness and beauty; she feels it herself too. "We were at a workshop in Florida," she says, "and someone requested a tune off our Bill Evans album that we hadn't played in about four years. And it was amazing how new it seemed. Just beautiful. And at the end, I said, 'Well, I got all choked up.' And it's true -- if we're really good and I'm really on, I'm just like a spectator when I'm up there onstage -- an observer of those emotions."
Tierney Sutton with the Spokane Jazz Orchestra on Saturday, March 10, at 8 pm at the Bing. Tickets: $26.50-$31.50. Visit www.tierneysutton.com or www.ticketswest.com or call 325-SEAT.