A follower of the Baha’i religion since his teens, Los Angeles jazz singer Tierney Sutton doesn’t shy away from weaving his spirituality into his music.
Most notably, the nine-time Grammy Award-nominated singer opened her 2009 album “Desire,” reciting several verses from a sacred Bahá’í text, “The Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh”. But it was the album’s quieter version of the standard “It’s Only a Paper Moon” that revealed just how well Sutton’s faith can transform a song. Usually galloping headlong, the Harold Arlen/Yip Harberg celebration of American Hokum morphed into a meditative expression of yearning for God in a world of illusory surfaces with chant-like repetitions of the phrase “without your love” Gone.
A Bahá’í connection is also the major driving force behind the new album, which was celebrated at the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society in Half Moon Bay on June 26 and at the Kumbawa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz on June 27, where he focused on the material of “Paris Session 2”. Still working. A follow-up to 2014’s excellent intimate “Paris Sessions” from her popular album, 2014 with French guitarist Serge Merlaud, the new project captured her in the middle of her episodic sequence.
A lot has happened since the last “Paris Sessions” album, most notably their wedding in 2019. It is a union that developed out of their shared adherence to the Bahá’í religion, a young universal religion founded by the Persians in the mid-19th century. According to Human Rights Watch the mystic Bahá’u’lláh (whose followers are subjected to brutal persecution in Iran).
After a 1992 gig in Switzerland, Sutton decided to spend some time around Paris. One night at a jazz session she met American jazz singer Sarah Lazarus, who had recently moved to France. When Sutton mentioned her belief in the crossing of Lazarus, she got in touch with Merlaud, the only other Bahá’í man she had met in Paris. Although he spoke very little English and Sutton’s French was rudimentary, they spent a week watching music, and then did not see each other again for 20 years.
A trip to Paris with her band in 2012 gave Sutton a chance to renew their acquaintance, and she suddenly realized how profoundly Merlaud had been on her musical identity. Shortly after their week together they released two piano trio albums, “You Must Believe in Spring” by Bill Evans and “Landscape” by Kenny Barron, and met Serge again, realizing that they formed the core of the sound. Tierney Sutton Band,” she said, referring to her quartet with pianist Christian Jacob.
“I knew ‘The Peacock,'” the scintillating ballad by Jimmy Rawls, “because it was given to me by the Bill Evans album Surge,” Sutton continued. “The only arrangement we play by another artist is Kenny Barron’s ‘Spring Is Here’ from a cassette that Serge gave me. These were the Tierney Sutton band’s biggest hits, all from that musical connection.”
Reunited after 20 years, their relationship blossomed when Merlaud contributed two tracks to 2013’s “After Blue”, her Grammy-nominated album focusing on the music of Joni Mitchell. “He played some simple but pretty straight guitar parts,” she said. “We recorded and finished the first ‘Paris session’.”
While Sutton and Merlaud are celebrating their “Paris Sessions” album at the Bach and Kumbawa concerts, they’re also drawing on their pandemic-renovated relationship with Israeli-born Los Angeles pianist Tamir Handelman. A mainstay on the Southern California jazz scene since the late 1990s, he toured and recorded extensively with drum great Jeff Hamilton and big bands, which he co-led with bassist John Clayton, the Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra . But he is best known for his work with singers from the Bay Area such as Jackie Ryan, Roberta Gambarini, Natalie Cole and Barbra Streisand.
Hendlman performed with Sutton in the late ’90s, but then became engaged to the Jeff Hamilton trio and launched the Tiryani Sutton band. They didn’t get a chance to work together until the 2018 Japan tour. The collaboration really flourished during the pandemic when Hendelman started weekly livestreams from home. Sutton ended up joining him for a series of thematic concerts, such as a show dedicated to the music of Johnny Mercer and a concert of songs about spring.
As a connoisseur of singers, Hendelman relishes the opportunity to join Sutton outside of virtual settings.
“He has two things that balance beautifully,” he said. “Tierney is a real technician who approaches music as an instrumentalist. She always thinks about intonation and delivers a really pure sound. Plus she’s very in-depth into lyrics and storytelling. And a song She’s actually being part of the band, not just herself, which is very refreshing. There’s no attitude, just let’s make music together.”
Contact Andrew Gilbert at firstname.lastname@example.org.