An acclaimed jazz vocalist, Tierney Sutton is recognized for her pure, glowing vocals and lyrical approach to modern jazz and standards. Stylistically, Sutton straddles the line between the cool approach of classic West Coast singers like June Christy with the more progressive contemporary artistry of performers like Sheila Jordan. Based in Los Angeles, Sutton first drew fans in the 1990s working with her long-running quartet the Tierney Sutton Band. Following her 1998 debut, she gained accolades for her often standards-based albums on the Telarc label, including 2001's Blue in Green, 2004's Dancing in the Dark, and 2005's I'm with the Band, the latter of which earned Sutton the first of several Grammy Award nominations. She is also no stranger to charts with four Top 20 Billboard Jazz Albums to her name, including 2014's Paris Sessions. In 2016, she earned her eighth Grammy nomination with her interpretation of Sting's music, The Sting Variations. Sutton has also distinguished herself as a teacher, having held positions at USC's Thornton School of Music, Los Angeles College of Music, and Indiana University's Jacob School of Music.
Born in 1963 in Omaha, Nebraska, Sutton grew up in Milwaukee, where she played piano and sang while growing up. However, she was not aware of jazz until her college years when she met jazz pianist and vocalist Mary Jaye while waitressing at the Heidel House Resort in Green Lake, Wisconsin. Later, while earning her degree in Russian language and literature at Wesleyan University, she saw a concert by Betty Carter that further inspired her to pursue her interest in jazz. After graduating, she enrolled at Boston's Berklee College of Music where she studied under saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi. In 1994, she moved to Los Angeles. There, she formed her long-running Tierney Sutton Band with pianist Christian Jacob, bassist Trey Henry, and drummer Ray Brinker. As a follower of the Baha'i religion, Sutton incorporated tenants of her faith into her work with the band, including a strong group dynamic in which each member contributes to the whole. The group quickly became a fixture on the L.A. jazz scene, and in 1998 debuted with Introducing Tierney Sutton on the Challenge label.
Following her debut, Sutton next signed with Telarc and issued a handful of highly-regarded albums beginning with Unsung Heroes in the spring of 2000. She followed a year later with Blue in Green, a tribute to pianist Bill Evans showcasing several songs that he had either recorded or collaborated on. Another record of standards, Something Cool, arrived in 2002 and found Sutton incorporating several genres outside of jazz including country and show tunes. Along with shows leading her own group, Sutton became fixture on the West Coast jazz scene, performing with Buddy Childers and Dave MacKay, as well as with the Les Brown Orchestra. She made three more fine records for Telarc: 2004's Dancing in the Dark (which peaked at number 11 on the Billboard Jazz Albums chart), 2005's I'm with the Band, and 2007's On the Other Side. Both I'm with the Band and On the Other Side received Grammy nominations and helped raise Sutton's profile nationally. In 2009, she returned with Desire, which found her balancing jazz standards with several recited passages from The Hidden Words of Bah’u’llah, a sacred Baha'i text. The album also garnered a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Album.
In 2011, she issued another Grammy-nominated album, American Road, which featured songs by such well-known American composers as Stephen Sondheim, George Gershwin, Raymond Scott, and Leonard Bernstein. Two years later, she paid homage to Joni Mitchell with After Blue, which included guest spots from Al Jarreau, Hubert Laws, the Turtle Island String Quartet, and others. She then paired with French guitarist Serge Merlaud and her regular bassist Kevin Axt for 2014's Paris Sessions. For 2016's Sting Variations, Sutton interpreted many of the former Police frontman's classic songs including "If You Love Somebody Set Them Free," "Message in a Bottle," and "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic." Three of her albums during this period, including American Road, After Blue, and Paris Sessions, all reached the Top 20 of the Billboard Jazz Albums chart. Along with performing, Sutton has worked regularly in education, spending over a decade teaching in the Jazz Studies Department at the University of Southern California. In 2008, she was named the Vocal Department Chair at Los Angeles Music Academy in Pasadena, and in 2018, she became the first full-time professor of vocal jazz at the Jacobs' School of Music at Indiana University in Bloomington. ~ Matt Collar