Thanks to Medley Inc., I got a mini-interview in Rolling Out magazine. They seem to think I’m about to release my 3rd CD soon. Not too much pressure, huh?
Name: Jacqui Sutton
Band: Frontier Jazz Orchestra
What inspired your album, Billie and Dolly?
I suffered a pulmonary embolism, something that someone my age should not have been experiencing. It was the result of working very long hours, leading a very sedentary lifestyle and lots of air travel. So in the spring of 2010, something told me to get serious about pursuing music. By summer of 2010, I was recording my debut CD, Billie & Dolly, which pays homage to my two favorite vocalists, Billie Holiday and Dolly Parton.
How would you describe your music style?
I have named it “Frontier Jazz,” which means predominantly jazz and bluegrass, but with elements of classical, musical theater and R&B mixed in. I have received positive reviews for having a sound that can hold up on its own without being forced or hokey.
What difficulties have you faced from this male-dominated field?
All of the musicians with the exception of my flutist are men, and I can say unequivocally that I have been treated with nothing but the greatest respect by them. I have in the past had the experience of musicians who look down on jazz vocalists because they are not considered real musicians. In order to prove yourself you must know theory and learn how to scat. I suppose there is still time to encounter some of that male resistance, but it hasn’t happened yet. In fact, women are now making major strides in the jazz horn world, especially saxophonists. For my part, I love the members of the Frontier Jazz Orchestra and hope I get to continue working with them.
I’m currently collaborating with composer Danny Ashkenasi on my third CD, which will be entitled American Anthem. This project stemmed from the anger and frustration that I felt with people constantly questioning President Obama’s nationality. It got me to thinking, “Who decides what an American is supposed to look like? Who’s anthem is it anyway? So I’m writing songs about poor, black Southern girls using their imaginations to overcome adversity, Appalachian coal miners, proud LGBT Americans, and many other groups. Obviously, it’s not possible to cover everyone, but I’m taking a stab at addressing as many as can fit in one CD!
For more information, please visit www.jacquisutton.com.
Beautifully Said Magazine: Just before Christmas I had a phone interview with Trisha and Asha (“The Twins of Media”) to discuss Frontier Jazz.
“Jacqui Sutton is a woman who follows her own heart…that is the heart of what she has always loved to hear…jazz and bluegrass music. You’re probably thinking what! Exactly our thoughts until we listened to the infectious sound she has dubbed Frontier Jazz. The wonderful thing about this artist is that she created a sound based upon her own likings and cultivated a genre that was unheard of. Who knew that musical influences of both Billie Holiday and Dolly Parton could produce music that would bridge jazz lovers to bluegrass roots and vice versa. As a vocalist and bandleader, Jacqui is sending a message to anyone wanting to take their personal “likes” and create an environment that allows you to showcase exactly what that may be. Find out at what age she finally came into her own musically and what makes her band so unique.
I basically created a genre called frontier jazz which is a blend of jazz and bluegrass and a bunch of other cultural musical influences. – Jacqui Sutton on defining the genre she created called frontier jazz.
Trisha LaNae’: Please give us the name and history of your current album, currently #1 on the CMJ Jazz Ad Chart.
Jacqui Sutton: The sound album is called Notes from the Frontier and the sub-title is a musical journey. The reason why I call it Notes from the Frontier is because it is a follow-up to my debut CD which came out two years ago. I basically created a genre called frontier jazz which is a blend of jazz and bluegrass and a bunch of other cultural musical influences. “I started hearing what I really felt was frontier jazz. It is as if you are traveling across the country into the American frontier!”
This CD kind of doubles down on the sound which took a couple years to create based on me hearing a lot of things that I liked and working alongside guys (band members) who were adventurous in playing blue grass
Trisha LaNae’: Sounds wonderful and we love jazz!
I want to talk to you next about following your dreams at any age, something that really got my attention. Why do you feel it is so important for people to know that you can follow your dreams at any age?
Jacqui Sutton: That’s a really good question and I thought it would be easier to answer than it turns out to be
I recently turned 53 and have been an artist since in my early twenties, I knew that I had these artistic leanings but there was always the practical issue of the day gig and paying your bills and not being irresponsible. I’ve had this really long trajectory of getting here but it never stopped.
I don’t know if you ever watched Jerry Seinfeld back in the day but there’s one episode that always stuck out in my mind and it’s where Jerry, he’s a standup comic and he is making his living day to day doing just that and he goes to his mother and is complaining about some gig. His mother without even blinking an eye says, “Well you know there is that management training program at Macy’s”…that was pretty much saying just ditch your dreams
Luckily I never had anybody in my life telling me to ditch my dream. Out of my family and friends no one ever said, Jacqui give this up! I was an actor for twenty years, I did classical shakes sphere, experimental musical theater, and I always sang. Nobody told me when I turned forty, “Girl you need to hang this up!”
So here I am at 53 and I recorded my first CD at 50. My message is to surround yourself with people who are not going to tell you to apply for that Macy’s job
Trisha LaNae’: That is an amazing story Jacqui and thank you so much for sharing that because a lot of people need to hear that. Hopefully you can make a song out of that as well.
Jacqui Sutton: Well you know I have a CD in the works that’s all original music and then a CD after that…I’m a long-term planner. The CD in the works is going to be called Middle-aged Broad
Asha LaShae’ & Trisha LaNae’: Love it!
Jacqui Sutton: Yes, It is totally about getting to middle-age and duking it out and making it! I have a bunch of songs I have been working on for that so this will definitely factor in for sure!
Asha LaShae’: I want to go back to your music and say that I love that you recorded your first album at 50 and at 53 you have your current CD which is absolutely fantastic! Now you are in a band of all male musicians so tell us why and what is that experience like?
Jacqui Sutton: So the “why” is that, I am a vocalist first and a musician very last. I am studying piano and I’ve plunked around with instruments here and there. I know that I need the support of musicians and it was when I moved to Houston that I actually found the musicians. I have actually been toying around with this idea for years…at least five years about blending jazz and bluegrass because I use to listen to both. I love bluegrass! I love Dolly Parton, Del McCoury, Bill Monroe as well as Elle Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday. That’s just how my ears and heart respond!
I couldn’t play any instruments and I didn’t have time at 50 to get proficient
Asha LaShae’: What is the reception of your audience who see you singing jazz with elements of Billie Holiday and Dolly Parton or the frontier jazz sound you have created?
Jacqui Sutton: People love it!
In the jazz world (traditionally) there is this source of tension between jazz vocalist who are usually women and the musicians. The musicians hammer out theory and they’ve been playing scales, motif and modalities, they stay long and they play gig after gig. The vocalist however, it’s on your body, you express it, and sing it and that’s it. – Jacqui explaining the musical dynamics of jazz vocalist and musicians
I try to create a collaborative environment in the creative process so I involve my band members a lot. Initially, there was some reserve with the frontier jazz concept but once they saw the thing take legs…let’s just it is now three years later that we have been working together. Every interaction is very professional as I have a very high bar for aesthetics and professionalism. My band and I rehearse everything extensively.
By the sounds of Jacqui Sutton’s music it is evident that she is both talented and professional with her gift of delivering innovative music.
We enjoyed speaking with Jacqui Sutton and the valuable lesson she spoke through her interview and that is that no matter what age you are…follow your passion because it will lead you somewhere. How liberating is it to create a genre of music basic on your personal musical taste and have the courage to craft it together for people to hear for the first time. We think its genius and applaud Ms. Sutton on the ability to teach others to be fearless in what they know is in their hearts no matter the reaction from naysayers.
At the time this interview took place, it was an emotional one for Jacqui Sutton as she was supporting a dear friend (graphic designer) whose son was one of the victims of the Newtown, Conn., school shootings. Our hearts were with Jacqui Sutton as she flew to be there for her friend and attend the funeral of their son. Senseless killings like what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary are beyond understanding. We continue to pray for the families even now and thus, dedicate this article to the memory of Benjamin Andrew Wheeler that his legacy carry on. ~Blessings
Jacqui recently performed her “Bluegrass” music at Leon’s (Houston, TX) Tuesday, February 26th.
Leon’s Lounge: 1006 McGowen St Houston, TX 77002; (713) 659-5366
For more information on where you call follow Jacqui Sutton (Jazzgrass Chic) music and or events:
Facebook: Jacqui Sutton (Jazzgrass Chic)
Fox 26: Although Fox 26’s Natalie Bomke (Twitter: @NatalieFox26) couldn’t make the interview, her steady cameraman took the lead and interviewed me, and shot footage of the band in a 2012 New Year’s Eve “Bucket List” segment. I only wish there was more footage of the guys!
Stay tuned for the video!