I took up the string bass when I was 13 in order
to avoid a seventh grade art teacher with an unpleasant
reputation. Then when I first saw the bass I had
to play in class, I had to fight back tears. It
had peoples initials carved into it (including
mine) and I knew my friends would be ruthless.
Most of my friends were guys that I played in
bands with. They’re still my closest and
certainly lifelong friends.
As a musician that is almost entirely produced
by the LA Unified School District. I didn’t
have a formal lesson until high school. The first
thing my teacher demanded was that I get a briefcase
for equipment and sheet music, and a date book
My parents were very encouraging, by not being
discouraging. They let me rehearse with various
rock bands at their house and occasionally loaned
me money for some of the worst musical instruments
My main focus was to be versatile, I love and
respect just about every form of music and have
always strived to experience them all. I thought
making a living as a musician would be cool, too.
I didn’t come to jazz however, until college.
It struck me as something profoundly challenging
and beyond me. It is a musician’s music
though. And I soon became addicted. Creating musical
thoughts that are appreciated and understood no
matter who’s playing or listening…
Rare and priceless.
I guess what really blows my mind about jazz,
is the unity. The ability of people from vastly
different backgrounds, people who love each other,
hate each other, have never met or spoken to communicate
on an intimate level spontaneously.
From Student to Performer
The first band I was in was called Essence. Our
first gig was a retirement party. We were playing
“Sailing” by Christopher Cross and
a guest had a heart attack and died on the dance
floor right in front of us. Omen?
Playing with Andre Previn
Out of all the great musicians I’ve played
with, Andre Previn really scared me. I went to
Japan with Previn and Julie Andrews. She was singing
with the NHK Symphony and he was conducting. She
was doing several melodies. – Sound of Music,
Mary Poppins etc… Each melody was endless.
We rehearsed for hours because no one including
Previn had seen the music. We returned the next
day for rehearsal and Previn had no scores. He
had memorized the entire program over night.
Gerald Wilson called me last minute to play at
“Marla’s Memory lane” in Compton,
CA. I showed up and there were maybe three charts
in the book. The rest were missing. I played far
more wrong notes than right ones that night and
I felt awful. Then at the end he came up to me
and said “Can you come back tomorrow?”
I’ve been with him now for 17 years.
I’ve had a recurring musical epiphany. It’s
happened with just 3 musicians – Ray Brinker,
Christian Jacob, and Herbie Hancock. When you
play with great players you want desperately to
contribute. With these musicians you simply listen
to what they play and your fingers go directly
to all the right places and you sound like a genius.
I first began working with Christian and Ray
with the Maynard Ferguson band. The first gig
was at “The Caravan of Dreams” in
Dallas, TX. I felt very self conscious because
I didn’t think I could hang with those guys.
"Styne and Mine"
The music on Styne and Mine is amongst the most
demanding and challenging music I’ve ever
been involved with from beginning to end. I expected
to be nervous and intimidated but as we rehearsed
and became more familiar with the music, I realized
this could turn out to be a very honest and natural
performance captured on a CD. After listening
to the finished product, I can say this is by
far the most accurate portrayal of me as a musician
and an excellent opportunity to hear 3 musicians
I’m in one band, The Tierney Sutton Band,
because I’m able to be myself as a bass
player, a musician, and a person. If I can find
another group of people like that, I’ll
be in two bands.
One of the truly great events of my life was doing
a demonstration of the bass at my daughter’s
preschool and seeing the pride in her eyes.
The Strangest Gig
1980 I played the sousaphone in the Rose Parade.
7 miles, horses, etc.
What Pushes Me to Improve
Improving as a musician is a slow, painstaking
and in some cases imperceptible process. Allowing
yourself to change as a musician is as important,
if not more. Change isn’t necessarily good,
but it is evolution, and can open creative doors.