GLENDALE - Last weekend, the Nicolet High School Orchestra played Carnegie Hall.
Next week, students in the school's big band and vocal jazz ensemble will spend a couple days learning from jazz singer Tierney Sutton, an eight-time Grammy nominee who graduated from Nicolet in 1981. She, too, has headlined Carnegie Hall, as well as The Hollywood Bowl, The Kennedy Center and Jazz at Lincoln Center.
Sutton said she was never exposed to jazz growing up, so she hopes to introduce Nicolet students to a style of music they might not be familiar with.
"I'm looking forward to introducing them to things that excited me in the beginning of my career," she said. "I want to show them the basics of Bobby McFerrin and how to use your voice as an instrument."
Sutton sang and played a little piano growing up, but she wasn't exposed to jazz music until her college years, when she had a summer job as a singing cocktail waitress at the Heidel House Resort in Green Lake, Wisconsin. Across the street from the resort was a jazz singer named Mary Jaye who introduced Sutton to jazz singers that would influence the direction of her musical career.
Sutton continued to explore jazz during the school year at Wesleyan University, where she graduated with a degree in Russian language and literature. She went on to study at Berklee College of Music in Boston.
The Tierney Sutton Band, in collaboration with pianist Christian Jacob and Clint Eastwood, composed and performed the score for the movie "Sully." Last year, The Tierney Sutton Band released its 12th album, "The String Variations," which is a jazz reinterpretation of songs by the artist Sting. On the band's previous album, "After Blue," they offered a jazz spin on Joni Mitchell's catalog. The album features several collaborations, including a duet with Milwaukee native Al Jarreau, who died in February.
When asked about Jarreau's influence at the 2017 Grammy awards, Sutton's pianist Christian Jacob said Jarreau "made a bridge between vocalists and instrumentalists." Sutton said Jacobs' description captures her approach as a jazz vocalist.
Nicolet choir director Anna Hemming also found Sutton's collaborative approach with instrumentalists to be effective.
“I always appreciate how she portrays herself as a member of the band rather than the singer in front of it,” Hemming said. “The music that resulted from that collaboration has always been thrilling. It will be incredibly inspiring to watch her work with our Nicolet students.”
Sutton will return to Nicolet on Monday, April 24, as part of the music department's artist in residence program. After three days of mentoring students in Nicolet's big band and vocal jazz ensemble, she and the students will perform a concert featuring her original music, as well as collaborative efforts between Sutton and the students, at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 26, in the Nicolet High School auditorium, 6701 N. Jean Nicolet Road.
Tickets for the fundraiser performance April 26 are $25 for adults and $10 for students and seniors. To purchase tickets, visit www.nicolet.k12.wi.us.
The artist in residence program is funded by The Kenn Miller Chair for the Performing Arts, which was created in honor of Nicolet High School’s former theater director and teacher who led the program for 32 years. It underwrites workshops, master classes and residencies to give students opportunities to connect with and learn from professional musicians, composers, vocalists, actors and theater practitioners.