The Rocks Off 100: Jacqui Sutton, Houston's "Jazzgrass Lady"
Welcome to the Rocks Off 100, our portrait gallery of the most compelling profiles and personalities in the far-flung Houston music community -- a lot more than just musicians, but of course they're in there too. See the entire Rocks Off 100 at this link.
Photo courtesy of Medley Inc.
Who? Jacqui Sutton is the lead singer for the Frontier Jazz Orchestra, a local band that fuses jazz and bluegrass. She was introduced to jazz in the 1980s, singing in San Francisco, and bluegrass in Portland, Ore. Her love of both music genres prompted her to combine them into a genre called Frontier Jazz, and she is now dubbed "The Jazzgrass Lady."
"The two sounds (jazz and bluegrass) have been living contemporaneously in my head since the 1980s, and it was only in 2010 that I realized I could fuse the two sounds together, which became the sound of Frontier Jazz," she says.
Sutton currently hosts a bimonthly (the first and third Wednesday of each month) YouTube performances of the singles from her two albums, Notes From the Frontier and Billie & Dolly.
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Home Base: Sutton lives in Houston.
Why Do You Stay in Houston? Sutton relocated to Houston with her husband, who is pursuing his Ph.D in Creative Writing and Literature at the University of Houston. While here, Sutton has met the members that have become the Frontier Jazz Orchestra. Even if her husband 's career moves him away from Houston, she says, she will still maintain a "footrprint" in in order to stay connected to the band.
Good War Story: "My war has been internal: the combination of having to spend years correcting bad vocal habits, as well as overcoming intense stage fright," she says. "It turns out that the stage fright decreased once I figured out the mechanics of my voice. Now you can't shut me up!"
Music Scene Pet Peeve: After a health scare at age 50, Sutton decided to start singing at an age when many artists would be considering retirement. It is this daring spirit that has come to define her career.
"It's aversion to risk-taking, and that pop or singer-songwriter seems to be the default setting for gaining acceptance," says Sutton. "My genre is self-created, and I still have an uphill climb getting people to understand that the genre is valid, has artistic merit and is worthy of being presented on the big stage.
"Also, the youth-centered nature of the industry is incredibly frustrating," she admits. "I am a middle-aged African-American woman who is essentially breaking into a young person's field."
Five Six Desert Island Discs: "Seriously? I hate this question because there is so much great music out there," gasps Sutton. "I can only go with my current obsessions." She then listed not five, but six of her current favorite albums.
- Samuel Barber, Knoxville Summer of 1915
- David Bowie, The Next Day
- Bela Fleck and the Marcus Roberts Trio, Across the Imaginary Divide
- Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer & Mark O'Connor, Appalachian Waltz
- Miles Davis, Kind of Blue
- Dolly Parton, The Grass Is Blue
First Song You Fell in Love With: "'Nature Boy,'" she says, "as sung by Nat King Cole."
See who else has joined The Rocks Off 100 this year on the next page.
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