Jacqui Sutton and the Frontier Jazz Orchestra

Jacqui Sutton and Danny Ashkenasi have known each other since the mid-1990s when Danny began casting Jacqui in musical theater productions in New York City, including BeTwixt, BeTween & BeTwain, a two-act musical based on the short stories of Mark Twain. When Jacqui formed The Frontier Jazz Orchestra in 2010, she knew she wanted to record several songs from that show.

Jacqui Sutton: “Keeper of Your Love” is set in Gold Rush California and recounts the story of a man whose wife has gone off by stagecoach to visit family. She posts a letter on her way home, but she never arrives, having been killed in an ambush. The husband waits, year after year, for her return. When I chose to record it, I wanted to add something that hinted at the couples’ courtship — a happier time. I got to sing “Sweep Me Off My Feet” in the production, and when I ran the idea by Danny of combining “Sweep” with “Keeper,” he felt it made sense. This version of the combined songs was effectively our first collaboration.

“Mississippi Song” is about a boy who is being trained to be a riverboat pilot. The gradual build and energy during the instrumental break in the middle represents a near crash of the boat. But all is well, as the motif reasserts itself and they continue on down the Mississippi.

Around 2011, I started sketching original compositions to continue the Frontier Jazz experiment. What has evolved is a song cycle called “American Anthem,” individual anthems that seek to give voice to members of American society that have not historically felt included in the conversation about what it means to be an authentic American, and who decides what is American. As an African American who never thought she’d live to see someone who looks like me occupying the White House, and who stood on the Mall among one million other Americans to watch President Obama’s inauguration, the constant questioning of his nationality was devastating for me to watch. The first song that I wrote in this song cycle was “Grass Dolls.” It is based on stories that my mother and aunt told of their childhood. Being quite poor and having no toys, the girls in the neighborhood would go to a nearby field with long grass and braid it as if it were a doll. I knew that I needed a collaborator to help me discipline this and the other songs for the cycle, so I approached Danny about a full collaboration, and he readily agreed. We have three songs completed, as well as the American Anthem motif in its various forms. “Grass Dolls” is the most complete, and this version is a non-mastered demo.

“Keeper of Your Love/Sweep Me Off My Feet” by Danny Ashkenasi © 2006. Performed by Jacqui Sutton with the Frontier Jazz Orchestra © 2010. Toy Blue Typewriter Productions.

“Mississippi Song” by Danny Ashkenasi © 2006. Performed by Jacqui Sutton with the Frontier Jazz Orchestra. © 2010. Toy Blue Typewriter Productions.

“Grass Dolls” by Jacqui Sutton and Danny Ashkenasi © 2012. Performed by Jacqui Sutton with the Frontier Jazz Orchestra. © 2015. Toy Blue Typewriter Productions. (Non-mastered demo.)

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