Jacqui Sutton waxes musically about Mark Twain and American Anthems

Jacqui Sutton

Jacqui Sutton

Jacqui Sutton isn’t merely a performer who has sung my music at numerous occasions, she is also a friend whose wedding to the writer Edward Porter I have attended (with my husband whom I call “my Ed” to distinguish him from “her Ed” when Jacqui and I wax lyrically about our hubbies).

We met 14 years ago when she got cast in “Brooklyn Tales”, a Brooklyn set fairy tale play anthology for which I’d composed the music for Marjorie Duffield’s update on “Lucky Hans”.  Jacqui later sang in concert performances as well as fully staged productions of my music theater works “The Song of Job 9:11”, “beTwixt, beTween & beTWAIN”, and “I TOO SING AMERICA – The Blues According to Langston Hughes”.  Lately she is based in Houston where she has formed the Frontier Jazz Orchestra and released two albums that blend Blues Grass and Jazz idioms.  She recorded three of my tunes from “beTwixt, beTween & beTWAIN” on her first album “Billie & Dolly”.  We are currently collaborating on the writing of an original song cycle “American Anthem”.

Jacqui Sutton (and her work with me) is currently being featured in the online Literary Journal Waxwing.  The article includes three music tracks, the beTWAIN songs on the “Billie & Dolly” album as well as a sneak preview of “American Anthem”.  Here are some highlights in Jacqui’s own words (click here for the full article):

beTWAIN”  “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.”

(Let me quickly insert: Jacqui also asked me to write new lyrics that explained in song how the wife disappeared years ago, a revelation that in the stage version is communicated in dialog.  You will hear those lyrics in the mid-section that starts with “Endless years…”)

Keeper of Your Love (Sweep Me Off My Feet):

Jacqui: ” “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.”

(I’ll just add: in the musical beTwixt, beTween & beTWAIN this song is in three parts, bracketed by dialog and action, dramatizing Mark Twain’s own river boat experiences as recounted in “Life on the Mississippi”.  What is an instrumental mid-section in Jacqui’s recording was originally a solo and ensemble call and response describing a near accident.  The final section was also originally sung by the full ensemble.  Jacqui turns the whole scene into a solo song with jazz stylings.)

Mississippi Song:

Jacqui: “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…

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.”

Grass Dolls:


About dannyashkenasi

I'm a composer with over 40 years experience creating music theater. I'm also an actor, writer, director, producer, teacher and general enthusiast for the arts.
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