Jacqui Sutton and the Frontier Jazz Orchestra perform “Grass Dolls”

My friend and collaborator Jacqui Sutton has posted a video of her and the Frontier Jazz Orchestra performing “Grass Dolls”, a live performance that also functions as a video submission for NPR’s Tiny Desk concerts.

“Grass Dolls” is the first song Jacqui and I wrote together as part of our upcoming American Anthem song cycle, which Jacqui describes as a project to compose “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”.  (Jacqui and I go way back.  Listen to the demo recording of “Grass Dolls” as well as her covers of songs from my Mark Twain musical in this piece.)

One of the joys of collaborating with others on songwriting is when a true mixing and melding of one’s sensibilities with another’s sensibilities creates a new, unique sensibility that otherwise wouldn’t exist.  So is it with the songs for American Anthem.  These songs are a true blending of Jacqui’s and my sensibilities, so much so that I think of them as existing in their own independent universe.

jacquiIn the case of “Grass Dolls” I couldn’t say anymore which parts were Jacqui and which parts were mine.  I do remember that Jacqui came to me with the story of the Grass Dolls and pieces of melody and lyrics and rhythms, which we then together discussed and added to and shaped and massaged in my guest bedroom over note pads and my electric keyboard.  But I can’t remember specifically which ideas and additions came from whom, and probably it is rather beside the point.  Our work together that day was much like the grass blades being braided together to create the living doll in the imagination of the song’s narrator. Something that in combination comes alive and grows greater than the sum of its parts.  When I hear “Grass Dolls”, I think of it as Jacqui’s song, and then need to remind myself that I shared in its creation.

Here the demo recording of Grass Dolls, followed by Jacqui’s YouTube notes:

Jacqui Sutton – Grass Dolls

“Grass Dolls” by Jacqui Sutton and Danny Ashkenasi.

This song is an homage to my aunt (Carole, who left us a year ago on New Year’s Day) and my mother (Patricia). They grew up dirt poor in Florida in the early 1940s. They literally didn’t have toys, so the girls would run down to a field down the way, and sit in their favorite spot in the long, tall grass. Each girl would weave the long grass like it was doll’s hair, rendering the earth a giant scalp, and if you pulled back with a crane, you’d get the earth as a giant doll’s head with green braids. I always marveled at this story; how it spoke to creativity and whimsy and downright beauty. Carole: This one is especially for you, you wonderful woman, so full of amazing and awe-inspiring stories!

We have covered many songs in the jazz/bluegrass chamber style that I call “Frontier Jazz”, but this song represents a Frontier Jazz original. It is written in several meters, my favorite being the 5/8 weaving pattern to simulate the act of twisting, turning, weaving hair. And then changes meter again into 6/8 when the girls’ chorus/anthem comes in, announcing their dreams and desires.

The dress? Well, it’s meant to be a Texas-sized doll’s dress. The desk? I’m sitting on it!

Performing: Jacqui Sutton (vocals); Max Dyer (cello); Henry Darragh (keyboards/back-up vocals); Eddie Lewis (trumpet); Anthony Sapp (bass); Ermelinda Cuellar (back-up vocals); Paul Chester (banjo).

Filmed at Stormy Cooper Media, Houston, TX.


A field of green, it wasn’t money
We wove dreams, didn’t know better honey.
We braided grass
Our doll, an earthen lass.

Legions of weavers, twisting, turning
Made us believers.
Legions of weavers, wishing, yearning
Burning with fever.

Mama say go play
Just be sure to stay
Near our weatherboard shack.
We meet on the street
Running in bare feet
To the grass lot out back.

There we stake our ground
Choose a red clay mound
Now that mound is a doll.
Take the grass in hand
Braid the yielding strands
Make the rarest of all.

What you make of the land.
How you play the cards in your hand.


Flowing braids of grass wearing flowers like a crown.
Our field of dolls was the envy of the town.

No toy no rag doll
flight of fancy’s all
We could share in our world.
Clay dolls with grass hair
Waving in the air
Cheering five year old girls.

Mama’s hollerin’
Girls y’all come on in
Wash up, dinner and bed.
Turning back I see
Grass dolls smile at me
In the sun setting red.

What you make of the land
How you play the cards in your hand–hand!

Legions of weavers, twisting, turning
Made us believers
Legions of weavers, wishing, learning
Burning with fever.

Flowing braids of grass wearing flowers like a crown.
Our field of dolls was the envy of the town.


What you make of the land
How you play the cards in your hand
The cards in your hand
Your hand.

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.
This entry was posted in Musicabilia and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s