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Tierney Sutton Band never performs the same concert twice

It’s hard to know for sure where a Tierney Sutton Band concert is headed, because the band may not.

“On a regular basis, playing with my band, I lose track of what I’m doing entirely,” says Sutton, the jazz combo’s golden-throated voice.

Any one of 150 pre-arranged jazz standards and originals could come next, and might stray far from its pre-arrangement.

“Our goal is to be as much in the moment as possible,” says Sutton, 47, phoning during the drive from her Van Nuys, Calif., home to the Los Angeles Music Academy in Pasadena, where she runs the vocal department.

“To be able to give the audience something really special, we listen to the sound of the piano and the sound of the hall to figure out where we’re at,” she explains.

Eight albums, three Grammy nominations and performances at Carnegie Hall, the Hollywood Bowl and Lincoln Center testify to the jazz credibility Sutton and her band — pianist Christian Jacob, drummer Ray Brinker and touring bassist Kevin Axt — have built during the past 17 years.

Still, Sutton realizes what a hard sell jazz can be to the uninitiated.

“It’s definitely a thinking music,” she says. “It’s something that demands a certain level of experience.”

Sutton received her own initiation without realizing it, as a kid in Milwaukee.

“The pop music I liked the best was Steely Dan and Stevie Wonder,” she says, “things that I later found out had jazz elements to them.”

She witnessed the pure thing while attending Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., and epiphany struck.

“When I realized there was this improvisational music that didn’t mandate that you actually write the song,” she says, “I knew this is what I wanted to do.”

To expand her box of tools, Sutton attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston.

Now the Tierney Sutton Band performs 100 shows a year and, she says, “we never do the same set of songs twice.” Her gig on Saturday is her first in Las Vegas since 2002.

“Jazz is a concert kind of music, and I don’t know that the vibe of Vegas is that conducive to that anymore,” she says. “But we really strive to do the kind of performance that can be related to by people who are not jazz fans.

“Our favorite compliment is when someone comes up to us after a show and says, ‘I don’t really like jazz much, but I really like that.’ “

Contact reporter Corey Levitan at clevitan@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0456.

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