Tierney Sutton Band on Writing Music With Clint Eastwood for 'Sully' & New 'Sting Variations' Album

Tom Hanks in Sully.
Keith Bernstein/Warner Bros.

Tom Hanks in Sully.

“Clint was there every step of the way. It was really collaborative."

It’s safe to say that Clint Eastwood made jazz singer Tierney Sutton’s day when he asked her to collaborate on the music for Sully.

“I was at home doing nothing, feeling kind of blue, and the phone rang and it was him,” the seven-time Grammy nominee recalls. It turns out she and her band had been auditioning for Eastwood without realizing it. The Tierney Sutton Band had played two private concerts for Eastwood at his country club in Carmel, Calif., most recently in March. He had also attended a number of her shows over the past year and had even offhandedly mentioned to Sutton that he’d had some ideas about working together, but “we didn’t think too much of it,” she says. “We’ve been living in L.A. for a long time and know how quickly things change. It was like, ‘yeah, yeah. We’ll see.’”

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Eastwood had more than ideas. During the phone call, he asked Sutton if she and the band’s pianist and co-leader, Christian Jacob, would come hear some of their music he’d put into Sully, his film about Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who safely landed a plane full of passengers on the Hudson River in 2009. The film, an immediate Oscar contender after its premiere at the Telluride Film Festival, opened Friday (Sept. 9).

A week later, Sutton and Jacob found themselves at Warner Bros. Studios with Eastwood and the film’s editors and producers. As the movie unspooled, Sutton recognized three cues taken from the band’s work and then realized that Eastwood was screening the film for them in hopes they would score the movie. Less than 48 hours later, they were in the studio working on the score with Eastwood. In the intervening two days, Jacob wrote two themes, the band adapted a theme written by Eastwood, and worked on other cues.  

“We went into the studio and went scene by scene, some of which we used the themes, others using our bag of tricks,” Sutton says. “Clint was there every step of the way. It was really collaborative. It was very much 'Clint joins The Tierney Sutton Band.' He doesn’t do it by micro-managing. He gives a suggestion and trusts that you’ll make the right decision. He respected us and we tried to do it the very best we could.”

Sutton found it impossible to get Eastwood’s theme out of her head. With help from lyricist J.B. Eckl, she wrote the words to “Flying Home,” the poignant end-title song that closes Sully. Eastwood chimed in on the lyrics as well, giving direction. “There was a point where I was texting back and forth with Clint and said ‘I can make it more your vision,’” Sutton says. “He said something about looking at it from the point of the passengers and how they think Sully is kind of magical. The passengers think he’s the perfect man at the perfect moment. The part in the song about ‘you were born for this storm you have to weather’ came out of that conversation with Clint.”

From the day of that fateful May  screening to the final recording session, less than a month elapsed. The score, credited to Christian Jacob and The Tierney Sutton Band, will be released digitally Sept. 30 on Varese Sarabande and physically on Oct. 21.

Sutton and Eastwood have talked about furthering their collaboration. “I said to Clint, ‘I would like to have a crack at writing more lyrics to your melodies,’ and he said, ‘I’ve got a million of them.’”

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In addition to the movie, also out today is The Tierney Sutton Band’s The Sting Variations, a collection of Sting and Police songs reinterpreted to spellbinding effect. Sutton has previously tackled the music of Bill Evans, Frank Sinatra and Joni Mitchell. 

With his deep love for jazz and background playing bass in big bands in the U.K. before fronting The Police, Sting was a natural subject, Sutton says, adding that STB bassist Trey Henry handled the arrangements for Variations. “[Sting’s] autobiography is full of references to Miles and Coltrane and the Great American Song tradition. Like Joni, he's made many recordings of standards,” Sutton says. “I was originally planning, as I did in my Joni tribute, to include some standards he'd recorded, but we had so many of his originals that came together, we decided to just have the songs simmer under the surface. This is also why we opened the project with the little introduction from [Davis’s] Kind Of if to say ‘he listened to this and this emerged.’”

Variations, out on BFM Jazz, spans music from Sting’s entire career from The Police to his solo work up to a track from his recent musical, The Last Ship.