The many charms of the cello

by Alison Young, Minnesota Public Radio
July 30, 2014

St. Paul, Minn. — Cellists Mark Summer and Anna Clift have been busy working at the music camp Cello: An American Experience, held on the campus of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., but they drove up to St. Paul to talk to Alison Young about the instrument they love.

Summer is a founding member of Turtle Island Quartet and is widely considered one of the outstanding cellists of our time. Clift is the founder of the Cello: An American Experience music camp and is on faculty at St. Olaf; she has studied at The Banff School of Fine Arts, Indiana University and SUNY Stony Brook.

Summer and Clift talk to Alison about the students at the music camp and about the many amazing ways one can play the cello.

Further demonstrating the many flexible charms of the cello, Alison spoke to six-time Grammy-nominated jazz singer Tierney Sutton about her collaborations with Summer. On Thursday, July 31, at 8 p.m., Sutton is joined by cellist Mark Summer and by guitarist Serge Merlaud for a performance at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis. Sutton is not classically trained, but she fits into the ensemble like a real "chamber musician" and uses many of the same techniques of a classical musician when performing.

Sutton on singing like an instrument: "My favorite instrumentalists sound like singers and my favorite vocalists sound like instrumentalists. So I've always had this idea of unity between the instrumentalists and the vocalists."

Sutton describes why working with Mark Summer works: "Well, there's a lot that's cool going on there. Mark is a virtuoso and my name for him is the Bobby McFerrin of the cello. He plays his instrument like nobody else plays that instrument. Maybe his sensibility on the cello is what I aspire to as a vocalist. To be genre and limit free. To make music and musical lines in the context that's needed without limits. Mark just jumps in and it's an amazing thing to be a part of."

Sutton on why she's attracted to the music of Joni Mitchell: "My first ah-ha moment I had with Joni Mitchell was when she put out her standards record in 2000. She is a great interpreter of jazz standards and in a way that would not lead you to believe that she is a folk or pop singer. She has a very deep connection to the Great American Songbook. I heard that and was really moved by that record and then started to spend more time with her recorded works as a whole. I had many friends recommending her work and I knew it was something I needed to spend time with."

Sutton talks about why she likes teaching: "When you're performing all the time and just doing it, you can get into a rut and forget some of the simple beauty that drew you in the first place. The most successful performers are performers really giving information to the audience, showing them why they love it and teaching is really the same process. It's pretty simple. I love this music and I love what I do and I want to share that love with students and help uncover their own love and ability to communicate that love. That's really all there is."

Check out this video of a Sutton-and-Summer performance, recorded at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York City:

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