Jazz singer/songwriter/guitarist Sean Sullivan showcases his ability to infuse Americana, folk, and blues into his signature Latin jazz sound on his new song "Ready," which Utne Reader is proud to premiere. "Ready" is a cut off his new album, Hereafter, which is out January 21 on SonyRed.
Sullivan is a New York City jazz scene-staple who was mentored by iconic jazz singer/lyricist Jon Hendricks. Through Hendricks, Sean also spent a lot of time with other influential jazz greats including Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Wynton Marsalis and more. Sullivan recently shared his thoughts on “Ready,” the new album, and his approach to jazz:
What is the story behind "Ready?" What's its message, and is there a story behind the songwriting/recording process?
Songs are gifts. "Ready" is the kind of no-frills-gut-level-blues I hoped would find me. There's a front-porch-southern-gothic side of me not unlike one of my favorite artists, Mose Allison, whose terse tunes wash away the non-essential like the mighty Mississippi of his birthplace, leaving behind our most endangered natural resource: the truth. As I recall, I was fooling around with a two-note descending melody line in the "guitar key" of E with a lazy "Sun Sessions" feel while maintaining the "one chord" with a relentless ostinato of E in the bass on the sixth string. Out of the blue came a lyric that wrote itself. The opening line of each verse follows the path of life, past, present and future: “I was born,” “I have lived,” “sometimes it kills me,” and “when I die.” “Ready” reminds me of the life I live and schools me every time I sing it.
How has spending time with your jazz mentors/idols (Jon Hendricks, Ella Fitzgerald, Wynton Marsalis, Cab Calloway, etc) influenced you as an artist?
Jon Hendricks is an endangered species. He is one of the last enormously accomplished jazz legends who understands the necessity of being both an artist and an entertainer. It was invaluable in my early years to study, hang, and sing with him and watch him work the room with a showbiz wisdom that conjures even vaudeville. Through his invitation I was able to meet and bask in the glow of so many greats like Cab and Wynton, and cop a riff or two. Being hugged and encouraged by Ella felt to me like some folks might feel about being blessed by the Pope or the Dalai Lama!
What can you tell us about Hereafter? How would you describe the album?
The sound of Hereafter is an intuitively filtered expression of wide musical exposure and life experience that is both urban and rural. Equal parts city and country. Schooling and life-schooling. My music is an organic retro/present gumbo of the multi-idiomatic, multi-tempo and improvisatory mindset that fits label-wise most easily under the umbrella known as “jazz.” It has elements of the raw truth of the blues, the purity of folk, and the sweetness of soul. My travels and heritage have created my music. I am Scottish/Irish/English/French/Cherokee. I am a southerner and a northerner. I am an islander. I am a New Yorker. I am an American son.