Once the new kid on the block and tired of hustling for gigs that barely paid their way Michael Sutton walked away from the music business. While it may have been possible to leave the industry, leaving behind the music and your dreams is never an option.

Giving up his singing career and enrolling in university to study for more stable source of income, Michael Sutton thought was over as far as his musical aspirations were concerned. Thankfully, that was not to be the case, and with the imminent release of his debut album Those Leftover Dreams, Michael is back.

So, after studying cardiology and building a career in the NHS what was the draw that brought the vocalist back to pursue his dreams? With less than a week before the release of his debut album, Nick Lea catches up with Michael to find out more.

Firstly, congratulations on the imminent release of your debut album, Those Leftover Dreams. This is an album that been a long time coming, can you tell us a little about the recording?

Thank you. It really has been a long time coming. The album is a selection of 10 songs that all mean something special to me. These are songs that I have loved for years and some I have performed as part of my setlists in the past.

The recording project was originally going to be a short EP of 4 or 5 songs which escalated somewhat after being introduced to Claire Martin OBE who agreed to produce the album- this isn’t something that happens every day, so I obviously had to take this opportunity.

We all had a great time recording at Quiet Money Studios in Hastings with James McMillan at the helm back in October 2022.

The official release date for Those Leftover Dreams is 17th April. It is unusual for a release date to be on a Wednesday as opposed to the traditional Friday, although I understand the date has a special significance for you?

It does, I am releasing the album on my 40th birthday. When I was planning the album release campaign with Elaine Crouch and Claire Martin, it just so happened to fall near to my birthday, so I thought, why not! Two birds with one stone! So, I moved the release date to my actual birthday.

On reflection, I feel that because of the time spent working on creating this album, which I then sat on it for so long after it was recorded – almost 18 months, mainly due to personal circumstances and to overcome the nerves of actually putting it out there, I must say I am proud of where I am and what I have achieved at this milestone in my life.

What impresses greatly about the album is not just the song choices but how they are presented and arranged. How did you decide on the repertoire that encompasses songs from the Great American Songbook as well as a couple of hard bop compositions?

As I was lucky to have Claire as producer on this project, we whittled down a long list of tunes and selected the ones that would be most hard hitting and that hopefully portray a cohesive narrative.

In terms of initially longlisting the songs on the album, it was really just a product of what I listen to and how my personal discovery of the jazz repertoire has evolved over the last 25 years or so. I can tell you where I was when I first heard the big band music of Count Basie on “Sinatra at the Sands” – I can tell you confidently that there were not many 14 year olds in the late 90’s listening to Frank – maybe I was strange! Then I discovered Mel Torme and vividly recall hearing the 1961 recording of “A Stranger in Town” I absolutely fell in love with that haunting sound. These big bands and large orchestrations led me almost organically onto more subgenres of jazz like the bebop tunes, hardbop and Latin. Finding Freddie Hubbard and Horace Silver alongside Miles and Charlie Parker was just eye opening. This is the music that excites me. And so, to encompass all of these influences in my album just made sense.

Full credit goes to Rob Barron who has beautifully crafted the arrangements that have coalesced all those great tunes into a coherent and cohesive sound.

And talking about pianist Rob Barron, you have known Rob for many years. How did you first meet Rob and get in touch again for this recording?

It has been roughly 12 years since first working with Rob. I remember sharing a gig at The Pheasantry and then the Spice of Life in Soho with another vocalist and Rob was the pianist for those gigs. When we met to rehearse the tunes, we hit it off. There was no one else I would’ve wanted to contact for this album I have always been such a fan of Rob’s playing and I am so lucky to have one of the best pianists of our time, on this recording.

Along with Rob on piano you have a top-notch rhythm section with Jeremy Brown on bass and drummer Mark Taylor. Had you played together much before the recording?

Having Jeremy and Mark onboard was amazing. To have such leading figures of the jazz scene, at the top of their game, playing on this record was such an honour. It was great to have instant chemistry on the recording considering we have not played together before the studio days. It was on Claire’s recommendation for Mark, he had recently returned from New York, playing with some of the all-time greats so I was blown away and very excited!

The addition of Quentin Collins on trumpet was an inspired idea. Can you confirm if it was your inspired idea, and had you played with Quentin on previous occasions?

It was a conscious decision to add Quentin as I knew I wanted to portray a harder bop feel for some tunes, I had always loved his playing and I remember seeing his set at Love Supreme Festival one year and was blown away by the energy and virtuosity of his playing. He happens to front one of the best bebop bands around today in Five-Way Split with Rob on piano. Quentin also arranged “Red Clay” for the album where he showcases all of those bop phrases in an immense solo. I was very lucky.

As we have already mentioned, Those Leftover Dreams is produced by Claire Martin, and Claire adds her wonderful vocals to ‘The Way Young Lovers Do’. I remember you telling me previously that you met Claire many years ago. How did you first meet, and what was it like to work with her on the album?

That really was the icing on the cake having Claire add her vocals. Yes, many years ago, early 2000’s, after her gig with Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, I hung around the stage door to hand her a demo CD. The demo itself left a lot to be desired, I think the three songs were recorded in an hour on a shoestring budget. The photo on the front was unfortunately taken before the times of photoshop – so I handed her the demo, acne and all! I didn’t hear anything at the time – I don’t blame her! But when we met again for this recording, I reminded her of the encounter. She actually remembered and recalled one of the tracks on it – I think she frisbeed it out of the car window on the way home!

As producer, she is incredible. She is extraordinarily organised and kept us all in check throughout the sessions. She is a fount of knowledge and to be able to have her impart her extensive expertise, ideas and energy was invaluable to me and I feel honoured to have had her by my side and I am very lucky to be able to call her my mate.

Your own musical journey goes back a few years too, from first turning professional at just sixteen and then going back to university, and even taking a step away from music completely for a time. What made you return to university to study, and seemingly abandon your musical ambitions?

No decision was taken lightly, however, I was gigging around, knocking on doors and trying to get a break. Once I booked a one-way ticket to Paris to chance my arm at establishing myself in France when the UK scene was proving difficult. Obviously, I booked a return eventually, it was a good experience but probably a story for another day.

I think the straw that broke the camel’s back was when I was asked to sing with a resident band in Cheshire, I made my way there from London, the gig was good and I had fun and it was well received, but due to the £25 gig fee, I was out of pocket and had to resort to jumping the barrier at the train station on the way home – I didn’t want to live that way. I needed a more stable income. So, I enrolled in Uni, studied a degree in cardiology, following in my mum’s footsteps who is a retired cardiac research nurse. I qualified and am now proud to be part of the NHS.

You must have missed singing and performing live during your time away from the music scene. What made you rethink, and follow your dreams to sing and record an album?

I definitely missed performing. The love for music did not disappear. The pivotal moment was during the pandemic. I was working in the NHS and as we all did, witnessed such a lot of heartbreaking situations. I figured what was important, next to family and friends, was striving to do what you love as you only live once and you should not give up. So, when I had the opportunity, I took it and started rekindling my relationship with music and I picked up those leftover dreams.

You started singing professionally as a teenager. I’m guessing that you weren’t a jazz singer at that time so what attracted you to the music, and who were your influences?

At that stage, it was all Frank Sinatra. I distinctly remember singing my first song in front of an audience. I was probably 15 years old, standing on stage in a smoky pub in the East End of London surrounded by some… interesting characters. I was very nervous and couldn’t stop my hand from shaking when I lifted the microphone – the song was “Nice n Easy” – How ironic!

Now that the album is soon to be released have you plans to focus once again on a career as a musician?

It’s already started! Releasing music in the 21st century is an intriguing beast. The digital platforms, playlists, AI algorithms and streams are all genuinely fascinating to me. There is so much more involved than just hustling for gigs. I am hooked, anew. So with my genuine passion for this music, there is no reason why I couldn’t focus, long term, as a musician.

Finally, is there a launch gig for Those Leftover Dreams and plans to take the music and band out on the road?

Yes! 17th April at Piano, Smithfield. There is an NHS discount too! The lineup is slightly different to the recording. Quentin was busy for the night, so I have brought in Fraser Smith on sax. I was instantly hooked on Fraser’s tenor playing on his album “Tip Top”. He has a big, rich bebop sound.

The hustle for gigs is ongoing, we are due at Pizza Express Pheasantry in August with Rob, Jeremy, Mark and Quentin.

Watch this space for more!

For more information visit michaesuttonjazz.com

Michael Sutton – Those Leftover Dreams Album Launch – Tickets available here