Sting took time to look back at his groundbreaking 1985 solo debut, The Dream Of The Blue Turtles. The album, which was released on June 1st, 1985, went on to spend 19 weeks in the Top 10 — six of them at Number Two behind Dire Straits' Brothers In Arms, on which he was featured.
Sting recalled to UDiscovermusic.com how the project took shape in January 1985 upon meeting saxophonist, Branford Marsalis: “We got on like a house on fire and started talking about music. I said I was interested in starting a band. I didn’t specify what type of band it would be. But obviously, the people he knew from the jazz world were from that world. They came from Weather Report, Miles Davis. . . The first person he brought to my attention was Kenny Kirkland, who was this amazing piano player.”
He went on to recall, “The (musicians) knew where I was coming from, and the idea was not really to make a jazz record. We made a record with a feel of jazz, maybe, but the music was arranged and then we played it. Then everybody said, 'Oh, I’m making a jazz record. But that wasn’t the case. . . It’s the same way I’ve always worked. Music is a happy thing, and this group of musicians were all happy to be there working with me, working on this material, so it was a lovely experience.”
Among the most important tracks on Blue Turtles was “Russians” which sought to bridge the gap between the West and the Soviet Union on the most basic, human terms: “I was brought up in the shadow of the Cold War in the 1950's and the '60s with this threat of nuclear annihilation over us. So, obviously, for anyone in my generation, that was on your mind a lot. And also this idea that I think (President Ronald) Reagan put out that the Russians were the evil empire, and they weren’t quite human. I think that was the underlying text of all of that. So, I really wanted to get to the bottom of that. We’re all human beings despite whatever ideology or whatever flag is flown at the moment. We all have the same fears and the same anxieties and the same hopes for the world.”
Fans were struck at the time that for his solo debut, he chose to include a reworked, jazz-based cover of the Police's 1980 Zenyatta Mondatta favorite, “Shadows In The Rain”: “They’re my songs and having a band, you want to reinterpret the songs the way maybe jazz players do. Some jazz repertoire is the same songs just reinterpreted every time they record. I don’t treat my songs as being museum pieces or holy relics. They’re there to be used. They’re there to be adapted and have new life breathed into them.”
Sting went on to tour internationally with The Dream Of The Blue Turtles ensemble — a bunch of musicians he still reveres: “That was a fantastic band. If you saw that band, it blew people’s minds. The first gig we did was in Paris. We rented a theater called the Mogador for a week, and we played the new material for a whole week. It was the same week that one of my sons, Jake, was born, so that was a big memory. I would go straight from the stage to the hospital at least two nights in a row. But yeah, we just had a great time. It was lovely. We lost Kenny Kirkland a few years ago. But Branford and I are still friends and we all have a lot of fond memories of those times.”
The Dream Of The Blue Turtles was originally conceived as just one of the three separate solo projects he, Andy Summers, and Stewart Copeland embarked on following the global success of the band’s Grammy Award-winning 1983 Synchronicity album and its subsequent world tour, which stretched into 1984. Barring one reunion track the following year for their greatest hits compilation, The Dream Of The Blue Turtles marked the end of the Police and the official start of Sting's solo career.
In addition to Branford Marsalis and Kenny Kirkland, Sting enlisted the era's top young jazz musicians for the sessions, introducing a whole new audience to such heavyweights as drummer Omar Hakim, and future Rolling Stones bassist Darryl Jones — who was then best known for his work with Miles Davis. The Dream Of The Blue Turtles, which was co-produced by Sting and Pete Smith, went on to snag Grammy nominations for Album Of The Year, Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, and Best Engineered Recording.
Sting told us that despite his fans criticizing him at the time for switching musical gears — he didn't “go jazz” — as many Police fans accused him of doing: “It wasn't really a direction. It might've looked like a direction because of the casting of the band was very much from the world of jazz; but we weren't playing jazz. Anything but. That direction was driven by songs. Very disparate song genres. As different as 'Moon Over Bourbon Street,' which is a kind of Kurt Weil sort of (laughs) strange theater song, to “Fortress Around Your Heart,” uh, “If You Love Someone Set Them Free” — it was just a very, very disparate collection of songs. No, there was no, like, 'direction.' There was no, like, 'This is what we're doing' — other than me exploring my freedom.”
Although Sting's initial break from the Police was only supposed to be temporary — yet open ended, solo super-stardom kept him from rejoining his bandmates for nearly a quarter century. Andy Summers told us he's got no issues with the fact that Sting essentially left the Police behind following the release of Blue Turtles: “I think he made, y'know, what was the right decision for him. Y'know, I don't point any fingers at him for doing that. Y'know, we'd had phenomenal success. . . Y'know, he wanted to do his own thing and, and he actually proved it, because he has become a very successful male solo singer. Now, a lot of guys who leave big bands, that's not true, or they don't make it, and then they have to do the reunion thing, y'know?”