01/30/2012 at 02:00 PM EST
She may be a hip cat, but award-winning jazz vocalist Tierney Sutton
has a secret.
"I'm the crazy cat lady of jazz," says Sutton, 48, who along with her band, recently earned her fourth Grammy nomination.
"When I was touring for 10 years, I was bereft of cats," she says, "but now I have three."
They include two black angoras – a brother-sister combo named Buster and Queenie, both 2 – and 8-year-old Cheddar, a light orange tabby that she got four years ago. All three are rescues.
"I call them puppy cats," she says with a laugh. They're friendly and like to fetch bottle caps. They love being around people."
Buster is the most affectionate; Cheddar is friendly and the most beautiful; and Queenie is the most active. Sutton keeps them indoors full-time, since the Los Angeles neighborhood where she lives with her husband and son is frequented by coyotes.
Her cats have even become an inspiration to her over the years. "Cats are so connected to their surroundings and they are especially comfortable in their own shoes," she says. "They don't hoard and don't keep what they don't need. They're always in the moment. I do sort of worship them."
Together 18 years, the critically-acclaimed Tierney Sutton Band has recorded nine albums and has headlined at Carnegie Hall, the Hollywood Bowl and the Kennedy Center.
Though their time together has been a bit shorter, Sutton and her cats have quite a rapport. At her home studio, the feline trio camps out on the piano bench while Sutton works on her music. The cats collude to keep her from going on the road.
"They don't like it when I leave town," she says. "When they see me open my suitcase, they hop right in."