Artist Feature: Michael Summer

Michael Summer, one of our fellow Berkeley High School alumni, is a saxophonist whose journey has taken him through Santa Cruz , Berklee College of Music in Boston, and now New York City. Highlighting the importance and strength of Reflection and Response listening, Michael stresses the centrality of using his ears in his creative process. He also brings up the beauty that can result from artists who learn the difficult task of stripping away desires to participate in creative dialogue. A recent New York transplant, he’s been working in various local musical spaces, including playing with Tiger Speak , The Love Experiment, and MoRuf. We look forward to hearing more from these bands along with Mike’s plans to record solo material later on this year!

Michael Summer

Reflection and Response really is about listening for me. It’s a hard art, and seems to be a creative tool that is being less and less stressed these days. Whether it be in music, physical or digital art, dance, poetry, or day to day conversation and interaction, truly listening and being aware of what’s out there can be a very difficult thing to do.

– Michael Summer

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?
MS: Born in Oakland, CA and spent my high school years in Berkeley. Moved on to Santa Cruz for three years where I studied physics and later got involved in music and studying the saxophone. After living in a beach paradise, scooted off to frigid Boston where I went to Berklee College of Music and did jazz studies. Moved to Harlem in November of 2013 and moved to Brooklyn 2 weeks ago. I’m finally feeling settled into this glorious madness of a city.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

MS: Reflection and Response really is about listening for me. It’s a hard art, and seems to be a creative tool that is being less and less stressed these days. Whether it be in music, physical or digital art, dance, poetry, or day to day conversation and interaction, truly listening and being aware of what’s out there can be a very difficult thing to do. The world of facebook statuses and twitter posts has made it easy to broadcast and yell out to the ethersphere with a minimum amount of dialogue and discourse at times. Honest interaction can be tough to come by. So whenever I’m playing with a group of musicians, or trying to help run a rehearsal, I really try to do my absolute best to listen for what the music needs and where everyone is falling into place in the moment that is being created. I love to make improvised music with friends and really create a conversation. If you can remove ego, the need to be self-satisfied, and put aside the hunger for validation, you can make some amazing things happen. It’s one of the hardest things to do in my opinion. And most people, myself included, are scared at times to open up in that honest way without letting your human desires get in the way of honest expression. It’s amazing to witness when it happens though, and an incredible thing to be a part of. This dude Thundercat gave one of the best performances I’ve ever witnessed about a month ago that left me on cloud nine.

One of my favorite interviews is with Bruce Lee where he discusses honest expression.

How does your work fit in with that definition?

MS: I’m in a hip hop group called Tiger Speak that I’m very excited about. We’ve been together for a bit now, and I think the concept of listening is really coming together for us. I can be a pain in the ass sometimes during rehearsals, trying to get the “mix” just right be it dynamics, fills, intonation, form, flow, or improvisation. Of course, micro-managing a piece of music or a group of musicians can be mighty dangerous artistically, so you really have to have a balance of letting people go and doing their thing and reining in the group as a whole. It’s really the collision of the technical and the artistic, the age old battle (or harmony) of the classical versus the romantic approach.

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

MS: I started playing with New Jersey native rapper MoRuf recently. My friend Carter Lee got the group together and we made a short video and played out in Jersey with Jesse Boykins III. It was a blast to see the NJ hip hop scene out there, lots of love. Recently started playing with my friends The Love Experiment whose music I have been in love with for years. We have a show March 26th at Webster Hall that I’m excited for. Really looking forward to getting my own group together, been writing some music that I’m hoping to get recorded later in the year. The city is too damn inspiring to stay idle.

Who or what inspires you?

MS: What inspires me? Great music, good food, beautiful people, and these ridiculous dancers on the A train. Been listening to this amazing producer Knxwledge, as well as Samiyam. Also lots of Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Dexter Gordon, Hank Mobley, Modern Jazz Quartet, Daft Punk, and Ambrose Akinmusire.

Is there anything else you would like the Collective to know?

MS: Listen! Take a step back from what’s happening around you without interjecting yourself immediately into the fray and ask yourself what you want to contribute to the situation. People’s agendas can really muck things up while glorious happenings are to be had. Do you, but do you in the context of a community, and do you to the fullest. (probably a little too preachy, ha!)

I also love education. Taught a physics course to at-risk 16 year-olds in Boston this summer while teaching music with another program. I currently tutor in the city and am always looking to do more with education. It really balances out my music, and kids are awesome. High school students are some of the most inspiring people I’ve met.
Shout out to…?

MS: Shout out to my father Mark Summer, who is one of the most inspiring musicians I’ve ever met. He practices honest expression every day of his life!

Reflection and Response.

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3 thoughts on “Artist Feature: Michael Summer

  1. […] David Adams, Greg Freidman, Perry Young, Michael ‘Fan’ Summer, John Lawrence, Evan […]

  2. Carol Summer says:

    This is one of the most interesting and inspiring dialogues I have ever read. I salute and adore my grandson, the incomparable Michael Summer!

  3. […] met music producer Wax Roof through our homie and fellow LIFESTYLE collective member Mike Summer. Originally from Santa Cruz and now living in Oakland, Wax Roof discusses the importance of […]


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