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!
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
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?
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!)
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.