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VALLEY WEEKEND | SOUNDS

Bebop Artist Needs to Toot His Own Horn

Jazz trumpeter appearing at Monty's should be better known. His solos are superb, but his introspective manner works against him.

August 01, 1996|ZAN STEWART | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In the Southern California jazz arena, there are hundreds of top-flight players who aren't as well-known as they should be. Bob Summers--a bebop-bent trumpeter whose solos overflow with long strands of gorgeous notes--is one such player.

Summers, 51, has played with the best. In the past, he was a member of bands led by Count Basie, Buddy Rich, Maynard Ferguson and Woody Herman and he currently appears regularly around Southern California with large ensembles fronted by Bill Holman, Frank Capp, Roger Neumann and Chuck Flores. From 1993-94, he toured with hard bop maestro Horace Silver.

But Summers lacks a current CD--his last solo album came out in the early '80s--and he has an introspective rather than an in-your-face personality. Both factors are drawbacks in getting work as a soloist or leader.

The trumpeter talked about the realities of trying to book small jazz groups in the Greater Los Angeles area. "I sometimes get discouraged because it takes so much time talking to club owners, and then when you get a job, you're not talking about big money," said Summers, who has an infrequent starring engagement tonight through Saturday, when he appears with Danny Pucillo's trio at Monty's in Woodland Hills.

"And unless you have a steady band, which I don't, you can't always get the guys you want, so then you can't play the music you want to. Plus, I have a family, kids," said Summers, speaking from his Canoga Park home where he lives with his wife Marilyn and their two children, Samantha, 16, and Ashley, 12.

"I have to help support them, so I can't just do what I want to, like when I was first starting to play jazz and didn't care about anything else. Now, I have new priorities."

Summers, who makes almost all his living working as a sideman in either big bands, stage shows or on records, isn't one to sit around and mope or complain. He recently led a quintet at Borders Books in Thousand Oaks, which has started a Thursday night jazz policy, and he appeared at a promotional concert at Gelson's in Calabasas. "I have a positive attitude for the future," he said. "I think that someday my time as a jazz musician will come."

In the meantime, he's thrilled to be part of a band like Holman's, in which he's a featured soloist and can be heard on Holman's latest album, "A View From the Side" (JVC). And he's knocked out by getting a chance to play at Monty's, where he performed a one-nighter a month ago, offering a choice selection of classic pop and jazz standards.

"It's a lot of fun. The band swings," he said of playing with drummer Pucillo's threesome, which usually includes bop-based piano ace Claude Williamson and bassist Ernie McDaniel. "There, I just want to construct good solos that make sense, that are melodic and which the audience can appreciate. I'm not just a technical player, but I think a lot of people like me because I do play fast. I'm not a person of few notes."

Born in Turlock in central California, Summers took up trumpet at age 10, and discovered jazz soon thereafter. "My mother brought home a record with a lot of trumpeters, like Louis Armstrong and Mugsy Spanier. They played with a feeling I really liked," he said. "Then I bought 'Newport '56' by Duke Ellington and wore it out."

Summers learned to play jazz while in the U.S. Navy from 1962-66, and discovered the great bebop trumpeter Clifford Brown, who remains his idol. He advanced his skills by studying at the Berklee College of Music in Boston from 1967-70. Summers then joined Herman, Ferguson ("I learned professionalism, how to play well under any circumstances"), Rich ("His whole approach was fire and intensity") and Basie, with whom he worked from 1980-85 and was a soloist on several recordings, among them "88 Basie Street" and "Farmer's Market Barbecue."

Back in Los Angeles, Summers worked with many leaders, among them singer Natalie Cole and composer-arranger Holman, whom he reveres.

"He's like the Stravinsky of jazz, always trying to stretch things as far as they'll go," said Summers. "He's unique, an avant-garde big band writer who refuses to compromise his musicality. He could be pleasing the masses but he doesn't care about that."

* Bob Summers plays tonight through Saturday with Danny Pucillo's trio at Monty's Steakhouse, 5371 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Woodland Hills. Showtimes: tonight, 7:30-11:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 8:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m. No cover, no minimum. (818) 716-9736.

Heat's On: For steaming tenor sax solos that make you want to tap your foot, count on sax man Charles Owens to do the job. The artist appears Friday, 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., at Chadney's, 3000 W. Olive St., Burbank; no cover, one drink minimum per show; (818) 843-5333.

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