Music Interview: The suite sounds of Summers

When routine becomes too comfortable and life starts feeling monotonous, boredom is rather inescapable. Some may try to shake-up routine through acts of spontaneity like not going to work, getting evicted, living on the street for a while, et cetera. Jazz artist Johnny Summers leaves home to study with professional musicians.

“I find that I need to keep pushing myself and to just keep improving,” he claims. “Otherwise I get bored. As an artist, if you get bored you become stagnant. I’ve gone through periods of that, I’ll be honest, so I like doing self directed studies.”

Summers’ most recent self directed study took him to New York, where he studied with the likes of Wynton Marsalis, Wycliffe Gordon, and Laurie Frink. Now Summers has returned to Calgary to premier his brand new composition, a religious story known as Suite Jubilation.

“[Suite Jubilation] is a piece that kind of follows the Biblical story from creation until after the Old Testament, right into the New Testament,” explains Summers. “I wrote [the suite] when I was studying in New York. A lot of it was pulled from music that I was influenced by there.”

Besides the influence of his New York experience, Summers also cites inspiration from Duke Ellington’s sacred concerts and, of course, his religious background. Though his intentions in creating Suite Jubilation had a religious purpose, his thoughts are mostly guided towards creating powerful pieces of art to move audiences, whether they’re religious or not.

“Most art is for the artistic sake; for the sake of actually moving someone and not just a vanity project,” says Summers. “My favourite thing about playing music is touching the audience.”

Summers will get his opportunity to captivate an audience on April 7, when he debuts three movements of Suite Jubilation: “The Birth,” “I See Him Walking” and “Praises to our God.” The movements are stylistically separate from one another and represent their own portion of the story of Suite Jubilation.

“The suite itself encompasses all the styles that jazz has to offer,” says Summers. “Or maybe not all, but most of them. ‘The Birth’ is a very gentle movement about the birth of Christ; ‘I See Him Walking’ is about the people looking on [as Christ carried the cross] and the different emotions and thoughts they had. It’s more of a modern type of jazz.”

Through experimenting with different styles of jazz, Johnny Summers hopes to move audiences with his Suite Jubilation, regardless of their musical background. Sometimes it only takes a bit of boredom to get the inspiration flowing.

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