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To say that Bill Summers is a percussionist is like saying a Steinway is a piano: The noun conveys none of the history and quality of the owner of the title. Summers is a musician of the highest order, playing anything from traditional African instruments to pop bottles, and a cultural visionary who brings diverse people and ideas together. Whether working with Quincy Jones on the musical score for Roots, or the soundtrack to The Color Purple, or interpreting the music of the holiday Kwanza, Summers is cognizant of his heritage and its many contributions to world culture. His late-night musical soirées in his New Orleans home have often served as a lightning rod for creativity and success. Witness how Summers brought together Kim Provost and Bill Solley, winners of the 1999 BET Jazz Discovery Competition. The duo made their acquaintance at one of those late-night Summers sessions. Recognizing their alchemy, Summers asked them to join his Summer’s Heat tour.
And witness the fortuitous phone call from Irvin Mayfield to Jason Marsalis, who suggested that the trumpeter call Summers about his idea for a Latin rhythms/jazz fusion-inspired group. Late-night sessions at the Summers residence resulted in the 1998 formation of Los Hombres Calientes, an overnight sensation in New Orleans and then the world. Los Hombres Calientes tore the roof off Snug Harbor, the House of Blues, and ignited the stage at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival with its searing dance music and has produced three CDs.
The success of multi-award-winning Los Hombres Calientes owes much to the knowledge of the seasoned Summers, playing with Mayfield and Marsalis, both in their early twenties. Summers, a former Detroit Observatory student, R&B star (with “Call It What You Want” in 1981) and veteran of the Walter Payton Trio and Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters, knows literally hundreds of African and Cuban percussion rhythms from decades of study.
He and his musician wife, Yvette Bostic-Summers, who plays and sings with Los Hombres Calientes, steer the helm of the Summers Multi-Ethnic Institute of Art, which takes students to Cuba to study Afro-Cuban music. In 1999, Bill Summers and several of his students were initiated into the prestigious Yoruba order of sacred drummers by Estaban “Cha Chaa” Vega, the most revered drummer in Cuba.
This wealth of knowledge can be heard in Summers’ inspired playing on the Volumes 1, 2, and 3 CD releases of Los Hombres Calientes, as well as musical ventures with other groups that cross musical boundaries.
In 2001, he went on the Prescription Renewal Tour with friend, Headhunters colleague, and drummer Mike Clark, along with Paul Jackson on bass, Kyle Hollingsworth on keyboards, and Fred Wesley on trombone. 2002 found the original Los Hombres down to two, as Summers and Mayfield carry on without exiting member Marsalis and pick up Cuban drummer Horacio “El Negro” Hernández. Summers appears to know where he is going, perhaps because he knows where he has been.
Biography by Rose of Sharon Witmer with edits from Bill Summers
While in residence, Summers worked on his debut Afro-Diasporic Musical, “Segun the Drummer Boy.”