Bill Summers is a New Orleans-based fixture on the Afro-Cuban and Latin percussion scene. The Detroit, Michigan native studied classical piano as a youngster, but morphed into a percussionist as he came of age. Now recognized as one of the elders of world beat rhythms, he specializes in congas but can be found playing just about any instrument from timbales to tin cans.
Biill Summers has served on the forefront of the jazz fusion and Afro-Cuban jazz movements, and is perhaps best known for his work with Herbie Hancock, the Headhunters, and with the Grammy-nominated Los Hombres Calientes. He recorded some seven albums with his own band, Summer’s Heat, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and had hits with the singles “Straight to the Bank” and “Call It What You Want.” He recorded another ten releases with Hancock, including the Headhunters’ self-titled debut album in 1973 and the 1998 “Return of the Headhunters.” He has recorded and performed with a slew of musical greats, including Eddie Henderson, David “Fathead” Newman, Carlos Santana, Jerry Garcia, Anita Baker, Dizzy Gillespie, Stevie Wonder, Jay Z, Barry White, Jill Scott, Prince, and a host of others.
In the 1990s he teamed with trumpeter Irvin Mayfield and vibraphonist and fellow percussionist Jason Marsalis to form Los Hombres Calientes. The group (in which Cuban percussionist Horacio "El Negro" Hernández eventually replaced Marsalis) issued five much-acclaimed CDs on the Basin Street label and collected a number of Billboard Latin Music nominations and awards, as well as a Grammy nomination.
Summers has also worked in film, most notably with Quincy Jones on the soundtracks to “Roots,” “The Wiz,” and “The Color Purple.” In recent years, in addition to performing with several notable jazz groups, he has developed educational programs to study sacred drumming in Cuba and the New Orleans-based Kamp Kids, a program to educate young people about music traditions.
His most recent musical projects include Bill Summers and Jazalsa, which can be heard at the French Quarter Festival, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and other venues.