Graham Summers
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Graham Summers

Band Alternative Singer/Songwriter

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Music

The best kept secret in music

Press


"Summers’ Heavy Heat"

English major: thick, proselike, full of metaphor and hyperbole. He spends months and even years tossing around concepts in his head until he comes out with something workable—usually something that starts with a simple but profound concept as its seed or a delicate metaphor at its heart.

If Graham Summers were, say, a singer/songwriter type, or a spoken-word poet, oh what a drag his songs would be. Thankfully, the 24-year-old singer and guitarist is the frontman for local quintet Jayakar, a band that plays a funky blend of jazz fusion and pop rock that gives an invaluable lightness to Summers’ heavy concepts. The band’s keen sense of melody arrangement balances the complexity of Summers’ songcraft, and the result is a big greasy plate of philosophical vitamins with all the calories of a hippie-rock continental breakfast, captured on its debut EP, Set Your Senses Free.

Take “The Street,” a song that Summers dedicates to the 19th-century poet John Keats. Its subject is a character named Anji who is modeled after themes from Keats’ Odes and after Romantic-era heroines such as William Blake’s Thel. Practicing the song last month in a studio on the second floor of Peabody Conservatory, Summers sang the thoughts of his protagonist: “This desire it surpasses reason/ Can I find an earth-dwelling Eden?/ How I ache . . . ”

Exactly: Guh. But the basic groove behind the song is driven by chunky piano chords from Summers’ younger brother Alec and a meandering sax riff from Alex Mekelberg, and sounds like Ben Folds Five playing jazz on uppers—almost exuberant and effortlessly danceable. In rehearsal, drummer and Peabody junior Shareef Taher’s facial features twist soulfully as he taps out beats that recall Dave Matthews Band’s Carter Beauford and that strengthen Ethan Montgomery’ bass lines. The Summers brothers work out round vocal harmonies across the room from one another, their voices occasionally sounding snippy when they can’t make their parts jive.

“We like to keep the emphasis on funky beats and melodies,” Summers says over the phone from the Eastern Shore, where he is attending a publishing industry conference (his day job is as an editor at Agora Publishing in Mount Vernon). “But my lyrics really help me sort things out. Ultimately, my real goal lyrically is to have a cohesive body of work where the songs reference other songs, almost like a cosmology of our music.”

Appropriately cosmic enough, the name of the band comes from a Hindi word associated with Karttikeya, the god of war, and since the lineup solidified in the early months of 2005, the band’s logo, a silhouetted seahorse behind a graphic of their name, has become more and more ubiquitous around Baltimore, Hampden in particular.

“Yeah, I keep seeing it on cars, and our name in the subject lines of e-mails,” Summers says. “People see the name of the band and say, ‘Oh, that’s the seahorse band.’”

Jayakar recently attracted the attention of Eric Willison, a local filmmaker who got tired of making instructional videos and started making movies about Hampden’s arts scene, starting with recycled-metal artist Jim Pollock. Summers saw the Pollock film and “was quite taken with it. So I spoke to Eric, and it turned out that he had been coming to our shows for quite a while.”

Willison has started work on a promotional documentary about Jayakar and its story. The documentary finds the band onstage, in rehearsal, and just hanging out, working through the songs that it recorded last August for Set Your Senses Free. The band will start selling copies of the disc, with a proper CD-release party slated for June 24 at Frazier’s on the Avenue.

Listening to the record, you can sense the time line of the band’s development. In the hands of less well-trained and seasoned players, their songs would be 12-minute-long noodle-fests, full of wanking solos and bad wah-wah. Instead, Jayakar keeps its compositions short and shuffles through thematic parts and bridges with the ease of bebop heads. The sax lines occasionally sound like elevator jams, but their smoothness complements Summers’ more suave lyrical moments, like when he tells you he wants to “Lick you hard/ Like a plum/ Swollen with/ Spring and sun,” in “Sliding Doors.”

Such tact and maturity is a function of the members being mostly conservatory-educated musicians who grew up playing together. All of them, save Taher, attended Columbia’s River Hill High School and started playing together sophomore year. “We were all a lot more pretentious back then,” Summers says. “And the sound was a little more the jam thing. I think we all grew up and realized what’s musical and what’s just self-indulgent.”

They parted ways for a few years, Graham Summers to study English at Oberlin College, his brother music at Northwestern University. Original drummer Ryan Mead left the band to attend Stanford University, which led them to seek out Taher. Now all living in the Baltimore area, and either studying o - Baltimore's City Paper


"Adept Jayakar wows crowd at Frazier's"

By MELISSA ARTNAK
March 09, 2006

Following DEFAWNK's performace was Jayakar, another band with ties to Hopkins. Drummer Shareef Taher is a senior at Peabody. Taher is the newest addition to Jayakar. When their previous drummer wasn't able to play with the band anymore, lead singer and guitarist Graham Summers looked to Peabody for finding new talent, and he came across Taher.

Jayakar has been together since 1999, when the rest of the band -- Summers, Alex Mekelburg (saxophone and flute), Ethan Montgomery (bass) and Alec Summers (keyboard) -- went to high school together. They took a break as its members went to different colleges, but recently most of the original members ended up in the Baltimore area, so they've been back in action since 2004.

"Our music has matured," Summers said. "We play more melody-heavy songs that are singable and hummable."

At the performance at Frazier's, Jayakar's jam band roots were still apparent. Their overall sound is very melodic and radio-friendly, with a pleasant mix of well-blended instrumentations and vocals by the Summers brothers.

They played an eight-song set, including seven original pieces and one cover -- Prince's "Musicology." One standout song was "House of Wind," a fast-paced piece with a harder sound that has more of a funk feel than some of their other songs. Also notable was "The Muse," a mellow piece that placed its main focus on the vocals and lyrics.

"Baltimore has a really good punk scene and indie rock scene, but I don't think there's a much of a community of funk and hip-hop," Summers said. "That's why I got DEFAWNK and Eyekon to play. The purpose for me was to put on an event that everyone would enjoy being at, get a good crowd, and lay down the foundation for a pool of musicians to draw from."
- Johns Hopkins Review


Discography

Mosquitoes (Single) 2000
Set Your Senses Free Ep 2004
The House of Wind (Single) 2006

Airplay:
Mosquitoes (single with airplay on University of Cincinnati's Bearcast: http://www.uc.edu/bearcast/)
The Muse (from Set Your Senses Free) & House of Wind: Both played on Insomnia Radio in Baltimore: http://baltimore.insomniaradio.net/articles/home.imp)

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

Graham's musical career began at age 10, when he first began playing guitar. Within months he was writing songs and by the age of 16 was in and out of recording studios.

He attended Oberlin College where he earned a degree in English while also studying jazz guitar and classical voice at the school's conservatory.

Graham combines his interest in literature and philosophy with his music to create songs that are multi-layered, intelligent, and catchy. The end result are songs that are intricate both musically and lyrically.