A Summers Place
By Rich Collins
MARCH 2, 1998: Last December, Andy Summers bumped into the Edge in a Vancouver airport. Summers, the former guitarist for the Police, was on his way to play a small club date for several hundred fans. The U2 guitarist, meanwhile, was headed for the local arena to see a million faces and rock them all.
Looking back at the chance encounter, Summers says it was a perfect example of how much things have changed in the last decade. When the Police were in their early '80s glory, a little known Irish band named U2 was an occasional opening act. Now, the only time Summers will see the inside of an arena is if he buys tickets for a Lakers game.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Summers is content being a former member of a hugely popular group. He's got better ways to spend his days.
"I was in one of the best rock bands of all time," says the fiftysomething guitar player. "It's boring for me. I've already done it. Not to sound jaded, but that's it."
Post-Police life for Summers is very different from the years spent touring the world and racking up huge album sales.
A resident of Santa Monica, Calif., for the last decade, the former Sting sideman is busy raising his three kids, playing music in his Venice Beach studio and embarking on semi-regular tours. He's still fascinated by the guitar, but he's also an avid reader, photographer and painter. He combs The New York Times every day. He plays at a small jazz club called the Baked Potato every Friday night. He takes regular vacations with the kids (like last week's trip to Mexico).
Summers says this lifestyle away from the limelight has rekindled his creative energy.
"I think music should be a self-renewing process," he says. "I'm just as interested now as when I started out. There's always stuff to learn, and I enjoy being in the process, whether on guitar or learning pieces of music or playing piano. It's very enjoyable to be on a quest to learn and understand more."
Summers' new disc, The Last Dance of Mr. X, documents the improvisational work he's been doing in a trio format, and he comes Sunday to the Howlin' Wolf to play his new music with bassist Dave Carpenter and drummer Mike Shapiro.
To many old Police fans, the Andy Summers solo sound is largely mysterious. Friendly rock hooks are nowhere to be found. Instead, listeners find spacy jazz-fusion improvisation and other signatures of the "musician's musician." To Summers, however, the chance to break away from expectations is a relief.
"Rock music has a need to make you like it," says Summers. "It's very ingratiating. I was trying to get to a more ideal place, where there's room for the viewer or listener to interact."
Of course, it's hard for Summers to entirely distance himself from rock 'n' roll. After all, his unusual chord washes and Caribbean innovations have influenced a generation of rock players. And Summers, for his part, enjoys playing the role of a guitar guru, especially if the image will allow him to play club shows around the world for years to come.
"You have to take whatever you can get," he says, laughing. "It's a good thing. It provides a platform. There's no question that the Police were very influential, but, for me, it was a while ago, and I don't work in that vein anymore. My mission is to bring people in to what I'm doing now -- and it takes a lot of energy and consideration."
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