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A word with Bill Summers and Mike Clark of The Headhunters, before their 50th anniversary show

Bill Summers and Mike Clark of The Headhunters
Courtesy of the artists
Bill Summers and Mike Clark of The Headhunters

The music of The Headhunters was crucial to my foundation and understanding of improvisational music. As a toddler borrowing albums from my father’s collection, I was musically socialized by the over-the-bar grooves of Herbie Hancock, Bill Summers, Paul Jackson, Bennie Maupin, Mike Clark and Harvey Mason.

Since their founding 50 years ago, original members Bill Summers (hand drums) and Mike Clark (trap drums) have stepped forward to lead the band with a cast that now includes NEA Jazz Master and alto saxophonist Donald Harrison, bassist Chris Severin, and pianist Kyle Roussel. Ahead of a show at Brooklyn Bowl Philadelphia this Saturday (presented by WRTI and WXPN), I connected with Summers and Clark to learn more about their origins in the early 1970s, which first brought them into the group.

Our chat was casual and in-the moment. They felt comfortable enough to share some great stories — like a memory of playing at Philadelphia’s Bijou Theater on the first gig of their first tour with Herbie Hancock in 1973. The band's multifaceted influence has led me into a new world of possibilities. (Their materials also had a direct impact on my actual literacy: my mom taught me to read at three and four years old by helping me to sound out the names and credits listed on their albums’ liner notes.)

One listen to their new album on Ropeadope, Speakers in the House, reveals the band tastefully simmering and subsequently dishing out everything in their groove arsenal. Summers and Clark, in particular, sound just as inspired and energized as ever. Staying in the groove must run in tandem with the Fountain of Youth.

Brooklyn Bowl Philadelphia is a proud sponsor of WRTI.

Greg Bryant has been a longtime curator of improvisational music as a broadcaster, writer, host and musician. As a young child, he began absorbing the artistry of Miles Davis, Les McCann, Jimmy Smith, James Brown, Ornette Coleman, Weather Report, and Jimi Hendrix via his parent's record collection. He was so moved by what he was experiencing that he took pride in relaying all of his discoveries with anyone who would listen.