Ed Summerfield Lives the Musician’s Life
A man of many talents, Ed Summerfield finds his day job allows him to make music his creative priority.
Photo by Stephanie Williamson
If you’ve ever been to the Fireside Lounge in Alameda, chances are you’ve seen Ed Summerfield, either in the audience or on stage. A talented musician and singer-songwriter, Summerfield is a member of Hot Tin Roof, a classic/alt-rock cover band based in Alameda. He released his first full-length solo album, Songs of Degrees, in April. On the album, he plays everything from guitars, pianos, and drums to Indian harmonium, glockenspiel, and double-course zithers. He also incorporates Tibetan bowls, the floorboards of his house, a bicycle wheel, and a Thermos water bottle, to name a few miscellaneous sound makers.
Also a talented photographer who exhibits at Gray Loft Gallery and Jingletown Art Studios in Oakland, Summerfield left Southern California in search of a creative life in the Bay Area, landing in Alameda to raise a family. He said his greatest role in life is as husband to wife Adrienne for 29 years and father of two daughters, Haley, 24, and Madison, 20. He also claims to be the happiest clinical lab assistant who ever lived, working at Alta Bates Medical Center in Berkeley since 1983. Here is what he had to say about living the musician’s life in Alameda.
What are your roots and what brought you to Alameda?
I was born in 1959 and spent my early childhood in New York City and Westchester County. In 1970, my family moved to San Diego for my father Jack’s career as a general manager in public radio and television. By the age of 23, it was clear I needed to live in a more creatively productive metropolitan area, so on New Year’s day in 1983, I moved to the Bay Area with my best friend, singer Carmen Borgia. We formed a rock band, The Secret Sons of the Pope.
When I got engaged in 1990 to Adrienne, we had a debate about our future life together: my vision of living in a renovated artist loft versus her vision of a vintage experience. We settled in Alameda, a small town within the essential context of the greater Bay Area. We bought a bungalow and converted our one-car garage into a soundproof music room. I bonded with the local used vinyl shops and (now defunct) Thin Man Music on Webster Street, and within a month, I never looked back.
When did you know you wanted to be a musician and has it been everything you imagined for yourself?
Like thousands of musicians, I was struck by musical lightning at the first sound of the Beatles in 1964, and by the age of 6 or 7, I had a clear ambition of becoming a musician. By my late 20s, I saw that a steady paying career in music was not meant to be. After I made peace with that realization, my music became a creative priority unburdened by the pressure of it being my primary meal ticket.
My studio holds instruments I’ve collected for decades, and the luxury of a private music room means I can set up and leave it undisturbed for days. When I write, I reach for the instrument that inspires me and record brief passages on a computer or iPhone. I take a more formal approach to recording later, seeking new sounds by combining old speakers with various amps, mics, and preamps until I find what best suits the song.
Is the path everything I had hoped for? My favorite word is transcend and I use it a lot, if only to myself. I think it might come from the belief that the pursuit of creativity is a mysterious and constantly changing process.
How do you describe your music and your new album?
All of my mentors were jazz musicians who played many instruments, and I followed their example. Since my teens, I’ve had an agenda to produce an album of original material using all the instruments and techniques I’ve ever learned. My new album features my favorite songs that span my 35-year musical career. It took 10 years to record. I play most instruments myself and enlist other Alamedans for additional talent and support such as singer/artist KC Rosenberg and drummer Andrew Griffin.
When people listen to the album, I hope they experience a faint but growing recognition they can’t quite put their finger on, like a curious and pleasant taste that is undefinable. My dream is that my music turns the page for passionate listeners who long for a new feeling they can’t yet explain. My musical associate Dara Ackerman once called my sound “retro psychedelic folk progressive art rock.” That about covers it.
Who are your creative influences and who is on your playlist right now?
My parents, Jack and Preshia, were both natural supporters of the arts who found themselves surrounded by creative people their entire lives. I was influenced by the staff at radio station WRVR in New York, where my dad worked, including notable post Beat-era poet Anne Waldman, painter Walter Tandy Murch, and his son, filmmaker Walter Murch. I have a history of visual artists and writers as friends and appreciate an alternative creative outlet with my photography when my music pretends to deny me.
I assume my tastes might have followed a slightly different course if my family had stayed in New York, but the impact of California teachers and friends was so important I can’t imagine what would have happened if they hadn’t existed. And the Beatles, Bowie, Brian Eno, and Neil Young are among my long-term icons and influences, though my playlist has relatively current musicians like Jake Bugg, Kurt Vile, Alabama Shakes, Sufjan Stevens, Greta Van Fleet, and anything involving Chris Thile.
What are your favorite things about living in Alameda?
Our home is near McKinley Park within walking distance to Park Street. One of the things my family treasures most about Alameda is the rare privilege of walking in virtually any area during the evening and feeling safe. We love to hit Park Street for a casual dinner at The Star on Park, Cholita Linda, or Thai Noodle House of Alameda. Afterwards, we might drop into De Lauer’s Super News Stand or Books Inc., before making our frequent pilgrimage to Rocket Reuse vintage shop. Variations include picking up a growler-to-go from Alameda Island Brewing Company or a stop at the stunning tequila bar at La Penca Azul if we have something to celebrate.
And of course, the Fireside Lounge. Hot Tin Roof has appreciated playing there alongside other local talent like Felsen and Stonedog, and I always like joining my open mic pals Georgia Sam, Troubador Billy Wolosky, and Sarah Rutter onstage when I can. Back home in my studio, I’ve begun recording the sequel album to Songs of Degrees, a process that may take another 10 years to record,
Music from Ed Summerfield’s album is scheduled to appear on major streaming services (Apple, Spotify, etc.) this summer. For more info about his new album and bookings, contact him at SummerfieldSongsOfDegrees@gmail.com.