With autumn here and the temperature dropping by the day, any opportunity to store up some heat and light is worthwhile. Jazz bassist, composer and educator Summer Kodama splits her time between Montreal and Las Vegas, and will be bringing her Sun Warriors ensemble to the OFF Jazz Festival. PAN M 360 connected with Kodama to find out more about the Sun Warriors’ tactics and strategies, as well as her own active dedication to diversity in her musical realm and beyond.
PAN M 360: What is the guiding principle or intention of Sun Warriors?
Summer Kodama: This ensemble encourages vulnerable expression, risk-taking improvisations, the visibility of a diverse representation of artists, and the showcasing of original compositions. The guiding musical principle of this project is to encourage a sense of honesty and liberation through improvisation. The group explores creating compositions from narratives and guidelines together in real time–always with a sense of continuity, intention, and structure.
PAN M 360: You released a single this past spring, “Birds of a Feather, Free from a Tether”. The two sax players in the sextet, Montrealers Allison Burik and Claire Devlin, will also be with you on Oct. 8 at Resonance Café. Is this single a good indication of what listeners can expect that night?
Summer Kodama: Yes. The representation of the band that performed “Birds of a Feather, Free from a Tether” is something I wanted to replicate for OFF. From a compositional standpoint, some of my most recent works are inspired by poems and literature.
PAN M 360: You are involved in this performance as a bass player, but also as composer. What are your personal priorities as a composer? What makes you call a piece you’ve written a keeper?
Summer Kodama: I believe honesty is the most important component of self-expression. I try to convey this idea through my moments of playing and improvising as a bassist, and through being a composer–like Charles Mingus. I love that he was never apologizing for what he had to say, because I’ve been through stages of apologizing all the time for no reason in real life. I think if a composition accurately reflects a feeling, recollection, or moment in time, that’s the first step for me to realize that I have something to work with and expand upon.
PAN M 360: Inclusivity and diversity, making sure everyone has a voice in jazz (and elsewhere), is clearly of vital importance to you. What are your strategies for achieving that? You’ve been working with Nevada School of the Arts and Jazz Outreach Initiative to this purpose, and also founded the Healing Hearts Cooperative.
Summer Kodama: I recently wrote a grant proposal for an initiative. I also wrote an article recently about considering equity in alternative models of mentorship. My pursuits recently regarding the matter have been toward engaging the community. Actively creating the space and opportunity for underrepresented young musicians to succeed is crucial to initializing a culture of equity.