By Stephanie Powell
Mark Summer, founding member and cellist of the Turtle Island Quartet (TIQ), is leaving the group in January 2016 to pursue a solo career—his successor will be the Carolina Chocolate Drop’s cellist Malcolm Parson.
“This is really my second gig,” Summer says of his 30 years spent with the TIQ. “When I graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Music, I went into the Winnipeg Symphony for three years. I took a year off and freelanced, and started to improvise on cello. That’s really when I started figuring out what I was going to do post-classical career.”
After a year of freelancing, Summer moved out to California, and that’s when he met fellow TIQ founding members David Balakrishnan and Darol Anger. “The combination of my classical training at the Cleveland Institute of Music, the improvising I had done that proceeding year and the kind of music that David was writing for string quartet fit really well,” he says of the group’s beginnings.
TIQ’s last major personnel change came in 2012 when violinist Mateusz Smoczynski and violist Benjamin von Gutz joined the group.
“Every group, particularly one that has been together for 30 years, reaches transition points along their journey,” David Balakrishnan, TIQ violinist and founder, said in a statement. “We are so happy for Mark as he moves into this new phase in his career, and honor the wonderful years of camaraderie and stirring performances he has given us.”
Summer will continue to focus on his solo career and teaching—he currently teaches at the California Jazz Conservatory. “At the moment being home and composing,” he says, will be a major focus.
“I’ve had a very unique role in that the cello role is different from the other three [roles],” Summer says of what he’ll miss most about performing with TIQ. “I love holding down the groove with that band and I’ll miss that. I’ve been there from the very beginning and I’ve played with every single jazz-string player that’s been in the quartet and there have been some tremendous players—Tracy Silverman, Danny Seidenberg, Evan Price, Irene Sazer and, of course, David, Benny and Mateusz.
“I’ve gotten to play with some of the greatest jazz-string players of our time, so, I’ll certainly miss playing with those guys—especially Benny and Mateusz because they are so gifted and they are coming from a similar place that I’m coming from—of melding this classical and jazz string career together.”
TIQ newcomer and New Orleans-native Malcolm Parson has experienced his fair share of melding the classical and jazz world together—he’s shared the stage with a combination of jazz and string musicians including Christian Howes, Paquito D’Rivera, Della Mae, Del McCoury, Old Crow Medicine Show, Ron Carter, Patrice Rushen, and many more.
Balakrishnan says of Parson joining the quartet, “One of our group’s core strengths is discovering new and exciting talent, allowing us to grow, evolve and keep the quartet alive and vibrant. Malcolm Parson’s ability to transition effortlessly between classical music, jazz, and contemporary styles, and to meld them together in his own unique sound, is a perfect fit for TIQ. We are thrilled to unleash his formidable talent and know our audiences will love this latest evolution of our ensemble.”
For more information on the Turtle Island Quartet, visit www.turtleislandquartet.com.