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Liturgical Jazz Composer-Musician Ed Summerlin Dies at 78

Edgar E. “Ed” Summerlin, the tenor saxophonist who was among the earliest composers to combine liturgical music with jazz, died on Tuesday in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He had been hospitalized for several weeks due to complications from cancer treatment. He was 78.

Summerlin was perhaps best known for his 1959 composition, “Requiem for Mary Jo,” widely considered one of the earliest examples of using jazz in a liturgical service. He later penned many other jazz-based liturgical works, including “Episcopal Evensong,” “Jazz Vespers Service” and “Liturgy of the Holy Spirit.”

Born Sept. 1, 1928, in Marianna, FL, Summerlin graduated from Eastman in 1952 and studied composition with Gunther Schuller and Hall Overton. After arriving in New York City in the early ’50s, he freelanced with Sonny Dunham, Ted Weems and Tony Pastor, among others. Summerlin eventually became quite active in the ’60s avant-garde scene, though his name never surpassed that of a fringe participant, performing with the likes of Eric Dolphy, Ron Carter, Sheila Jordan, Steve Kuhn, Slide Hampton and Don Ellis, indicative of Summerlin’s stylistic range covering straightahead bebop to expressionistic horn screams. He even composed and arranged for Freddie Hubbard, Dave Liebman, Toshiko Akiyoshi and Lee Konitz.

Summerlin is survived by his wife, a son and two granddaughters.

Originally Published