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Summer grew up in Los Angeles, California playing piano, guitar and, from the age of nine, cello. From the beginning he was very interested in alternative genres, as a teenager playing in a rock band called The Purple Testament, later known as The Plague. Summer studied cello with Edwin Geber of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, then with Geber’s wife Gretchen Geber, and graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Music, continuing his studies with the Geber family with Stephen Geber as a cello performance major. After conservatory, Summer worked in the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra for three years. Looking for alternative genres, he went on to play in an assortment of alternative ensembles until, in Winnipeg, he met the violinist Darol Anger. Shortly after, he was invited by David Balakrishnan and Anger to join Turtle Island, and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1985 to perform permanently with the band. He has played with that ensemble ever since. In 2011, Summer made his solo concerto debut with the Alexandria Symphony, performing Balakrishnan's Force of Nature, written especially for him. He currently[when?] resides outside San Francisco in Novato.
Besides the Turtle Island Quartet, which has now[when?] released fifteen albums, Summer has played with many other crossover artists. He was a member of the Jazz Chamber Trio with the pianist Alon Yavnai and the Grammy-winning clarinetist Paquito D'Rivera which played primarily Latin jazz. He has also composed pieces for solo cello, including Kalimba and Julie-O, (both the solo and duo versions), the last of which has become very popular among cellists. He has also arranged pieces for solo cello including "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" and Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing".