Edgar Summerlin, 78; Musician Wrote Jazz-Based Liturgical Works

Special to The Times

Edgar E. “Ed” Summerlin, whose 1959 composition, “Requiem for Mary Jo,” was one of the first significant uses of jazz in a liturgical service, died Tuesday in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He was 78.

Summerlin had been hospitalized for several weeks suffering with complications of treatment for cancer.

“Requiem for Mary Jo” was written as an outpouring of grief over the death of his 9-month-old daughter. He subsequently wrote several other jazz-based liturgical works, including “Episcopal Evensong,” “Jazz Vespers Service” and “Liturgy of the Holy Spirit.”

Born Sept. 1, 1928, in Marianna, Fla., Summerlin received a master’s degree from the Eastman School of Music in 1952 and studied composition with Gunther Schuller and Hall Overton. He taught jazz composition, theory and saxophone at the University of North Texas in the late 1950s and was director of the jazz program at the City College of New York from 1971 to 1989.


After freelancing in the ‘50s as a tenor saxophonist with the bands of Sonny Dunham, Ted Weems, Tony Pastor and others, Summerlin became an active participant in New York City’s experimental jazz scene of the 1960s. He performed with Don Ellis, Steve Swallow, Ron Carter, Sheila Jordan, Steve Kuhn, Eric Dolphy and Slide Hampton, and co-led the Improvisational Jazz Workshop.

Summerlin also composed and/or arranged for Carter, Kuhn, Freddie Hubbard, Dave Leibman, Toshiko Akiyoshi and Lee Konitz. As a tenor saxophonist his style was eclectic, reaching from jaunty, straight-ahead playing to horn-scouring avant-garde sounds.

His albums include “Ring Out Joy” (Avant-Garde), “Liturgical Jazz” (Ecclesia Records), “The Improvisational Jazz Workshop,” “Sum of the Parts” and “Eye on the Future” (all on Ictus Records).

Summerlin is survived by his wife, Karen Jones Summerlin, his son Jeff, and two granddaughters, Meghan and Erica.