by Lee Gutowski
Scott Summers has hustle. You’ve probably seen him hustling, playing his saxophone for Brewers fans outside the stadium (for the last twenty years, about), or for Bucks fans downtown in the Deer District. Or maybe you’ve caught him playing before and after big concerts at Summerfest – most recently Michael Bublé or Dave Matthews – when he entertains the bustling crowds with covers of songs by the artists they love. “It takes some time, I have to sit back and listen,” Summers says. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t know any songs by some of these guys, but last night I made good money for a half-hour’s work at Summerfest.”
Summers often sits in with bands playing at the Uptowner, where you can find him many days in between gigs at various sporting events and concerts around town. “Don’t even make me try to count all of ‘em,” he laughs when asked to name the bands he’s played with. A short list would include Alex Wilson, Extra Crispy Brass Band, Voot Warnings … “Whoever comes through the ‘Towner.”
“Before COVID hit, I was always in here, grab a couple beers, I’d be seeing when do the Brewers play, when do the Bucks play, what show is at the Pabst, what show’s over here … there was always somewhere for me to be at.” The work got scarce during the pandemic, but Scott had no choice other than to try to keep playing. “Like I said, I’m one of the hardest hustlers in the city. I know that because I’ve seen the others, and they don’t be where I be at. Like, I’m still hustling, where’s everybody at? But they’re not there.”
“My saxophone was bigger than I was”
Born in Milwaukee, Scott was raised between here and Saginaw, Michigan, where his father had moved from Mississippi to get better work than the sharecropping he’d been doing. His dad eventually got a job at General Motors, along with other family that had come up north for much the same reason.
Scott’s mother’s support was influential in his picking up the saxophone at 12 years old. He’d seen an older kid (“like a distant cousin”) playing one at church and his mother encouraged his interest by taking him over to the kid’s house, where he got to see him play up close and personal. “I was a little small kid when I was in school – my saxophone was bigger than I was,” Scott recalls. Once, when Scott had left his school-issued instrument on the ground because he was getting beat up by a school bully, somebody snatched it and took off with it. “My mom was like, ‘Oh no, he’s gonna play that saxophone, this gotta get fixed.’ And then on Sunday, she was gone real early, we didn’t know where she was. We had eaten breakfast, cleaned up the house and were sitting there, and she came in with a case like this,” Scott says, motioning to his horn case. “I was like, ‘You didn’t!’” She’d somehow saved the money to get him a sax of his own.
He played in the Saginaw High School band and keeps in touch with his music teacher as well as other kids in the band. “The bass player plays with d’Angelo, and the guitarist plays with Angie Stone” he says, pointing at a 1989 high school band photo. “He’s always on tour, like in the Netherlands and shit. Everybody that was in the band, everybody’s still playing, everybody’s doing something with it.” The 1989 crew even got to go to Amsterdam with Dizzy Gillespie and play.
When Scott was in his teens, “me and my father stopped seeing eye to eye. He started beating me over everything. And that’s when I got how I am now where I don’t have too much tolerance for nobody trying to be like that. Anyway, I’m getting bullied at school and I’m getting bullied at home … somebody fixin’ to get stabbed one day.” He was sent to Milwaukee to cool off and ended up the Bay View High School marching band – still playing his sax throughout turmoil in his personal life.
“It tuns you into a whole other person”
Back in Saginaw, a 17-year-old Scott was kicked out of the house for good when he beat up his dad. “I vividly remember, I got home and my dad was hitting my mom with a broken laundry basket. He was hitting hard enough that it broke,” he recalls. He went to stay at a friend’s house, and it just so happened his friend was getting recruited for the Army. “Sgt. Rutherford was always taking us out to lunch, recruiting us. We were still little kids in the brain yet. I ended up signing my ass away to the Army for a Big Mac on September 27, 1989. And that’s why I haven’t had a Big Mac since then,” he laughs, “I’m scared something bad’s gonna happen!”
In the Army, he was stationed at Fort Bragg, where he jumped out of planes. “I don’t know what possessed me to do that. I wanted that beret hat. That’s what it was. They made you do all kinds of stuff for trinkets. You learn how to kill people, they give you a shinier medal than the one before. And if you jump out of planes, you get wings with a star on them!
“It changes you. You’re not yourself, you’re a machine, you’re trained to fight. You’re a living breathing machine.”
He put in eight years, then couldn’t take it anymore. Not only had a sergeant kept him on latrine duty for six months straight, and treated him with enough disrespect to get Scott fighting mad. “I was the baddest little short mf’er in the Army, and I got a dishonorable discharge for beating him up, for one thing.”
To add insult to injury, the establishment tried to keep Scott from going to his mother’s funeral. Somehow, he managed to make the funeral, but when they called looking for him after one day’s absence, “I said come get me, I’m not going back. That whole thing was a sham and a farce from the beginning. They had me over there shooting people and starving for nothing. That’s how my eye ended up getting injured. I don’t even trust in what they call America, believing in this shit, it ain’t nothing like that. I just don’t like being the piece that you move around on the board to find out. “That’s why I hustle like this now, I ain’t nobody’s pawn.”
“Did you ever try to potty train four kids at once?”
Once out of the Army, Scott met the woman who would be the mother to his four children – two sets of twins within a year of each other. The older are boys (Jasen and Jalen); the younger, girls (Jordyn and Jadyn). “I love them all very much. When their mom and I split up, I was done having kids. I wanted it to be special with them, with her – not go out and find another woman and have kids with someone else …
“Plus, I was a stay-at-home dad when they were real young. Did you ever try to potty train four kids at once?” he asks, laughing. “It’s no joke!”
His is an inspired hustle. With four kids to raise, he took his horn out and made the money he needed to help feed and clothe them. His work ethic was honed by fatherhood. “Money ain’t never come up to me and been like (knocking on the table), ‘Here I am!’ Nope, it never did that. You gotta go get it. You gotta run, every day.”
“When my mom went out and got me that first saxophone of my own – that was one of the signs that they want me to do something. It was like god was saying, ‘Give her the wherewithal to get that boy a horn, because that’s what he wants to do.’ And that’s all I ever did. That and having my kids was the only two things I did right. I ain’t even done yet! I still gotta go out and cut a whole new body of work.”
With Scott’s kind of hustle, it’s easy to believe he’s going to do just that.