Vashti Summervill

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you make them feel.” – Maya Angelou

Drawing from a multihued palate of 60s cool jazz, bossa nova, New Orleans swing, and bittersweet piano ballads, Boise, Idaho artist Vashti Summervill delivers a finely crafted set of original songs on her debut album as a solo artist. At turns languid and sweetly swinging, Summervill’s luminous, honeyed voice dances through a melodic rainbow immaculately arranged by an array of top-notch musicians. Hypnotic, beguiling, and eminently timeless, Put My Love in a Picture will enchant both serious students of the jazz canon and folks who just dig a good tune equally. 

While Summervill is classically trained (holding both a BA and MM in vocal performance) and has lived a life steeped in music, she had not been drawn to write her own songs until early 2017. Music first came to her at age eight when the family was gifted a piano. “my family was recovering from a great sadness – the loss of my father. Learning to get lost in music was a life raft for me at a time when I, and those around me, seemed to be drowning in sea of grief.” 

After attending Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington, she spent several years as a musical theater performer in the Pacific Northwest, including stints at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre, Seattle Civic Light Opera, Bumbershoot, and the Oregon Cabaret Theatre.

Summervill considers it her life’s work to build community through the arts and to facilitate creative experiences for people of all ability levels. After arriving in Boise, she began teaching music, and directing choirs and musicals in a variety of educational settings, founding both the Open Door Children’s Theater and Open Door Music Studio. She also co-founded and co-directed the BIG (Boise Intergenerational) Choir for nine seasons. “Within my own community I am known as a music teacher (and mental health professional) who has worked with A LOT of kids” she explains.  “The BIG Choir was a wonderful project, kind of a social experiment that really took off. It was definitely filling a void of community and connection.” Summervill also performs with her husband Chad as a duo, both as headliners and as featured performers at large benefit events. 

Driven to uplift those around her, Summervill is also the founder of Family Healing Pathways, providing coaching and therapeutic consulting for parents. In her work there, she strives to provide primary caregivers with strategies, tools, and resources for raising resilient children. “I don’t think I can separate myself into different compartments of my life” she explains. “To me, everything I do is about creating connection and community, about spreading some light into a world that is hurting, about trying to make the world a gentler place for whomever I am in contact with.” She is the co-chair of the St. Luke’s Pediatric Family Advisory Council – representing families with children hospitalized due to a mental health crisis – and has served on the board of the Idaho Suicide Prevention Coalition. 

As is sometimes the case with reluctant creatives, it soon came clear that the Muse was tired of waiting. Summervill was asked to participate in an event called “Sisters in Songwriting” being staged for the Idaho Songwriters Association. While mulling over the request she was announced as participating. “I felt stuck” she relates.  “I wrote five songs in six weeks for that show.”

Always a lover of jazz standards, Summervill began studying with pianist Jonny May (Lin Manuel Miranda.) It would not be hyperbole to say their work together changed her life. “I am finally finding my own voice” she says. “I have had to work hard to un-program some of the stuff that was drilled into me from so much formal study. This album really is the first time I have worked on a musical project that isn’t for a fundraiser or about facilitating musical experiences for others.” 

To help realize her vision, Summervill turned to some of the best the Pacific Northwest has to offer. Produced by Sophie Price, the record features performances by pianist Marina Albero (L’Arpeggiata), bassists Dean Schmidt (Pat Boone) and Paul Gabrielson (Mingus Big Band), and drummer Ben Smith (HEART). RL Heyer handled guitar, while saxophonist Sam Landsman and trumpeter Jerome Smith (Arturo Sandoval) provided eloquent brass.  

Put My Love in a Picture was born in a time when the world is hard and sad. While undeniably uplifting, the record is not built on unmoored positivity. “One of my favorite quotes, and I’m not sure who to attribute it to, is: “I stand before what is with and open heart and with an open heart, I dwell in possibility.” In the midst of all that is going on in the world, I am trying to dwell in possibility and my music helps me to do just that” she explains. 

Ultimately, Put My Love in a Picture is an entreaty to finding compassion; both for the self and for others. “My lyrics are meant to be thoughtful and demonstrate the best of who we can be as people but delivered in a light-hearted, “non-preachy” way if that makes sense” says Summervill. “The lyrics on this album are meant to sound old.” A nod to an era when lyrics were consistently very poetic and intelligent, the record subtly implores us to the best we can be as people.

“This journey of being human is not for the weak!” says Summervill. “I have tried to teach my children that you can view any interaction, formal or casual, as an opportunity to connect and make the world feel gentler for whoever crosses your path. So, while we acknowledge the trials humanity is facing and imagine better days, we must look at ways we can participate in bringing those days to fruition. The album is an expression of how I hold all of this and work with it in my own life and as a citizen of a struggling world. Life is hard for everyone. Yet sometimes what is possible is closer than we think.”

A record of compassion and insight wrapped in glowing melody, Put My Love in a Picture pulls in the listener and gently sets them at ease. Timeless yet very much of the moment, the record is a welcome oasis of gentle humanity in the ever-churning sea of contemporary reality.