Wadada Leo Smith


Doris Duke Artist Award, 2016
Jazz

New Haven, CT

Trumpeter, multi-instrumentalist, composer, and improviser Wadada Leo Smith, has been active in contemporary creative music and jazz for over 50 years. In the 1960s, he created a musical language called Ahnkrasmation. It is a symbolic language where the references of colors and images notated in the score are transformed to music. His recording Celestial Weather (TUM Records, 2015) features a series of duets with bassist John Lindberg. It is reminiscent of the initial spirit of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and includes a tribute to bassist Malachi Favors. He is a Guggenheim Fellow, the Jazz Journalist Association’s Musician and Trumpeter of 2013, and DownBeat Critics Poll Composer of 2013. He is a member of the AACM and Chamber Music America, and was on faulty at The Herb Alpert School of Music at California Institute of the Arts from 1990-2013. In 2016, he premiered A Cosmic Rhythm with Each Stroke with Vijay Iyer at The Met Breuer.

  • Photo Credit: Ziga Koritnik
    Wadada Leo Smith
  • Wadada Leo Smith- “The Freedom Riders Ride” from Ten Freedom Summers (Cuneiform Records, 2012) at Heineken Jazzadlia Festival, San Sebastián, Spain (2014): http://vimeo.com/102423014
    “The Freedom Riders Ride” from Ten Freedom Summers (Cuneiform Records, 2012) at Heineken Jazzadlia Festival, San Sebastián, Spain (2014)
  • Wadada Leo Smith- "Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, 381 Days" from Ten Freedom Summers (Cuneiform Records, 2012) at Heineken Jazzadlia Festival, San Sebastián, Spain (2014): http://vimeo.com/158791352
    "Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, 381 Days" from Ten Freedom Summers (Cuneiform Records, 2012) at Heineken Jazzadlia Festival, San Sebastián, Spain (2014)
  • Wadada Leo Smith- Improvisation, Renaissance Society, Chicago, IL (2015): http://vimeo.com/158792409
    Improvisation, Renaissance Society, Chicago, IL (2015)
  • Photo Credit: Dawid Laskowski
    Wadada Leo Smith

Artistically, what do you do and why do you do it?

I composed some of my first compositions at the age of twelve. I had not asked anyone for advice; they were supported by intuition. Today, this practice is still a part of my compositional language. Philosophically, I am concerned with creating music to provide a space that will allow one the opportunity to center his or her own thoughts. My purpose is to introduce listeners to a unique experience that is self-reflective and without conflict.

I believe that both improvisation and composition are based on inspiration that originates from the same source, but differ in the process by which music is made. Improvisation is in the present moment, while composition evolves over time. These musical forms are able to illustrate the full spectrum of music creation. My approach is to seek a balance in which improvisation and composition become a unified, creative moment that forms a complete musical communication.