Wadada Leo Smith

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Wadada Leo Smith
Wadada Leo Smith.jpg
Photo by Tom Beetz
Background information
Born (1941-12-18) December 18, 1941 (age 73)
Leland, Mississippi, United States
Genres Avant-garde jazz, free improvisation
Occupation(s) Trumpeter, composer
Instruments Trumpet, flugelhorn, koto, kalimba, atenteben
Associated acts Creative Construction Company, New Dalta Ahkri
Website Official website

Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith (born December 18, 1941) is an American trumpeter and composer, working primarily in the fields of avant-garde jazz and free improvisation.[1] He was one of three finalists for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Music for Ten Freedom Summers, released on May 22, 2012.[2]


Smith was born in Leland, Mississippi. He started out playing drums, mellophone, and French horn before he settled on the trumpet. He played in various R&B groups and by 1967 became a member of the AACM and co-founded the Creative Construction Company, a trio with Leroy Jenkins and Anthony Braxton. In 1971, Smith formed his own label, Kabell. He also formed another band, the New Dalta Ahkri, with members including Henry Threadgill, Anthony Davis and Oliver Lake.

In the 1970s, Smith studied ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University. He played again with Anthony Braxton as well as recording with Derek Bailey's Company. In the mid-1980s, Smith became Rastafarian and began using the name Wadada. In 1993, he began teaching at Cal Arts, a position he held until 2014. In addition to trumpet and flugelhorn, Smith plays several world music instruments, including the koto, kalimba, and atenteben (Ghanaian bamboo flute). He has also taught courses in instrument making. His compositions often use a graphic notation system he calls "Ankhrasmation", which he developed in 1970.

In 1998, Smith and guitarist Henry Kaiser released Yo, Miles!, a tribute to Miles Davis's lesser-known 1970s electric period. On this album, Smith, Kaiser and a large cast of musicians recorded cover versions and original compositions inspired by Miles's electric music. The follow-ups Sky Garden (released by Cuneiform in 2004) and Upriver (released in 2005) were recorded with a different cast of musicians. Both line-ups featured Michael Manring on bass.

Smith's Golden Quartet (with which he has released several albums) originally featured Jack DeJohnette on drums, Anthony Davis on keyboards, and Malachi Favors on bass. After several iterations, the Golden Quartet now features Pheeroan akLaff on drums, John Lindberg on bass, and Davis on piano.

During the 2000s, Smith recorded albums for John Zorn's Tzadik, as well as Pi Recordings. In 2008, he and his Golden Quartet released a DVD entitled Freedom Now.


As leader[edit]

  • 1972: Creative Music - 1 (Kabell)
  • 1975: Reflectativity (Kabell)
  • 1977: Song of Humanity (Kabell)
  • 1978: Mass on the World (Moers)
  • 1979: Divine Love (ECM)
  • 1979: Budding of a Rose (Moers)
  • 1979: Spirit Catcher (Nessa)
  • 1980: Touch the Earth (FMP)
  • 1980: Go in Numbers (Black Saint)
  • 1981: Akhreanvention (Kabell)
  • 1982: If You Want the Kernels, You Have to Break the Shells (FMP)
  • 1982: Human Rights (Kabell)
  • 1983: Procession of the Great Ancestry (Nessa)
  • 1983: Rastafari (Sackville)
  • 1986: The Blue Mountain's Sun Drummer with Ed Blackwell (Kabell, issued 2010)
  • 1993: Kulture Jazz (ECM)
  • 1996: Tao-Njia (Tzadik)
  • 1997: Golden Hearts Remembrance (Chap Chap)
  • 1997: Prataksis (Ninewinds)
  • 1998: Condor, Autumn Wind (Wobbly Rail)
  • 1999: Light Upon Light (Tzadik)
  • 2000: Reflectativity (Tzadik)
  • 2000: Golden Quartet (Tzadik)
  • 2001: Red Sulphur Sky (Tzadik)
  • 2002: The Year of the Elephant (Pi Recordings)
  • 2002: Luminous Axis (Tzadik)
  • 2003: Organic Resonance (Pi Rcordings)
  • 2004: Lake Biwa (Tzadik)
  • 2004: Saturn, Conjunct the Grand Canyon in a Sweet Embrace (Pi Recordings)
  • 2005: Snakish (Leo)
  • 2006: Compassion (Meta/Kabell)
  • 2007: Wisdom in Time (Intakt)
  • 2008: Tabligh (Cuneiform)
  • 2009: America (Tzadik)
  • 2009: Spiritual Dimensions (Cuneiform)
  • 2009: Abbey Road Quartet (Treader)
  • 2011: Heart's Reflections (Cuniform)
  • 2011: Dark Lady of the Sonnets (TUM Records)
  • 2012: Ten Freedom Summers (Cuniform)
  • 2012: Ancestors (TUM Records)
  • 2013: Occupy The World (TUM Records)
  • 2014: Sonic Rivers (Tzadik) - with George Lewis and John Zorn
  • 2014: Red Hill (Rare Noise) - with Jamie Saft, Joe Morris and Balazs Pandi
  • 2014: The Great Lakes Suites (TUM Records)
  • 2014: June 6th 2013 (Novara Jazz) - with Eco D'Alberi

As sideman[edit]

With Muhal Richard Abrams

With Marion Brown

With Anthony Braxton

With Henry Kaiser

  • Yo, Miles! (Shanachie, 1998)
  • Sky Garden (Cuneiform, 2004)
  • Upriver (Cuneiform, 2004)

With Frank Lowe

With Matthew Shipp

With Spring Heel Jack

  • The Sweetness of the Water (Thirsty Ear, 2004)

With John Zorn


  1. ^ "Wadada Leo Smith | Biography". AllMusic. 1941-12-18. Retrieved 2014-03-23. 
  2. ^ "The Pulitzer Prizes | Citation". Pulitzer.org. Retrieved 2014-03-23. 

External links[edit]