Wadada Leo Smith

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Wadada Leo Smith
Photo by Tom Beetz
Photo by Tom Beetz
Background information
Born (1941-12-18) December 18, 1941 (age 82)
Leland, Mississippi, U.S.
  • Musician
  • composer

Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith (born December 18, 1941)[1] is an American trumpeter and composer, working primarily in the field of creative music.[2] He was one of three finalists for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Music for Ten Freedom Summers, released on May 22, 2012.[3]


Smith was born in Leland, Mississippi, United States.[1] 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.[1] In 1971, Smith formed his own label, Kabell.[1] He also formed another band, the New Dalta Ahkri, with members including Henry Threadgill, Anthony Davis and Oliver Lake.[1]

In the 1970s, Smith studied ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University. He played again with Anthony Braxton, as well as recording with Derek Bailey's Company.[1] In the mid-1980s, Smith became Rastafarian and began using the name Wadada.[1] In 1993, he began teaching at Cal Arts,[2] 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.[1]

In 1998, Smith and guitarist Henry Kaiser released Yo, Miles!, a tribute to Miles Davis's then-lesser-known 1970s electric period.[2] On this album, Smith, Kaiser and a large cast of musicians recorded cover versions and original compositions inspired by Miles's electric music.[2] The follow-ups Sky Garden (released by Cuneiform in 2004) and Upriver (released in 2005) were recorded with a different cast of musicians.[2] 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.[2] After several iterations, the Golden Quartet now features Pheeroan akLaff on drums, John Lindberg on bass, and Davis on piano.[2]

During the 2000s, Smith recorded albums for John Zorn's label Tzadik, as well as Pi Recordings. In 2008, he and his Golden Quartet released a DVD entitled Freedom Now.[2]

Smith has lived in New Haven, Connecticut for many years, a city where he helped create a prominent culture for creative music. [4]


Wadada Leo Smith, Vision XIII Festival

As leader/co-leader[edit]


  • Kabell Years: 1971–1979 (Tzadik, 2004) – collects Creative Music – 1, Reflectativity, Song of Humanity, and Solo Music: Ahkreanvention along with additional material

As sideman[edit]

With Muhal Richard Abrams

With Marion Brown

With Anthony Braxton

With Creative Construction Company

With Andrew Cyrille

With Leroy Jenkins

With Henry Kaiser

  • Yo, Miles![16] [17](Shanachie, 1998)
  • Sky Garden (Cuneiform, 2004)
  • Upriver (Cuneiform, 2004)

With Bill Laswell

  • The stone[18] (2014)

With Frank Lowe

With Maurice McIntyre

With Roscoe Mitchell

With Matthew Shipp

With Spring Heel Jack

  • The Sweetness of the Water (Thirsty Ear, 2004)
  • Hackney Road (Treader, 2018) with Pat Thomas and Steve Noble

With John Zorn


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Who's Who of Jazz (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 371/2. ISBN 0-85112-580-8.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Wadada Leo Smith | Biography". AllMusic. 1941-12-18. Retrieved 2014-03-23.
  3. ^ "The Pulitzer Prizes | Citation". Pulitzer.org. Retrieved 2014-03-23.
  4. ^ "Four Score: A Conversation with Wadada Leo Smith on Turning 80 (Part One)". PostGenre. 12 December 2021. Retrieved 2021-12-16.
  5. ^ "Wadada Leo Smith And N'da Kulture:Golden Hearts Remembrance, by Chap Chap Records". Chap Chap Records. Retrieved 2021-03-07.
  6. ^ "The Year of The Elephant, by Wadada Leo Smith's Golden Quartet". Wadada Leo Smith. Retrieved 2021-03-07.
  7. ^ "Wisdom in Time, by WADADA LEO SMITH". Günter Baby Sommer. Retrieved 2021-03-07.
  8. ^ "Nessuno, by Pauline Oliveros + Roscoe Mitchell + John Tilbury + Wadada Leo Smith (IDA 035 – 2016)". i dischi di angelica. Retrieved 2021-03-07.
  9. ^ "Ten Freedom Summers, by Wadada Leo Smith". Cuneiform Records. Retrieved 2021-03-07.
  10. ^ "Red Hill, by Wadada Leo Smith / Jamie Saft / Joe Morris / Balazs Pandi". Joe Morris / Riti / Glacial Erratic. Retrieved 2021-03-07.
  11. ^ "America's National Parks, by Wadada Leo Smith". Cuneiform Records. Retrieved 2021-03-07.
  12. ^ "Aspiration, by Satoko Fujii, Wadada Leo Smith, Natsuki Tamura, Ikue Mori". Satoko Fujii. Retrieved 2021-03-07.
  13. ^ "The Haunt, by Bobby Naughton, Wadada Leo Smith, Perry Robinson". NoBusiness Records. Retrieved 2021-03-07.
  14. ^ "Pacific Light and Water/Wu Xing – Cycle of Destruction, by Wadada Leo Smith / Barry Schrader". Barry Schrader. Retrieved 2021-03-07.
  15. ^ "Sun Beans of Shimmering Light, by Wadada Leo Smith / Douglas R. Ewart / Mike Reed". Wadada Leo Smith / Douglas R. Ewart / Mike Reed. Retrieved 2021-03-07.
  16. ^ "YO MILES! Lightning, by Henry Kaiser, Wadada Leo Smith". Henry Kaiser. Retrieved 2021-03-07.
  17. ^ "YO MILES! Shinjuku, by Henry Kaiser, Wadada Leo Smith". Henry Kaiser. Retrieved 2021-03-07.
  18. ^ "The Stone – April 22, 2014, by Wadada Leo Smith/Bill Laswell". M.O.D. Reloaded. Retrieved 2021-03-07.

External links[edit]