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 81)
Leland, Mississippi, U.S.
  • Musician
  • composer
Website www.wadadaleosmith.com

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 Wadada Leo Smith DSC0190a 2.jpg
Wadada Leo Smith, Vision XIII Festival

As leader/co-leader


As sideman

With Muhal Richard Abrams

With Marion Brown

With Anthony Braxton

With Creative Construction Company

With Andrew Cyrille

With Leroy Jenkins

With Henry Kaiser

With Bill Laswell

With Frank Lowe

With Maurice McIntyre

With Roscoe Mitchell

With Matthew Shipp

With Spring Heel Jack

With John Zorn

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Creative Music - 1 is the first recording as a leader by American jazz trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, which was released in 1972 on his own, privately pressed label Kabell. Subtitled "Six Solo Improvisations", the album featured Smith solo using trumpet, flugelhorn and various drums, gongs, bells, and home made percussion. It was reissued in 2004 as part of the four-CD box Kabell Years: 1971-1979, released by John Zorn's imprint Tzadik Records.

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<i>The Year of the Elephant</i> 2002 studio album by Wadada Leo Smith

The Year of the Elephant is the twenty-fifth studio album by American jazz trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith which was recorded in 2002 and released on Pi Recordings. It was the second recording by his Golden Quartet featuring pianist Anthony Davis, bassist Malachi Favors and drummer Jack DeJohnette.

<i>Tabligh</i> (album) 2008 live album by Wadada Leo Smith

Tabligh is an album by American jazz trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith which was recorded live at the CalArts Creative Music Festival in 2005 and released on Cuneiform. It was the third recording by his Golden Quartet with a new electro-acoustic lineup featuring pianist Vijay Iyer, bassist John Lindberg and drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson.

<i>America</i> (Wadada Leo Smith album) 2009 studio album by Wadada Leo Smith

America is an album by American jazz trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and drummer Jack DeJohnette which was recorded in 2008 and released on Tzadik Records. It was their first duo recording, a collaboration originally proposed to ECM in 1979 and rejected.

<i>Kabell Years: 1971–1979</i> 2004 compilation album by Wadada Leo Smith

Kabell Years: 1971–1979 is a four-CD box set released on Tzadik Records compiling American jazz trumpeter/composer/inmproviser Wadada Leo Smith's earliest albums which were originally released on his own, privately pressed label Kabell along with additional previously unissued material from the same era. The set includes the previously released material from Creative Music - 1, Reflectativity, Song of Humanity and Solo Music: Ahkreanvention.


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  3. "The Pulitzer Prizes | Citation". Pulitzer.org. Retrieved 2014-03-23.
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  10. "Red Hill, by Wadada Leo Smith / Jamie Saft / Joe Morris / Balazs Pandi". Joe Morris / Riti / Glacial Erratic. Retrieved 2021-03-07.
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  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.