Wadada Leo Smith © Michael Jackson
Iconic composer and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and his Golden Quintet Perform Music from America’s National Parks
“A trumpeter and composer of penetrating insight.”– Nate Chinen, The New York Times
America’s National Parks is a six-movement suite inspired by the scenic splendor, historic legacy, and political controversies of the country’s public landscapes. Cuneiform’s 2-CD recording of the work was named the Jazz Album of the Year by DownBeat’s 65th International Critics Poll and was at or near the top of most annual lists of best releases. JazzTimes wrote that the album “unites political engagement with a soul-deep connection to nature… rich with ineffable majesty, [the suite] fully engages with tensions at the heart of the American experience.”
Wadada Leo Smith © Jimmy Katz
For the last five decades, Smith has been a member of the legendary AACM collective, pivotal in its wide-open perspectives on music and art in general. He has carried those all-embracing concepts into his own work, expanding upon them in myriad ways.
Throughout his career, Smith has been recognized for his groundbreaking work. A finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Music, he received the 2016 Doris Duke Artist Award and earned an honorary doctorate from CalArts, where he was also celebrated as Faculty Emeritus. In addition, he received the Hammer Museum's 2016 Mohn Award for Career Achievement "honoring brilliance and resilience."
In 2017 Smith topped three categories in DownBeat Magazine’s 65th Annual Critics Poll: Best Jazz Artist, Trumpeter of the Year and Jazz Album of the Year, and was featured as the subject of a cover story in August 2017. The Jazz Journalists Association also honored Smith as their 2017 Musician of the Year as well as 2017 Duo of the Year for his work with Vijay Iyer. The JJA named him their 2016 Trumpeter of the Year, 2015 Composer of the Year, and 2013 Musician of the Year, and he earned top billing in two categories in the JazzTimes 2016 Critics Poll: Artist of the Year and Composer of the Year.
In October 2015 The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago presented the first comprehensive exhibition of Smith's Ankhrasmation scores, which use non-standard visual directions, making them works of art in themselves as well as igniting creative sparks in the musicians who perform them. In 2016, these scores were also featured in exhibitions at the Hammer Museum, and the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts and Kadist in San Francisco.
Born December 18, 1941 in Leland, Mississippi, Smith's early musical life began at age thirteen when he became involved with the Delta blues and jazz traditions performing with his stepfather, bluesman Alex Wallace. He received his formal musical education from the U.S. Military band program (1963), the Sherwood School of Music (1967-69), and Wesleyan University (1975-76).
Smith has released more than 50 albums as a leader on labels including ECM, Moers, Black Saint, Tzadik, Pi Recordings, TUM, Leo and Cuneiform. His diverse discography reveals a recorded history centered around important issues that have impacted his world, exploring the social, natural and political environment of his times with passion and fierce intelligence. His 2016 recording, America’s National Parks earned a place on numerous best of the year lists including the New York Times, NPR Music and many others. Smith’s landmark 2012 civil rights opus Ten Freedom Summers was called “A staggering achievement [that] merits comparison to Coltrane’s A Love Supreme in sobriety and reach.”
The Impulse Festival is sponsored by: McIntire Department of Music, McIntire Department of Art, Arts Administration, Gassmann Fund for Innovation in Music, Acquavella Family, Office of the Provost & the Vice Provost for the Arts, UVA Arts Council, President’s Commission on Slavery and the University, College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences’ Collective Response: Moving Forward committee, Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, Charlottesville Jazz Society, Office of the Vice President and Chief Officer for Diversity and Equity, Hampton Inn and Suites, University Programs Council and WTJU Radio.