Wadada Leo Smith's Ten Freedom Summers
It’s been quite a life for Wadada Leo Smith. Within the last few months alone, the 75-year-old trumpeter/composer and AACM veteran has garnered Best Jazz Artist, Best Trumpeter, and Best Jazz Album of the Year (for America’s National Parks) in Downbeat Magazine’s 65th annual Critics Poll. He was also voted 2017 Musician of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association.
In the wake of these accolades, the Mississippi native returns to Austin via Epistrophy Arts to play the first portion of his spectacular magnum opus, Ten Freedom Summers, a 2013 Pulitzer Prize Finalist in Music. The multimedia project, a deeply moving Civil Rights tribute, comprises 24 compositions being divided among performances in Austin, Houston, New Orleans, and Tuscaloosa. The complete project performed in this manner also constitutes a first for Smith.
Inspired by playwright August Wilson’s 10-play Pittsburgh Cycle, Smith cites Duke Ellington as a musical influence.
“Most important for me was Black, Brown and Beige from the Forties and ‘Reminiscing in Tempo,’ a revolutionary piece from the Thirties,” states Smith. “It wasn’t just a protest, but a vision of how to employ an orchestra that rhythmically references a theme. Also important is Anthony Davis’ [opera] The Life and Times of Malcolm X and the extended works of Anthony Braxton and Cecil Taylor.”
Smith performs in his Golden Quartet configuration, with pianist Anthony Davis, bassist John Lindberg, and drummer Pheeroan Aklaff, in addition to the chamber ensemble RedKoral Quartet and video artist Jesse Gilbert.
“I write for these groups like I always have, where the added creative elements actually expand the psychological and emotional reality of the piece,” he explains. “By expansion, it offers a true concept of how the musicians’ kinetic energy connects together onstage with the audience and the performance space to create something unique.”– Jay Trachtenberg