Trumpeter, multi-instrumentalist, composer, and improviser Wadada Leo Smith is one of the most boldly original and influential artists of his time. Transcending the bounds of genre or idiom, he distinctly defines his music, tirelessly inventive in both sound and approach, as "Creative Music."
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."
Smith was also honored by the Jazz Journalists Association as their 2017 Musician of the Year as well as the 2017 Duo of the Year for his work with Vijay Iyer. The JJA also named him their 2016 Trumpeter of the Year, 2015 Composer of the Year, and 2013 Musician of the Year. In 2013 he was also selected as DownBeat Magazine's Composer of the Year and he graced the cover of that magazine in November 2016.
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 the Hammer Museum's Made in L.A. exhibition, the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts and Kadist in San Francisco, among others.
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 latest recording, 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. 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.”