One of the great trumpet players of our time, Wadada Leo Smith is an American jazz maestro of creative contemporary music. A composer, improviser, performer, music theorist/writer and educator, Smith has spent his life exploring the heart, soul, and structure of jazz.
Born December 18, 1941 in Leland, Mississippi, Smith began performing at age 13 with his stepfather, bluesman Alex Wallace. He received his formal musical education from the U.S. military band program, the Sherwood School of Music, and Wesleyan University, and is one of the first generation of musicians to come out of Chicago's AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Music).
A 2016 Doris Duke Artist and 2013 Pulitzer Prize finalist, Smith was DownBeat Magazine's 2013 Composer of the Year and the Jazz Journalist Association's 2013 Musician of the Year and Trumpeter of the Year. In 2014, DownBeat magazine named him "One of the 80 Coolest Things in Jazz Today," citing his magisterial instrumental voice, his inspirational leadership, and his command of classical, jazz, and blues forms to remind us of what's gone down and what's still happening." The Jazz Journalists Association named him Composer of the Year in 2015.
Smith has released more than 50 albums. Recent recordings include The Great Lakes Suites, which earned second place in NPR Music's 2014 Jazz Critics Poll and Celestial Weather, which garnered extensive praise. His landmark 2012 civil rights opus Ten Freedom Summers was called "A staggering achievement -- It merits comparison to Coltrane's A Love Supreme in sobriety and reach," (Francis Davis, Rhapsody Jazz Critics Poll). In March 2016 ECM released a cosmic rhythm with each stroke featuring pianist Vijay Iyer and Smith, whom Iyer calls his "hero, friend and mentor." The recording has earned wide critical acclaim and the duo is touring internationally in 2016 and 2017.
As an internationally-renowned jazz musician, Wadada Leo Smith has played in Austria, Belgium, Canada, England, France, Germany, Holland, Hungary, Iceland, Japan, Macedonia, Italy, South Korea, Portugal, Switzerland, and Yugoslavia. As an educator, he has taught or lectured in nearly as many locations. He continues to play, teach, and create visual art with his scores. Smith has been awarded grants and fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Fromm Music Foundation at Harvard University, Chamber Music America with support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Meet the Composer/Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Commissioning Program, the MAP Fund and the National Endowment for the Arts, among many others.