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Wadada Leo Smith: Onward & Upward

Wadada Leo Smith
Wadada Leo Smith

It’s fair to say that veteran trumpeter-composer-educator Wadada Leo Smith has been in the midst of a renaissance during the last several years. Yes, it has been a good millennium for him so far, in terms of public visibility. But appearances are deceiving when it comes to jazz figures working steadily on the fringes, equipped with highly personalized visions of what his or her music can and should be.

Smith, a bold, proud product of the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) revolution starting in the 1960s, has been linked to the avant-garde side of the jazz fence, but has been directly inspired and colored by the legacies of trumpeters from Louis Armstrong to Booker Little to Miles Davis and many stops in between. He has developed a fascinating and distinctive sound on his horn-at once cerebral and visceral-and has also forged his own musical language and notation system, called “Ankhrasmation,” and been an educator for years, settled since the mid-’90s at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) outside of Los Angeles.

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