Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Wadada Leo Smith: Freedom Writer

The trumpeter-composer on his epic masterwork, 'Ten Freedom Summers'

Wadada Leo Smith (photo: Steve Gunther)
Wadada Leo Smith (photo: Steve Gunther)

Turning 70 years old would be a milestone in anyone’s life, but as Wadada Leo Smith celebrated that occasion last December, he realized he’d validated his life’s work. “Being able to make art at 70 tells you that you were definitely right when you were 20-something years old,” says the trumpeter and composer, who marked his birthday with performances by all four of his working ensembles at Roulette in Brooklyn. “Seventy tells you that in those early years you started out on the right course and that you’ve moved through life on the right path.”

Achieving that landmark also, Smith says, places him in the company of other composers who have sustained their artistic vigor into what many would consider their retirement years. He rattles off a list of names including Ellington, Stravinsky, Ornette Coleman, Janáček and Smith’s old comrade from the AACM, Muhal Richard Abrams. “To still be able to play the trumpet strong, to still be creative and writing music, I think that puts me in the range of those guys,” he says. “They’ve all maintained their creativity straight on across.”

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.
Originally Published