Wadada Leo Smith

Wadada Leo Smith

Fellow: Awarded 2009
Field of Study: Music Composition

Competition: US & Canada

California Institute of the Arts

Wadada Leo Smith, trumpeter, composer, improviser, and educator, has been active in creative contemporary music for over forty years. His compositions and improvisations use traditional, systemic, and symbolic notations, as well as his Ankhrasmation language that employs rhythm-units, sound-units, improvisation-units, and symbolic-units. An important part of his research is his Ankhrasmation language, and a large body of works exists in this idiom. His compositions Tastalun (ECM Records, 1977), Akhreanvention (Kabell, 1979) and Luminous Axis (Tzadik, 2002) are a good representation of Ankhrasmation.

Mr. Smith received his formal musical education with his father, the U.S. Military band program (1963), Sherwood School of Music (1967-69), and Wesleyan University (1975-76). He has taught at the University of New Haven (1975-76); the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock, NY (1975-78); and Bard College (1987-93). He is a faculty member and director of the African-American Improvisational Music program at the California Institute of the Arts, and is a lifetime member of the AACM.

Artist’s Statement

Through musical reflections I realized that music had a philosophical, theoretical, and practical usage in the construction of art objects; and that the creative musical languages consist of compositional forms (known musical elements) and improvisational forms (unknown musical elements). The composition and improvisation are constructed through musical activities and the inspired musical moments that the artist/composer/performer wishes to reveal. For fifty years my research and artistic development has been to create a notational language and to design compatible systems to illustrate my artistic expression. In the performance context, the ensemble is the most important unit for discovery and is the key for success, and therefore determines the quality of the composition and improvisation experience.


Scroll to Top