Wadada Leo Smith Speaks

Wadada Leo Smith talks about the trumpet, Ankhrasmation and the Golden Quartet. Hear him with this group at Le Poisson Rouge, June 5th at 7 pm. Wadada Leo Smith’s Golden Quartet with Angelica Sanchez (piano), John Lindberg (bass), Pheeroan akLaff (drums).

FONT: When you look at the total history of the trumpet, from its beginnings as a signaling device, to the incredible diversity of approaches in the world now, what parts of the trumpet’s character is attractive to you? What keeps you interested in playing the instrument?

Wadada Leo Smith: The trumpet really does have a great diversity of approaches but the are only six major lines of trumpet languages with some major connecting branches. The major lines for me are:  Freddie Keppard, Joe Oliver; Louis Armstrong; Bix Beiderbeck, Joe Smith, Bubber Miley; Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro; Miles Davis; Donald Cherry, Donald Ayler, Lester Bowie.

What’s interesting about the trumpet is the artists that find a way to create music, to express life’s most unique essence, to make art. Now, that is what the trumpet is for me.

FONT: In an interview with Michael J. West from the Washington City Paper in 2010 you said the Golden Quartet was the first ensemble that you intended to “keep for life.” You’ve now been performing and recording with this group for over ten years with some rotation in personnel. What musical advantages do you feel come from playing with the same ensemble for a long time? Has this group developed in the way you intended or expected?

WLS: Golden Quartet has always expanded its musical field by continuing the need for new languages and/or systems. We don’t hide behind these elements of music, but we seek to always make music and give the best parts of ourselves toward that achievement. We develop by dreaming, conditioning the great imagination of the unknown.

FONT: Playing music created with your notational style, Ankhrasmation, requires the performers to spend time analyzing the notation in order to interpret the meaning of the composition for themselves. How did you develop this approach to composition? How did it affect your music?

WLS: Ankhrasmation is a musical language for the creative musician or artist, it is symbolic in nature, it use colors and shape; and is the largest form of dreaming/knowing.  Although it is connected in some ways to improvisation and composition, it is not the same language.

Interview by Douglas Detrick