Teachers: Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to study with Laurie, but I did study with Jon McNeil who is a long time friend and colleague of hers. He would sometimes mention her and her pedagogy. My other trumpet teachers include Lou Ranger during my time at UVIC and Miles Newman from Saskatchewan before that. More recently I studied with Anthony Coleman, Joe Morris, and several other NEC faculty during my time in Boston.
Influences: Greg Kelley, Nate Wooley, Peter Evans, Axel Doerner, Don Cherry, Kevin Drumm, Merzbow, Morton Feldman, …I think this list might get long now that I’ve exited from trumpet players so I’ll stop there.
Current Projects: I’ve been on tour in the States for a few weeks now playing with several different people and I’m leaving on another mini Canadian tour right after the CFONT festival. These dates have all been free improv. When I’m finally at home for awhile in April I’m going to spend some time writing for a group of Boston musicians I’m bringing up to Montreal for a recording session in May. I also have a collaborative project with electro acoustic artists Max Alexander and Eric Powell that I’m hoping to spend more time on when I get back to Montreal.
On the Side/Hobbies: I have an 11 month old son, so most hobbies these days are baby related ones. We like to spend time in the parks in Montreal, which when the weather is nice are really beautiful and lively with people.
I knew I wanted to play the trumpet when: My older brother plays the trumpet and my father used to. I think when I was little I just wanted to be able to do what they did so I started playing it pretty early in my life. I always liked playing it when I was younger…I think me and the trumpet argue with each other more these days then we did then.
Performance Highlight: It’s hard to pick just one, so many gigs are rewarding but unique. A recent highlight was playing at a house show in Boston with guitarist Chris Cretella. We played right after Joe Morris and Patrick Kuehn. Was one of those nights that the music just seems to go all the right places without you having to force it anywhere, and the audience was really listening and got that it was good. It’s really a great feeling when the whole experience of the performance is good and not just some elements of it.
Dream Band: hmmmmm, thats a tough one! I’m tempted to put people from radically different genres or times together but who knows if that would make a fruitful venture so…….I’m going to leave this one alone!
Fun Fact: I used to be really into juggling. I was once Ben Mulroney’s stunt double on a Canadian TV show called “Corner Gas”. If you ever see Ben juggling torches while riding a unicycle…
How did you become a trumpet player? Did you play other instruments before the trumpet? If so, did those instruments inform how you played trumpet? Or did your view of how music is played change once becoming a trumpeter?
Choosing the trumpet seems quite happenstance when I think how it ended up influencing my life so massively. I remember liking many different styles of music, and trumpet seemed the most flexible instrument musically and stylistically. My band instructor, however, assigned me to play french horn (then later allowed me to switch to trumpet) but I like to imagine how different my life would have been! FONF (Festival of New French Horn) just doesn’t have the same ring to it….
Before picking up the trumpet in jr. high, I grew up playing piano as well as tenor drum in a Scottish pipe & drum band. There is likely some sort of correlation between the theatrics and choreography involved with playing the tenor drum (where drumming involves fancily choreographed stick swings and flourishes) and my present interest in theatrics and movement with trumpet playing somewhere in there. The trumpet has such flexibility of movement and sound, and I believe there is much yet to discover.
Were there recordings in the beginning and even years into learning the instrument that drew you into the trumpet’s sound and possibilities?
Influential recordings also seem quite haphazard as my first recordings were things I seemed to stumble upon. The earliest (no pun intended) influential trumpet recordings I experienced were of Maurice Andre’s baroque piccolo recordings. I remember grooving so hard them! He had such a gorgeous tone, intensity of musicality and he really could swing. That was my first experience recognizing a difference in players’ sense of time and “pocket” — Maurice had a good pocket, not matter that he was playing classical music.
People often talk about how the trumpet is the hardest instrument to play. Do you feel this is true? What doesn’t the general public understand about playing the trumpet that you wish people would realize?
The trumpet demands a unique maintenance of it’s player, but for me, that habit a labor of love. Is it the hardest instrument to play? I don’t think so. I do think that for anybody, any instrument, any musician, it’s playing something new–making new music, that is hard to do. That is why we need to stick together and support each other. I appreciate FONT for that reason; bringing everyone together in support of music that is new, vulnerable, unheard or unknown. It meant the world to me when I moved to town years ago and FONT asked me to play a show. I want to pass that confidence and opportunity on to other players doing new things in the city.
If you had to identify with one or two gurus, trumpeters or otherwise, who had the greatest impact on your musical journey to date, whom would they be?
Of the many incredible musicians I’ve known so far, Butch Morris was a mentor I’ll always be grateful to have known. Moving to the city, Butch liberated me as a musician. He opened up an intent, an intensity of sound, of improvisation and a way to communicate that was new and relevant. This year at Roulette, we’re presenting a special performance in tribute to Butch and his language of Conduction. The band will consist of some of the many musicians that were close to Butch, his language, and who believed in what he was trying to move forward. The goal isn’t to “recreate” anything that Butch was already doing, but to keep speaking the innovative language of Conduction and moving it forward, letting it evolve as languages do. As the guitarist Brandon Ross, who played with Butch in Conduction no. 1, mentioned to me, “…the search didn’t END with Butch, I believe he’d want it to grow – beyond him. If we use it, it will.” His presence is missed by the many incredible musicians that he touched throughout all of the world and I’m thankful that FONT is presenting this very special performance.
What event besides the events you curated are you most looking forward to checking out live?
Highlights of the festival for me will be the FONT run at Roulette (both evenings will be incredible!), and hearing Marcus Belgrave perform-his joyfulness of spirit sings through the horn every time he plays!
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.Read More