May 30, 2013
Wadada Leo Smith’s four CD, 4 ½ hour opus Ten Freedom Summers is more than an outstanding work of jazz. Rather, it has to be viewed as a major artistic statement about African-American history, and compared favorably with jazz works like Duke Ellington’s Black, Brown, & Beige and Wynton Marsalis’ Blood on the Fields; operas like Anthony Davis’ X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X and Adrienne Danrich’s This Little Light of Mine; and even the plays of August Wilson, and novels of Alice Walker and Toni Morrison.
Smith’s compositions are organized in three principal sections—"Defining Moments in America", "What Is Democracy?", and "Freedom Summers". Each section's pieces musically describe significant figures associated with the Civil Rights Movement during 1954 to 1964 and concepts relevant to the formation of institutions that evolved from human interaction, including government, media, and giant corporations. Trumpeter Smith performs the work with his Golden Quartet (drummers Pheeroan akLaff and Susie Ibarra, pianist Anthony Davis (and composer of X), and bassist John Lindberg). Orchestrations are added by the Southwest Chamber Music ensemble.
Smith and the work have justly received a great deal of adulation of late, including his nomination for a Pulitzer Prize and his victory in the Jazz Journalists Awards last month as Jazz Musician of the Year and Trumpeter of the Year. He was working on musical additions to Ten Freedom Summers and other works when I spoke with him earlier this month.
Click here to listen to Podcast 351, a fascinating conversation which features musical selections from Ten Freedom Summers(which have been edited by me, and therefore may not accurately portay the artist's intent) and other works, including:
Wadada Leo Smith - "Medgar Evers A Love-Voice of a Thousand Years' Journey For Liberty and Justice (edit)"; "Emmett Till Defiant, Fearless (edit)" and "Fannie Lou Hamer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, 1964" from Ten Freedom Summers.
Wadada Leo Smith & Louis Moholo-Moholo - "No Name in the Street, James Baldwin" from Ancestors.