Ishmael Wadada Leo Smith (18 December 1941 in Leland, Mississippi) is a trumpeter and composer working primarily in the fields of avant-garde jazz and free improvisation. He started out playing drums, mellophone and French horn before he settled on the trumpet. He played in various rhythm-n-blues groups and by 1967 became a member of the AACM and co-founded the Creative Construction Company, a trio with Leroy Jenkins and Anthony Braxton. In 1971 Smith formed his own label, Kabell. He also formed another band, the New Dalta Ahkri, with members including Henry Threadgill, Anthony Davis and Oliver Lake.
In the 1970s Smith studied ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University. He played again with Anthony Braxton as well as recording with Derek Bailey's Company. In the mid-eighties, Smith became Rastafarian and began using the name Wadada. In 1993, he began teaching at Cal Arts, a position he currently holds. In addition to trumpet and flugelhorn, Smith plays several world music instruments, including the koto, kalimba, and atenteben (Ghanaian bamboo flute); he has also taught courses in instrument making. His compositions often use a graphic notation system he calls "Ankhrasmation."
In 1998, Smith and guitarist Henry Kaiser released Yo, Miles! a tribute to Miles Davis's under-appreciated 1970s electric period. On this album Smith, Kaiser and a large cast of musicians recorded cover versions and original compositions inspired by Miles's electric music. The follow-ups Sky Garden (released by Cuneiform in 2004) and Upriver (released in 2005) were recorded with a different cast of musicians. Both line-ups featured Michael Manring on bass.
Smith has recently recorded a few albums for Tzadik and Pi Recordings record labels.
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