Acclaimed trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith has inhabited many roles throughout his prolific career: improviser, recording artist, innovator, activist. And come April, he’ll add yet another—festival organizer. The DownBeat Critics Poll-topping composer has announced the inaugural edition of his CREATE Festival, a two-day celebration and exploration of creative music that will feature classic works alongside world premiere performances.
Taking place April 8–9 at Firehouse 12 in New Haven, Connecticut, the festival will include performances by five separate ensembles as well as seminars discussing Smith’s singular compositional innovations.
“This idea has been in a dream state for many, many years,” Smith said. That dream has been realized in part due to support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, which awarded Smith the Doris Duke Artist Award in 2016.
The eclectic weekend will include performances by two trios, three of the composer’s most recent works for string quartet, a vocal oratorio and the world premiere of Smith’s latest composition, America’s National Parks, which was released as an album on Cuneiform Records in October 2016.
In addition, both days’ performance schedules will kick off with short sets by young, unrecorded musicians (including Wadada’s 21-year-old grandson, guitarist Lamar Smith), providing a platform for artists in the early stages of their careers to receive exposure to receptive audiences and guidance from Smith.
Both evenings’ concert programs will culminate with the first-time live performance of the four largest movements from America’s National Parks by Smith’s newly-expanded Golden Quintet, which now includes Smith, pianist Anthony Davis, bassist John Lindberg, drummer Pheeroan akLaff and cellist Ashley Walters.
The April 8 line-up commences with “Dark Lady Of The Sonnets,” a piece dedicated to Billie Holiday and originally recorded in 2011, by Smith’s Mbira trio with akLaff and pipa virtuoso Min Xiao-Fen. Mbira will then be joined by the RedKoral Quintet, a string quartet assembled to perform Smith’s music, and a pair of vocalists for excerpts from his “Rosa Parks Oratorio,” originally premiered during the 2016 FONT Festival of New Trumpet Music.
The RedKoral Quintet, comprising longtime collaborators Shalini Vijayan and Mona Tian (violin), Lorenz Gamma (viola) and Ashley Walters (cello), will then premiere Smith’s “String Quartet No. 9” and the first movement of “String Quartet No. 10,” two of the latest in a book of music begun in the mid-1960s.
“No. 9” features four movements dedicated to female African-American pioneers in music and the Civil Rights movement (Ma Rainey, Marian Anderson, Rosa Parks, and Angela Davis), while “No. 10” was inspired by the legendary Duke Ellington and also features pianist Anthony Davis.
The April 9 concert begins with Smith’s 12th String Quartet, the “Pacifica,” which was premiered at the 2016 Vision Festival and was written for four violas (Stephanie Griffin, Gwen Lester, Tanya Kalmanovitch and Jason Kao Hwang) with Smith’s trumpets and electronics by New York-based sound designer Hardedge.
The evening continues with a newly-composed piece for the trio New Delta Akhri, in which Smith is joined by saxophonist and flutist Dwight Andrew and vibraphonist Bobby Naughton.
Several of the works will be supplemented by images provided by video artist Jesse Gilbert, who Smith says adds integral visual context to the aural elements.
Smith will also offer two afternoon seminars during the weekend, one to elaborate on the inspirations and approaches behind his compositions, and the other to offer insights into his symbolic musical language, which he calls Ankhrasmation.
Smith hopes that audiences who attend the festival will come away with a deeper understanding of his artistic process.
“I expect that they’ll be more informed about what my music is and therefore they can create a deeper level of appreciation for what I do,” Smith said. “Ultimately, I wish to create a dialogue about issues of liberty, democracy, art and the connection between human beings.” DB