On May 5, 2012, Jazz trumpeter and visionary composer Wadada Leo Smith released Ten Freedom Summers, a large-scale work 34 years in the making, comprising a four-disc box set. The monumental 5-hour work is Smith’s meditation on the civil-rights movement and other related topics and is organized as 19 fully developed suites for various music ensemble configurations.
“Smith started Ten Freedom Summers in 1977, when he wrote the piece “Medgar Evers” as an evocation of the eponymous civil rights activist gunned down in Mississippi in 1963. Smith subsequently worked intermittently on the project. He spent 34 years writing it, supported by a series of residencies, grants and commissions, the final one from the Southwest Chamber Music ensemble. He completed the pieces in a flurry of activity between 2009 and 2011.” -wikipedia.org, 10 Freedom Summers
“Ten Freedom Summers” is organized not as a single piece but as a collection of independent suites, each dedicated to a historical figure or event. Smith’s background is largely in avant-garde jazz, but the material performed on Friday was mostly scored, with only intermittent passages of free improvisation. The music was highly emotive, often somber and elegiac, but also very abstract. As a composer, Smith often eschews recurring motifs, linear progressions or conventional harmonies. There were stops and starts, with momentum often building only to be suddenly diffused as musicians shot off in a different direction.” – Washington Post, Wadada Leo Smith’s ‘Ten Freedom Summers’ in all its expansive, otherworldly glory, October 27, 2013
“I was born in 1941 and grew up in segregated Mississippi and experienced the conditions which made it imperative for an activist movement for equality,” says Smith says, who marked his 70th birthday with a presentation of this, perhaps his most ambitious undertaking. “I saw that stuff happening. Those are the moments that triggered this. It was in that same environment that I had my first dreams of becoming a composer and performer.”
After decades of being revered by his peers and colleagues, Smith is attaining his rightful place at the forefront of American music. Ten Freedom Summers is an important work that combines unique, fully scored rigorous passages and great improvisational skills into one huge and cohesive work. It is a thrilling, emotionally charged and satisfying work from a master.
Wadada Leo Smith – composer, trumpet
Anthony Davis – piano
John Lindberg – bass
Pheeroan akLaff – drums
Susie Ibarra – drums
Ten Freedom Summers received widespread critical acclaim and was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2013.