Kalamazoo Institute of Arts to Open Wadada Leo Smith: Ankhrasmation, the Language Scores 1967-2015

The Kalamazoo Institute of Arts will open a new exhibition October 15th. Wadada Leo Smith: Ankhrasmation, the Language Scores 1967-2015 answers positively the question, “Can a musical score be transformed into a work of art?”

A pioneer in the fields of contemporary jazz and creative music, Wadada Leo Smith is a composer, educator, and visual artist who developed Ankhrasmation over the course of nearly 50 years. His name for this musical language is composed of Ankh, the Egyptian symbol for life, Ras; the Ethiopian word for leader; and Ma, a universal term for mother.

Smith’s colorful scores are visual compositions filled with energy, illustrating the conversation between improvised and formally scored music. They include traditional notation but embrace more symbolic constructions with color, line, and shape, providing guidance for the seasoned improviser. More than 75 works will be on display to intrigue students of music, performance, and composition, and fans of jazz and visual art.

“Wadada Leo Smith is a prolific creative genius who has committed his life to raising human consciousness through music,” says KIA Executive Director Belinda Tate. “A master of composition and improvisation, he is one of the great jazz performers of our time. We are proud to present a lesser known aspect of his creative work in his dynamic system of musical notation, with such strong aesthetic qualities that they can be contemplated as visual art.”

Smith has released more than 50 albums, with one due this month, as part of the centennial anniversary of the creation of the National Park Service: America’s National Parks, a double-CD tribute to America’s scenic landscapes.

Smith will perform at the KIA Monday, October 24th. The evening starts with a 5pm reception, followed at 5:30pm by remarks by the artist in the galleries, and a 6:30pm performance in the auditorium with Grand Rapids bassist John Lindberg. Tickets are available at, by phone at 269/349-7775, and at the door if available.

The exhibition is organized by The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, where it was first exhibited in October 2015. It is curated by John Corbett and Hamza Walker. The exhibition closes March 5, 2017.

About the Artist

One of the great trumpet players of our time, Wadada Leo Smith is an American jazz maestro of creative contemporary music. A composer, improviser, performer, music theorist/writer, and educator, Smith has spent his life exploring the heart, soul, and structure of jazz.

Born December 18, 1941 in Leland, Mississippi, Smith began performing at age 13 with his stepfather, bluesman Alex Wallace. He received his formal musical education from the U.S. military band program, the Sherwood School of Music, and Wesleyan University, and is one of the first generation of musicians to come out of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Music.

A 2016 Doris Duke Artist and 2013 Pulitzer Prize finalist, Smith was DownBeat Magazine’s 2013 Composer of the Year and the Jazz Journalist Association’s 2013 Musician of the Year and Trumpeter of the Year. In 2014 DownBeat magazine named him “One of the 80 Coolest Things in Jazz Today,” citing his “magisterial instrumental voice, his inspirational leadership, and his command of classical, jazz, and blues forms to remind us of what’s gone down and what’s still happening.” The Jazz Journalists Association named him Composer of the Year in 2015.

Smith’s recordings include The Great Lakes Suites, which earned second place in NPR Music’s 2014 Jazz Critics Poll, and Celestial Weather. His landmark 2012 civil rights opus Ten Freedom Summers was called “A staggering achievement–It merits comparison to Coltrane’s A Love Supreme in sobriety and reach,” (Francis Davis, Rhapsody Jazz Critics Poll). In March 2016 ECM released a cosmic rhythm with each stroke featuring pianist Vijay Iyer and Smith, whom Iyer calls his “hero, friend and mentor.”

Smith has played in Austria, Belgium, Canada, England, France, Germany, Holland, Hungary, Iceland, Japan, Macedonia, Italy, South Korea, Portugal, Switzerland, and Yugoslavia, and has taught or lectured in nearly as many locations.