Improvocracy, or Improvising the Civil Rights Movement in Wadada Leo Smith’s Ten Freedom Summers

Daniel Fischlin


Improvising trumpeter and composer Wadada Leo Smith has consistently attended to the linkages between musical improvisation and social justice issues in his work over a long and remarkably productive career marked by a prodigious output of independently-minded music. Having recently celebrated his seventieth birthday by performing with six groups over two nights at Roulette in New York, he has also just released a milestone achievement—Ten Freedom Summers (Cuneiform Records, 2012)—dedicated to exploring through improvised and composed musicking the resonances of the American Civil Rights Movement from 1954 to 1964. This four-CD set of nineteen pieces, totaling some four and half hours of music, is also a three-night performance event that uses videography (but no spoken word interjections) organized around three sections that oscillate between composition and improvisation. Smith’s searing, incendiary, clarion-clear trumpet provides a narrative line that sustains throughout.

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Critical Studies in Improvisation / Études critiques en improvisation is generously supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (through both its Major Collaborative Research Initiatives and Aid to Scholarly Journals programs) and by the University of Guelph Library.
ISSN: 1712-0624