Wadada Leo Smith’s
America’s National Parks
Legendary composer and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith creates a new masterwork inspired by the country’s most stunning landscapes: The epic America’s National Parks
With America’s National Parks, visionary composer and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith offers his latest epic collection, a six-movement suite inspired by the scenic splendor, historic legacy, and political controversies of the country’s public landscapes. Writing for his newly expanded Golden Quintet, Smith crafts six extended works that explore, confront and question the preserved natural resources that are considered the most hallowed ground in the U.S. – and some that should be.
“The idea that Ken Burns explored in that documentary was that the grandeur of nature was like a religion or a cathedral,” Smith says. “My version of the national parks is as a natural phenomenon in creation, just like man and stars and light and water, is all one thing, just a diffusion of energy. It’s a spiritual and psychological dimension of that idea of setting aside reserves for common property of the American citizens.”
“You don’t really need to visit a park to write about a park,” Smith insists, “Debussy wrote ‘La Mer,’ which is about the sea, and he wasn’t a seafaring person. I would defend his right to do that, and I would contend that ‘La Mer’ is a masterpiece that clearly reflects his psychological connection with the idea of the sea.”
The idea of the parks, rather than their physical and geographical beauty, is central to Smith’s conception for this music. In its marrying of natural landmarks and political challenges it can be traced back to both of the composer’s most recent epic masterpieces, The Great Lakes and especially Ten Freedom Summers. “It became a political issue for me because the people that they set up to control and regulate the parks were politicians,” Smith says. “My feeling is that the parks should be independent of Congress and organized around an independent source who has no political need to be reelected. So it’s a spiritual/psychological investigation mixed with the political dynamics.”
Smith’s always open-minded view of the world leads him to find that same inspiration wherever he is. “Every concrete house is from nature,” he says. Every plastic airplane that flies 300 people across the ocean comes out of nature. Every air conditioner conditions a natural piece of air. I think that the human being is constantly enfolded in organic nature and constructed nature, so I’m constantly inspired, inside the house or outside the house.”