Wadada Leo Smith’s latest CD

Rosa Parks: Pure Love. An Oratorio of Seven Songs

By: - Feb 24, 2019

Wadada Leo Smith, acclaimed jazz trumpeter, multi-instrumentalist, composer and educator has released Rosa Parks: Pure Love. An Oratorio of Seven Songs (2019, TUM Records). It’s an oratorio of seven songs inspired by the iconic civil rights leader Rosa Parks (1913-2005). Smith says it’s “concerned with ideas of freedom, liberty and justice, a meditation centered around the Civil Rights movement.” Looking at Smith’s 50+ years of creative and artistic vision in music. It is yet another inspired organic musical direction. Previous work has established him as one of the leading composers and performers of contemporary music. 

Smith is taking the audience on another musical and spiritual journey. It is  making discoveries with sparse instrumentation, solo vocalists, spoken word, and historical video presentation with live performances scheduled for 2019. This tribute to Rosa Parks beautifully mixes a world view of exceptional vocal parts between African-American Karen Parks, Min Xiao-Fen from China and Carmina Escobar from Mexico.

The ethereal voices are accompanied by both the RedKoral (string) Quartet and Blue Trumpet Quartet featuring Smith with Ted Daniel, Hugh Ragin and Graham Haynes, with drum-set (Pheeroan akLaff) and electronics (Hardedge). With minimal instrumentation, Smith conveys the spiritual narrative of Rosa Parks’ extraordinary and fearless actions. In Smith’s words they “generated a movement worldwide for liberty and justice for human beings.” 

Although making a demand on the attention of the listener for each of the “Seven Songs”, Smith rewards conceptually. That is accomplished by delivering the sum of the parts utilizing the full range of emotion available in instrumentation and voice.

Throughout the piece, the titles elicit Parks’ “feelings” as she makes her journey with headings such as “Resistance and Unity”, “Defiance, Justice and Liberation” and “Postlude: Victory!” Smith reveals contemplation of sounds that evoke the full range of Rosa Parks’ humanity.


In my recent conversation with Smith regarding the nature and evolution of his music, the word “creation” replaced “improvisation.” Creation, according to Smith, is “the process of making art in the present moment.”  From a musician’s standpoint, he explains, “listen to Miles Davis or Louis Armstrong – they have 4 to 5 different kinds of B Flat.” 

 On his highly acclaimed and awarded release, America’s National Park (2017, Cuneiform Records), Smith won DownBeat Magazine’s Best Album of the Year, 2017. It also earned DB’s Annual Critics Poll in 2017 for best artist and trumpeter. His  themes again set a mood for the players to “sketch” their own interpretations. Listening to “Yellowstone”, his ode to the first National Park, you hear the spontaneous reaction and interplay of instruments. 

He is an artist not seeing borders but instead a wider palette of sounds, unique to the individual musicianship. Smith’s Rosa Parks: Pure Love. An Oratorio of Seven Songs finds an ever-inquisitive artist, taking chances to explore and discover “what is right in front of us” musically, rewarding the listener.