Jazz musician plays for BC


Javier Veldes

Renowned jazz musician Wadada Leo Smith plays his trumpet during a solo performance at the Simonsen Performing Arts Center on Feb. 9.

Elizabeth Castillo, Editor in Chief

Music fans experienced a unique performance and a call to action on Feb. 9 when artist Wadada Leo Smith visited Bakersfield College. Smith, a finalist for the Pulitzer prize in music, played his trumpet at BC’s indoor theater and discussed his collection of compositions, “Ten Freedom Summers.” Smith spoke about the different historical moments that inspired the collection and answered questions from the audience, including how he composes his music.

“I compose through inspiration,” Smith said. “Once I’m inspired, I do the research and then see what instruments I’m going to use.”

“Ten Freedom Summers” is a four-disc box set and the music was heavily inspired by the civil rights movement of the ’60s. Smith discussed Emmett Till and Martin Luther King, Jr. and how they inspired the set.

“There is one photo of Emmett Till with that beautiful white hat on,” he said. “My piece captures both his beauty and his youth.”

Kris Tiner, BC’s Jazz Program director, was excited to have Smith speak and perform for the BC community. Smith was Tiner’s mentor while he attended the graduate program at California Institute of the Arts. Tiner said that he heard Smith play for the first time as a college student and Smith became Tiner’s favorite musician. Once Tiner graduated from California State University Bakersfield, he headed to CalArts and his experiences there changed his life.

One lesson that Tiner learned from Smith at CalArts is that students must determine their own definitions of success and failure. This idea was briefly discussed on Feb. 9 when Smith mentioned the importance of finding one’s passion in life and not focusing on something that solely provides you with a living.

“Whatever you do in life, don’t enter it to make a living because you don’t need to think about it like making a living,” he said. “The giraffe, the bird, they survive and they don’t think about it as a living.”

Smith also wanted to ensure the audience didn’t receive the wrong message. He also said that he wasn’t suggesting people become freeloaders, and he used Charles Ives, a renowned composer who was a successful insurance agent by trade, to illustrate his point.

Smith, 73, recently retired from CalArts and has taught for 35 years combined with his teaching at other institutions. He said that he was happy knowing that he would no longer have to drive to CalArts. Smith said that he preferred living in an independent space away from CalArts which meant long commutes daily. Tiner said that he is looking forward to what Smith produces musically now that he can focus on it exclusively.

“Ten Freedom Summers” was composed over 34 years and Smith said that it was important to create the collection because artistry plays an important role in activism. Smith was born and raised in segregated Mississippi. Emmett Till, a 14-year-old murdered in Mississippi in 1955, inspired an 18 minute composition on the first disk of “Ten Freedom Summers.”

Smith said that musicians like Bob Marley were important in influencing social change. Smith hopes that musicians continue to inspire social change and be involved with activism. Michael Juarez, 19, is a student at BC majoring in music. He’s a member of the jazz ensemble and has played the drums for 5 years. Juarez said that Smith inspired him to continue to bring awareness of social issues.

“Who’s going to stand up to important social issues when no one else does?” he said. “If nobody’s going to talk about these issues it can only be done through music.”