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LaDonna Smith is a violinist, violist, vocalist and musical impresario pioneering the field of free improvisation in America as an art form capable of ecstatic and explosive emotions, compositional clarity, lyricism and raw human expression. While best known for her improvisatory work on violin and viola and her collaborative work with Davey Williams, she enjoys improvising on anything from pine cones to the grand piano. A variety of diverse ethnic strings, percussion and didgeridoo are also favorites.

While challenged by the discipline of violin and viola, I am inspired by the whispers heard in the winds through the trees, the trickling waters, the extremes of the weather, pure tone that rises from within. To me, it is the heart and elements of the subconscious that delivers music beyond thought and mind to unabashed physicality and pure consciousness.

~ LaDonna Smith

Although LaDonna normally lives outside the limelight of urban cities in the shade of southern oaks and bamboo at her home in Birmingham Alabama, she is known internationally for her high energy physicality yet conceptual approach to violin performance through improvisation.

From her seminal work with Davey Williams in the early 70’s and the collective free-wheeling community in Tuscaloosa that spawned Raudelunas & Transcendprovisation, their duo marked the beginnings of a life-long commitment to free improvisation as an art.  Together, she and Williams formed TransMuseq record label, producing LP’s, cassettes and Cd’s of their own music plus that of friends, musicians and other collaborators sharing their concept and commitment.

Photograph by Janice Hathaway

As a soloist and with her partner (the two often billed as Trans), she has performed at major improvisation and New Music festivals around the USA, Canada, and the world. From 1979 Improvising Across Borders (UCSD) and Canada’s Ear It Live Festival, New Music America (San Francisco- NY-Albuquerque), Subtropics (Miami), High Zero (Baltimore), Seattle Improvistion Festivals, Guelph and Vancouver Jazz Festivals in the US.  European tours include FMP’s UND, Moers Festival, Taklos (Switzerland), Incus (UK), LOGOS, Jyderup Accordeon Tref (Denmark). She has also performed as a soloist and with collaborators in venues across Russia, Ukraine, China, Japan, Korea, India, and the USA.

Photograph by Janice Hathaway

In 1980 she was a co-founder of the Improvisor’s Network (I.N.) headquartered in NYC with the intent of networking improvised music activity in the USA and Europe.  Thus, the improvisor journal was created dedicated solely to the philosophy and genre of free improvisation. From its inception as the I.N. newsletter in 1980, it evolved into an international magazine journal that featured articles and reviewed cassettes of the “obscure scene” of second-generation improvisers in the USA and around the world.  In 1991, copies were no longer produced when the improvisor was launched online.  The 30-year anniversary of the improvisor was celebrated in 2010 by a month-long festival which took place in 5 American cities.  The online version of the improvisor is currently archived at

LaDonna Smith performs with both amateur and world class improvisers. Notable artists have included Andrea Centazzo, Anthony Braxton, Evan Parker, Derek Bailey, John Russell, Peter Cusak, Peter Kowald, Steve Beresford, Roger Turner, Jeffrey Morgan, Henry Kaiser, John Zorn, Annie Gosfield, Hal Rammell, Anne LeBaron, Jill Burton, Gino Robair, Wally Shoup Ut Gret, Rova, Tatsuya Nakatani, Andrew Dewar, Thollem McDonas, Rova Saxophone Quartet, Shaking Ray Levis, Killick and many others based in her local community.

Recordings on the TransMuseq label: notably with Davey Williams, Theodore Bowen, Anne LeBaron, Centazzo, Idio-Savant, Misha Feigin, Susan Alcorn, Michael Evans, Gunter Christmann, Torsten Muller,  Dave Liebman and Leland Scott Davis.  Her work on other music labels include Say Day-Bew, Ictus, Leo Lab, Table of the Elements, Meniscus, Tzadik, aPPrise, Rastacan, the Unheard Music Series, IMG Media, Frog Peak, Parachute, Ishtar, Einstein and Sweet Wreath.

She has written articles and presented lectures and workshops at the Center for New Music Experiment (UCSD), Chairman of Improvisation Seminar at “Exploratorium” in San Francisco, Goddard College, Bard College, Lake Erie College, Guelph International Jazz Festival, Brigham Young University, Jyderup Accordeontref (Denmark) among others.  She especially loves the topic Improvisation as Cultural Recreation.

Even as I practice, I see the musician as proponent of primal ritual celebration, using music as a tool of cultural recreation.  Accepting the premise that all people have their own unique voices and expressions, translate that into a common musical gift, which can be realized in all people.

~ LaDonna Smith