Editors’ Notes When saxophonist and bandleader Kamasi Washington got the call from Nadia Hallgren asking if he wanted to score her documentary on Michelle Obama, he was on tour, and time for writing and recording was gonna be tight. But he didn’t flinch. “I was super honored,” Washington tells Apple Music. “Because it’s her life story, and it’s such an important moment for the history of the world. For so many people, she was a guiding light.”

Though known for his diverse, fiery amalgamations of post-bop jazz, Washington—who through his work with Flying Lotus, Kendrick Lamar, Thundercat, and others has helped bring jazz to a distinctly non-jazz audience—took the opportunity of Becoming to tone his creative muscles in service of someone else’s project. “When you’re hearing my music, I’m making it from me,” he says. “With this, I was writing for the film, for Michelle Obama, for Nadia.” Take “Southside” and “Announcement,” which echo the breezy soul of mid- and late-’60s Motown, music Washington knew Obama loved. (Asked where he searched for stylistic inspiration, Washington laughs: “I looked up some Michelle Obama playlists.”) Then there’s stuff like “Song for Fraser,” a reflective ballad structured around a segment about Michelle’s father, Fraser Robinson, which Washington described as an attempt to “write something that feels like a real old standard.”

Other cues—“Take In the Story,” and “Provocation,” for example—were written less as historical referents than mood pieces. “I wanted it to feel full,” Washington said. “But I knew that because it was a documentary, it’s music that was mostly going along with dialogue. In terms of orchestration, I tried to give it more space. Like, the music frames the idea you’re seeing.”

As much of a departure as the project might seem, it also served as a kind of personal reaffirmation, a chance to reconnect with sounds and styles—the Motown, the prewar jazz—that don’t often come up in his creative practice. “It was fun, because there was a fair amount of diversity I was able to get in musically,” he says. “And as we were making it, I realized, like, ‘Oh, this is music I love too.’”

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