About Kamasi Washington
No artist in the 21st century has brought jazz to such a young and diverse audience as Kamasi Washington. The Los Angeles tenor saxophonist and composer bridges the music's revered traditions and its multi-limbed experiments in other genres. He’s as comfortable headlining storied concert halls as he is playing mammoth rock festivals or DIY performance spaces. It’s no wonder that in 2016, the New York Times Magazine called him “the most-talked-about jazz musician since Wynton Marsalis arrived on the New York scene three decades ago.”
Born in 1981, Washington began taking music lessons as a kid in LA's Leimert Park, a community known for its preservation of African American culture and art. With some of the friends he made at school, Washington formed the West Coast Get Down—a touring and recording collective that includes bassists Miles Mosley and Stephen Bruner (a.k.a. Thundercat); trombonist Ryan Porter; drummers Tony Austin and Ronald Bruner Jr.; and keyboardists Cameron Graves and Brandon Coleman. While honing his craft as a student at UCLA, Washington was performing with all manner of artists and spreading himself out musically, playing as a sideman while also writing his own compositions. "It was always like, I'm playing with Gerald Wilson today and Snoop Dogg tomorrow,” he told Apple Music of his unpredictable dance card. "I was playing in the jazz band and orchestra at school, but then I also played at church. That sense of music being a melting pot has always been part of who I am.”
Case in point: His breakthrough came in 2015 when he played sax and wrote string arrangements on Kendrick Lamar’s hip-hop opus To Pimp a Butterfly. When Washington issued his own triple-length debut that year, The Epic, he unveiled a maximalist sound, with two bassists, two drummers, two keyboardists, a 32-piece orchestra and a 20-person choir, often augmented by the hypnotic singing of Patrice Quinn—the kind of record that evoked the grand, improvisational, spiritual jazz of John and Alice Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders and Sun Ra. Washington followed The Epic with a series of releases that all formed a greater whole: Heaven and Earth (on which he mixed jazz, funk and a kung fu flick soundtrack sensibility), an EP entitled The Choice and a short film inspired by those recordings, As Told to G/D Thyself, which he made with the filmmaking collective The Ummah Chroma. “The music felt very visual,” Washington said of the film's impetus. It’s a very personal expression about “the journey to understanding that you can shape the world into what you want it to be,” he said. "I always consider jazz the torch that I've used through my journey. It's been the light that I've used to get through all the other places that I've been musically. I've never been in one solid place ever in my life."
HOMETOWNLos Angeles, CA
BORNFebruary 18, 1981