Kamasi Washington, an acclaimed tenor saxophonist, has become one of the most discussed figures in contemporary jazz. Born in Los Angeles in 1981, Washington’s musical journey was influenced by the city’s diverse cultural fabric, and his parents, who were both accomplished musicians. Washington’s father, Rickey Washington, was a professional saxophonist, and his mother, Valerie Washington, a flutist. They provided an immersive musical environment that shaped Washington’s early appreciation for music, particularly jazz.
After honing his skills at the Los Angeles High School for the Arts, Washington further developed his talent at UCLA’s Department of Ethnomusicology. Here, he was taught by the likes of Kenny Burrell, Billy Higgins, and Gerald Wilson, legendary figures who profoundly impacted his understanding of music and inspired his creative direction.
As a professional, Kamasi Washington emerged in the LA music scene as a sought-after collaborator, working with artists spanning different genres. His versatility shone through his collaborations with names like Lauryn Hill, Snoop Dogg, and Kendrick Lamar. Particularly noteworthy was his contribution to Kendrick Lamar’s landmark album “To Pimp a Butterfly,” which earned him wider recognition.
Washington’s first solo album, “The Epic,” released in 2015, was a momentous event in the jazz world. The three-hour, triple-disc masterpiece, enriched by a 32-piece orchestra and a 20-person choir, exhibited Washington’s expansive vision of music. “The Epic” received widespread critical acclaim, catapulting Washington to the forefront of contemporary jazz. His subsequent albums, “Heaven and Earth” and “The Choice,” further showcased his capability to blur genre boundaries and reaffirmed his status as a leading force in progressive jazz.
Central to Washington’s appeal is his ability to combine complex jazz arrangements with accessible melodies, creating music that is both intellectually stimulating and emotionally engaging. His music, inspired by the likes of John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter, is marked by a creative fusion of traditional jazz with elements of gospel, soul, and funk. This stylistic mix contributes to the unique, genre-blurring sound that has become Washington’s signature.
Moreover, Washington is recognized for his role in the West Coast Get Down, a collective of LA-based musicians who share a common goal to push the boundaries of jazz. The collective is known for its energetic live performances and collaborative ethos, further enriching the contemporary jazz scene.
In a career spanning over two decades, Kamasi Washington has brought a breath of fresh air to the jazz world, continuously challenging musical conventions and pushing the boundaries of the genre. His exceptional talent, boundless creativity, and visionary approach to music have solidified his standing as one of the most important jazz musicians of his generation.
Page last updated 7/8/2023.