Kamasi Washington Wants to Remain Unstoppable
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“He came with all the thunder and all the heart and all the thoughtfulness that’s part of his playing,” Flea said in a phone interview. “It was phenomenal how much power he gets out of that woodwind instrument, and sensitivity and expression.”

Flea’s reaction upon first hearing Washington mirrored that of many listeners at the time. When tuning in to contemporary jazz, he “was getting a cold feeling and a lack of originality and a lack of the revolutionary spirit, which is the thing that I admire deeply from the jazz I love,” he said. “And when I heard ‘The Epic’ and I listened to Kamasi’s playing and the way he was going about it, I just felt that revolutionary spirit again.”

The praise directed at Washington during that era was intense, but his firm grounding helped him navigate what could have been a disorienting rise. “I was already who I was before anyone said anything like ‘You are the savior of jazz,’” he said. “Just one year before that, they wouldn’t have said my name at all.”

Washington’s wide acclaim afforded him new opportunities, like an invitation to contribute to the 2017 Whitney Biennial and the chance to score the 2020 Michelle Obama doc “Becoming,” for which he picked up a Grammy nomination. And his increased platform added prestige to satellite projects such as Dinner Party, a team-up with Terrace Martin, Robert Glasper and the producer 9th Wonder that will appear — along with Washington’s own band — at this summer’s Newport Jazz Festival.

Like his personal life, Washington’s musical practice is still evolving. He’s working on a ballet and recently completed music for a new project by Shinichiro Watanabe, director of the celebrated anime series “Cowboy Bebop.”

But beyond specific near-future projects, he’s honing a certain mind set, taking cues from the luminaries he’s been lucky enough to work with so far. “That free spirit is something I’m kind of realizing more and more is just a through line” uniting figures such as Lamar, Hancock and André 3000, he said. As he praised their shared creative conviction, he could have been describing his own. “It’s like that sense of, they make the music and the art they want to make, no matter what it is,” he said, sounding determined. “They’re unstoppable.”

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