The Epicness of Kamasi Washington and the West Coast Get Down | KCET
The Epicness of Kamasi Washington and the West Coast Get Down
Earlier this month, more than three dozen, influential jazz, R&B and soul musicians took over the stage of the sold-out Regent Theater in downtown Los Angeles. With a soundboard manned by National Public Radio and the giddy anticipation brought on by global accolades -- Los Angeles Times profile, New York Times profile, Flea's twitter feed -- jazz tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington was finally getting the recognition he had worked so hard at. This wasn't the birth of a new era of jazz in Los Angeles. But it was a cosmic communion, and a breakthrough for Washington.
"I do feel an obligation to promote Los Angeles jazz," Washington says. "I was one of those people overlooked."
The origins of the evening's massive band, the West Coast Get Down, is a bit nebulous. The double-down rhythm section grew out of Los Angeles's Leimert Park. Washington, an Inglewood-raised UCLA graduate, booked a gig upstairs at Fifth Street Dick's coffeehouse more than ten years ago. When childhood friends -- bassist Stephen "Thundercat" Bruner, drummer Ronald Bruner, Jr., and keyboardist Cameron Graves -- informed Washington they couldn't make the gig, he called another trio, upright bassist Miles Mosley, keyboardist Brandon Coleman and drummer Tony Austin. Then to Washington's surprise everybody showed up. The formation stuck, later adding trombonist Ryan Porter, trumpeter Dontae Winslow and vocalist Patrice Quinn.
That core group can easily be linked to thousands of musicians around the world.
Washington toured with Snoop Dogg after college and Chaka Khan. Bassist Bruner, Jr. has worked for Kenny Garrett and Suicidal Tendencies. Mosley has had recording contracts since he was a teenager and even toured with Jonathan Davis of Korn. Austin has held it down for Santana and Willow Smith. But they have always returned to Hollywood's Piano Bar for their twice weekly residency.
Washington has been a towering local presence since the late 1990s. He was a vibrant burst of youthful firepower in the Gerald Wilson big band. He has toured with drummer Harvey Mason.
In the last decade he has performed under his own name at Walt Disney Concert Hall, LACMA and Grand Performances. And earlier this year he was an integral part of Kendrick Lamar's "To Pimp A Butterfly" ensemble, contributing string arrangements and some horn work. Finally, this spring a recording with his name as the headliner was coming out.
Washington's debut on Los Angeles-based Brainfeeder Records is making up for lost time. Called "The Epic," the album is nearly three hours long, spread across three discs. Through hard-hitting originals and a few unexpected left turns ("Clair De Lune," "Cherokee"), Washington presents a sound that is 21st century jazz. It is informed by hip-hop, brushed with a little reggae but wholly in the pocket, full of fire and sensitivity. Washington blares through the dense arrangements with unwavering confidence. It is as grand a statement as one could hope for from someone with so much to say.
"The record was playing in my dream," said Washington of the marathon recording sessions that took place back in 2011. "I would dream the whole three hour record. It tripped me out. I took it as a sign."
He also took it to his label boss Steven Ellison, aka Flying Lotus, and told him that all seventeen tracks had to be released together. Ellison, a cornerstone of the Los Angeles electronica scene, and an increasing advocate for the jazz world, expected that response and agreed to release Washington's vision in full. "Lotus shined a light and opened a door," Washington says, "he gave me the confidence to go all in."
Washington's armfuls of tapes were just part of the recorded output. All ten members of the collective are capable bandleaders with very different perspectives and many of them came away with recordings of their own from that original session. Brandon Coleman, on loan from the Mothership, has an album waiting. Bruner, Jr. has his own double-fisted project ready to go and Mosley and Austin have a duo called BFI that clobbers with funky precision.
So how long can the West Coast Get Down last? Will they perhaps splinter under the weight of some long-deserved recognition? How long can they continue playing twice a week in Hollywood? Thundercat was the first to step out with a pair of releases also for Brainfeeder showcasing his astounding bass work and dilated psychedelic "third-eye" influence. Those albums helped him become an in-demand entertainer, even headlining a tent at the Cape Town Jazz Festival last March, eschewing his usual chainmail for colorful dashikis. Washington is filling his calendar with tour dates reaching as far as New Zealand and with each spotlight-worthy excursion, the West Coast Get Down will become harder and harder to contain.
But Washington keeps spreading the group's gospel. "I'm making a point to tell everybody how amazing my friends are," he says. "Ronald Bruner is a genius. Brandon Coleman is a genius."
And the world is finally paying attention.
The L.A. Roots of Kendrick Lamar's 'To Pimp a Butterfly'
Kendrik Lamar's new album, "To Pimp A Butterfly," has distinct L.A.-centric musical roots.
Ernie Andrews: Soul of Los Angeles Jazz
Jazz singer Ernie Andrews will receive LACMA's L.A. Jazz Treasure award, recognizing Andrews' role in L.A.'s early jazz scene.
Jazzman John Ellis On Writing in L.A.
Saxophonist and composer John Ellis has spent his residency at 18th Street Arts Center by composing 30 new pieces of work.
A Remembrance of Jazz Icon Charlie Haden
The death of jazz legend Charlie Haden at the age of 76 resounds strongly in L.A., where Haden built his career and called home for decades.
Remembering Jazzman Gerald Wilson
Iconic bandleader/composer/arranger/educator Gerald Wilson, who passed away last month at the age of 96, was a fixture on the Central Avenue scene in Los Angeles.
Here are a few programs and articles we recommend to help center your Thanksgiving celebration on honoring and amplifying Native stories, seeking truth about our history, and acknowledging Indigenous presence and wisdom.
Here’s where to find five of L.A.’s most scenic bridge crossings — and why they’re fascinating destinations in their own right.
Children whose educations have been disrupted by the pandemic may suffer life-long consequences, including shorter life spans, according to a study released today by the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.
Many artists find work has dried up due to COVID-19, but it doesn’t mean you have to stop working entirely. Several artists and people who work with artists share their best tips on things to do when work is slow.
- 1 of 398
- next ›
Robert Irwin, Larry Bell and Helen Pashgian explore perception, material and experience.
Drummer Mekala Session and other artists carry forward Los Angeles’ rich jazz legacy.
Artists created works to spark conversation about L.A. and sustainable futures.
The Watts Towers Arts Center was born out of the resilience of 1960s Black L.A.
From the typeface of “The Godfather” book cover to the Noguchi table, the influence of Japanese American artists and designers in postwar American art and design is unparalleled. Learn how the World War II incarceration affected their lives and creations.
- 1 of 12
- next ›