Outside of the impending release of The Epic, Kamasi Washington was also a key contributor in Kendrick Lamar’s latest album, To Pimp A Butterfly. The saxophonist was originally brought in by multi-instrumentalist and super-producer Terrace Martin to work on the the outro of “Mortal Man,” the last cut in TPAB. Washington eventually contributed horn arrangements throughout K Dot’s magnum opus as well as lending his horn on the record. We recently caught up with the Inglewood native to discuss The Epic as well as his contributions to To Pimp A Butterfly.

Audio Premiere: Kamasi Wahsington Drops "Miss Understanding" From His Forthcoming 'The Epic' LP

For Part I of our interview, click here.

R: I read that that the collection mission of you and The Next Step is “to remove jazz from the shelf of relics and make it new, unexpected and dangerous again.” How does your music draw from tradition while pushing boundaries and challenging preconceptions?

KW: Well, it draws from tradition in the fact that we studied the tradition. We’re all very learned musicians in that sense, but at the same time we’ve all played a lot of different styles of music. My first tour was with Snoop Dogg. It’s a thing in L.A. that we have kind of an outcast theme goin with jazz in Los Angeles, like people don’t really know about it and people don’t really know that we do what we do. A lot of people think of us as being hip-hop and R&B musicians, but we’re jazz musicians.

The history of the music comes through in our playing because of all of the music we studied, because we love jazz. So, the history comes from the love. But we’ve never tried to recreate, we’ve never tried to copy, we’ve never tried to do any of those things. We’ve always just kind of been ourselves. When we were younger that was kind of controversial, the fact that we didn’t do things the way that people expected us to do them, and now it’s almost like, what we’re doing, it’s like the world has caught up to it.

We just have always tried to be ourselves, and to me that is the culture, that is the legacy of the music. It’s an individual music, it’s a music of creativity, it’s a music of personal experience, and that’s what we all try to bring to the music. I’ve never tried to add anything to my music. I listen to stuff, I like it, I’ve loved jazz my whole life, it’s embedded in me that way, but I’ve never tried to copy in any way. So, a lot of times, when we play places, they don’t even realize we’re playing jazz, because it’s so relevant to what it is now. It’s like, I’m of this age, they’re of this age, and so the music feels like something brand new. People sometimes come and ask me “What kind of music is this?” and I’m like “This is jazz.” They’re like “Oh, this is jazz?” But, because our perspective is so personal, that it comes across that way.


R: How important is the word “jazz” to you? Is it important that people call your music jazz? Are you trying to remind people of how beautiful the jazz is, trying to make people aware of that? How do you feel about all the debate surrounding modern definitions of jazz?

KW: Honestly, the term “jazz” has no importance to me. The terminologies we use for music in general have no real importance to me. Music is a part of life, it’s alive, it exists without titles. So, you can call my music what you want to call it.

As far as jazz– jazz is so wide. It’s over a century old, you know what I mean? To me, it’s even more vast than what people say it is. What people say it is really, really vast, but what it actually is to me is super vast, because in my opinion, like, James Brown is jazz, in my opinion… that term “jazz”, when I think about it, if Duke Ellington and John Coltrane are jazz, then you have to say James Brown is jazz, and if James Brown is jazz then you have to say Kendrick Lamar is jazz and you have to say that Snoop Dogg is jazz because that means that Parliament is jazz.

To me what that means is that that term “jazz” is so ambiguous, that you use it for what you want to use it for and you don’t use it for what you don’t want to use it for. So, I have no connection to the term, it’s just a word. The music is alive; it’s not bound by a word. My music is my music, it comes from my heart, it comes from my experiences. A lot of my experiences have come from what is called jazz, a lot of my upbringing came up in what is called jazz, I’ve studied a lot of the music that’s called jazz, but it didn’t have to be called jazz. It could’ve been called something else. There’s music that I look at as being very similar to jazz and very much having the same elements that I definitely have embedded in my music, that aren’t called jazz. So, I’m not tied to the term at all, it’s just a word.


R: I know you worked on the Kendrick Lamar album. What was it like working on that? You did the arrangements?

KW: Yeah, yeah, I did the string arrangements on that. I co-wrote the music that goes under the Tupac interview that he has. It was amazing, man! I’ve worked with a lot of artists who are not hands-on like Kendrick is, he’s very hands-on. Terrace Martin is who brought me in. He taught me about what they were working on. Originally, I was only going to work on the Tupac, the hidden track on “Mortal Man.” So we got in, and they played that for me and it completely blew me away because it was another one of those time travel things where it’s like, it sounds like Tupac is talking about what’s happening right now.

So then Kendrick and Terrace both realized that for me to write that music for that part of the record, I really needed to hear the whole record, because that record that we made. It’s made to be listened to from beginning to end. So they played the whole record for me and I was just floored, and in the process of them playing the whole record for me, we realized, we should be putting some strings. They were like, “You should write something on this one, on this one.” We basically started on the four songs that I wrote on, and it was a really cool experience. It was trippy because normally when people ask me to do horn, string arrangements, or something like that, what they do is they give me the music. I go home. I write something and I bring it back. It was pretty lock and key there so I couldn’t take the music with me. So I was, like, writing the music and Kendrick, and Terrace and Soundwave are, like, sitting on the couch watching me (laughs). Which was cool, it was cool, it was like, “Oh ok, they’re into it!” That made it cool.

So, I was there, just kinda vibin’ out on it, and it was like they were all giving input. Terrace and I worked on a lot of the songs together. It was so cool because all my friends were on the record. As I was listening I was like, “Who’s that on drums? Oh wow! Is that Thundercat on bass again?! Oh wow, ok!” It was really cool because we’ve all been around for a while. We’ve been making records for a while. But Kendrick, he’s such an amazing artist that he saw the wealth of music that was embedded in us. Terrace was the link to a lot of us all being a part of it and Kendrick was open to that. To me, that created a once-in-a-generation piece of art. There was so much energy, so much talent from so many people and so openly used. Man, it was a great experience.

R: Anything you’d like to add?

KW: Well, be on the lookout. For my record but, like I said, when I made my record all my friends made records as well. So be on the lookout for Miles Mosley, Brandon Coleman, Ronal Bruner, Cameron Graves, Patrice Quinn, Ryan Porter, they all made records as well. We have plans on gettin’ those out in the right way. It’s exciting because it’s so much music and it’s a really good time for it, even though it’s been a while! We’ve been working on it for a while. It was worth the wait so be on the lookout for that.

Pre-order your copy of Kamasi Washington’s The Epic via iTunes.


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