A virtuosic performance from the jazz musician and Kendrick Lamar’s cosmic collaborator
I first saw Kamasi Washington play with many of these same musicians in Leimert Park in the early two thousands. It was the same night I first met Miguel Atwood Ferguson. I remember thinking Kamasi was a young Cannonball Adderley – open, charismatic and in full flight already on his instrument. I had the distinct feeling that the future of the music was safe. Although I had no idea just how safe it was.
I met Kamasi again in the lead up to the release of Thundercat’s first record with Brainfeeder. I had the pleasure of shooting that release party with Eric Coleman and Mike Park and we released a short film of it called Thundercat 105 and that’s me trying to follow Kamasi’s fingers on the sax with the Nikon 105mm lens. I offered to make our resources available to Kamasi for whatever he needed around then. Kamasi embodies the best of Los Angeles. His commitment, patience and clarity are always re-assuring. The measure of a great musician isn’t just in what he plays but in what he facilitates around him and all these men and woman play and sing pure emotion with Kamasi.
Thundercat told me once “He’s our Pharoah Saunders…”
In late December 2011, a good friend Sufia Toorawa called me and invited me to come down to the Kingsize studios – less than a mile from my house. “Kamasi is there recording you have to see…” Sufia had been helping Kamasi with production and when I got there I realized that it wasn’t just Kamasi but the whole West Coast Get Down. They had been there the entire month. I set up an audio recorder and started shooting the following night and managed three days in total. Those files sat for four years. But in there was the actual take of Rhythm Changes that ended up on the record. I’ve always loved this song and the lyric immediately caught me. Patrice is a wonderful spirit and fits perfectly with the band.
In the ensuing months and now years Kamasi’s stature has only grown, capped this year by his string and horn arrangements on To Pimp a Butterfly for Kendrick Lamar. Kamasi’s record The Epic, eventually got strings and a choir (even including my wife Thalma De Freitas) and by the time the record was released in May of this year the buzz was at fever pitch. On that famous night at the Regent, Kamasi put 1200 L.A. heads of all generations, races and beliefs in the same room on a Monday night paying $40 a head to see four hours of jazz. Yes four hours, yes a Monday night. After the second set, (there was three) I told the poet Kamau Daaood “My chest feels so full man, my heart is beating bigger…” Ethno-musicologist Josh Kuhn asked me “What is this man? This just cant be the Kendrick thing…” I’ve spent the past few months trying to answer this question. Somehow it is Kendrick, it is Los Angeles, it is Kamasi and his ability to bring people together, the fact that these musicians built their own audience in LA over the past ten years, but it is also a profound need I think we’ve all had to celebrate the exquisite, loving that Black American Music is. In a moment populated by dead black men’s bodies, (from Oscar Grant, to Trayvon, to Mike Brown and Eric Garner and on and on every twenty eight hours) we needed to not look away, we needed to remember, we needed somehow to celebrate. This show and this music is that.
This film is a mere eight minutes of this entire experience. I am profoundly honored to have the chance to share it with you here.
Directed by: B+ / Editor: Luke Lynch for Parallax / Cameras: B+, Mike Park, Ava Porter, Laith Majali / Color: Laith Majali / Voice Over: Kamasi Washington / Sound Mix: Daddy Kev / Executive Producers: Kamasi Washington, Banch Abegaze and Adam Stover
Kamasi Washington (Saxophone) / Ryan Porter (Trombone) / Dontae Winslow (Trumpet) / Patrice Quinn (Vocal) / Cameron Graves (Piano) / Brandon Coleman (Keyboards) / Miles Mosley (Upright Bass) / Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner (Electric Bass) / Tony Austin (Drums) / Ronald Bruner (Drums)
Charles Jones, Dwight Trible, Dawn Norsleet, Mashica Winslow, Nia Andrews, Steven Wayne, Taylor Graves, Thalma de Freitas
Paul Cartwright (Violin) / Tylana Renga (Violin) / Jen Simone (Violin) / Yvette Devereaux (Violin) / Molly Rogers (Viola) / Andrea Witt (Viola)/ Ginger Murphy (Cello) / Atryom Manukyan (Cello)