Saxophonist Kamasi Washington is on the first leg of his first tour as a jazz bandleader, but that’s not to say that the L.A.-based artist is unworldly.
He’s toured with Snoop Dogg, performed with Ms. Lauryn Hill and written arraignments for Kendrick Lamar’s critically-acclaimed album “To Pimp a Butterfly.”
But even with that resume, Washington’s debut studio album, “The Epic,” is astounding in its range and depth. Clocking in at nearly three hours of music and spread over three discs, it is at once a tribute to jazz’s long history and an exciting new direction, every bit as relevant to newcomers to the genre as it is to serious aficionados.
Washington took the time to talk to amNewYork in advance of his upcoming two-night stand at the historic Blue Note Jazz Club.
We’re in a time of people releasing singles that were recorded in a bedroom. Your debut is three albums and nearly three hours long. How did you pull this off?
For me, my goal going in was a bit naive, in that I wasn’t thinking about conventions or what the rules were. I was just thinking, “I’ve gotta put this music out.” And since it was my music, I didn’t have to compromise anything. I wanted to document our music and what we do, and this is it. This is what we do.
What did you take from collaborating with people like Snoop Dogg and Ms. Lauryn Hill when it came to creating “The Epic”?
Each one of them kind of gave me something different. Each musician, each style had its own emphasis. Like playing with Snoop … [his] emphasis was on the details, the very minute, microscopic details, like what frequencies are we pushing or taking out, or our tone as horn players. Not just what beat are you on, but what part of the beat are you on. … Snoop and those guys didn’t have me playing anything technically difficult, but the amount of detail. And when I applied that same thing to jazz, it was like a new layer. It was always there, but I hadn’t emphasized it.
You’ve played with a lot of big names in a lot of big places. But is there still something a little special about playing a legendary club like Blue Note?
Absolutely. New York City in general, it’s almost an honor to be able to bring something to New York. Usually, New York gives something to you — a style or a sound. It’s what you dream about. You dream about playing at Blue Note or Vanguard, these iconic clubs. We recently played the Central Avenue Jazz Festival in Los Angeles, and it’s got a lot of music history there, too, and you can just feel it. Like the spirit is still there.
If you go: Kamasi Washington performs on Aug. 24 and 25 at 8 and 10:30 p.m. each night at Blue Note Jazz Club, 131 W. Third St., 212-475-8592, $10-$25.