Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0
Mark Stryker

Kamasi Washington: NYT Magazine profile

161 posts in this topic

I suppose this is good for "jazz".

But the next Coltrane - give me a break!!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 hours ago, jlhoots said:

I suppose this is good for "jazz".

But the next Coltrane - give me a break!!

Which of course is impossible because Trane literally changed the music of his era. This is just an simulation of that era (not that there's anything wrong with it).

I am going to see him next month, anyway.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Lots of interesting things in that article...older people might not immediately notice how "real time" all of this is...history repeats itself, etc.

What I find perhaps most interesting is the notion of jazz taking itself back from itself. Lincoln Center Etc., what some of us have been PO-ED about, well...This is most definitely not that.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

And oh yeah, totally Bill Cosby- free jazz thing happening here...think about that from all the angles, not just the obvious ones.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Watched a few of the videos. The music is alive and all the young guys love what they are playing. Good for them. Good for the music. Kamasi plays a nice pliable tenor that emotes like the dudes did back in the day which is much more refreshing than the straight laced guys who refuse to emote and keep it all between the lines.

for me I'm just not that into the modal thing with the McCoyish long piano solos with that bass from back in the day. At some point I was but for whatever reason(s) I've personally much more interested in detailed improv jazz that uses or maybe doesn't depend on straight grooves or melodies. Not saying this as a value judgement but just that it is what cranks my wheel.

Again this stuff - especially the 22 minute live piece with the full orchestra and singers is quite exciting and filled with an energy we've NEVER heard from the famous state sponsored organization of stultified "jazz".

again - good for the band, the crowd who is loving it - and good for Mr. Washington. Since they are so obviously genuine, nothing but good comes from this. I have no doubt that some of the people who have "discovered" jazz via Kamasi Washington would like or love either/and/or the music that inspired him or current more aggressive freerer jazz. I believe that many of these people grooving to this stuff would get off on David S Ware's best performances or Hamid Drake with whoever or even musics that don't always hit the pocket and groove so quickly as this stuff does. 

Edited by Steve Reynolds

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

as I have said, too many times, I suppose; this is the future of jazz only for those for whom it is still 1980.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

After a divorce, I have hung out in bars a lot with many different groups of people between the ages of 30 to 55. This is necessarily an anecdotal account, as I have done no statistical study and cannot be everywhere at once, to sample everyone in every city.

What I have found though, is a complete absence of any awareness of jazz, or interest in jazz, among all people I have met under 55.. This includes educated people who view themselves as being "into the arts."  As a necessary component of a complete lack of any interest in jazz, or any knowledge of jazz, these many people also have zero knowledge of the history of jazz. I can tell you from first hand experience that they absolutely do not want to be told about the history of jazz, for even a few seconds.

I see Kamasi Washington as a near miracle, a younger musician who has broken through somehow to younger people. I have no idea how he has managed to chip through the nearly impenetrable rock wall which has separated nearly all people from jazz for so long now.

I am quite confident that 99.99999999999999999 per cent of all people who like Kamasi Washington's music have zero knowledge of where he fits into jazz history, and that probably 98 per cent of them would have zero interest in learning where he fits into jazz history.

Apart from our little group of jazz lovers, which has become about as marginalized in contemporary American society as a group devoted to a love of early colonial American metalworking, no one knows or cares where Kamasi Washington fits into the spectrum of jazz styles or jazz history. I am just grateful, and amazed, that literally anyone wants to listen to any jazz at all. Only good things can come from it, for all of jazz. Some interest and exposure to jazz among many people has to be better than zero interest and exposure to jazz.

To say that when the masses finally discover any jazz at all, it has to be the jazz that we think is aesthetically worthy, or nothing, strikes me as an unrealistic perspective.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for sharing those insights.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
54 minutes ago, Hot Ptah said:

After a divorce, I have hung out in bars a lot with many different groups of people between the ages of 30 to 55. This is necessarily an anecdotal account, as I have done no statistical study and cannot be everywhere at once, to sample everyone in every city.

What I have found though, is a complete absence of any awareness of jazz, or interest in jazz, among all people I have met under 55.. This includes educated people who view themselves as being "into the arts."  As a necessary component of a complete lack of any interest in jazz, or any knowledge of jazz, these many people also have zero knowledge of the history of jazz. I can tell you from first hand experience that they absolutely do not want to be told about the history of jazz, for even a few seconds.

I see Kamasi Washington as a near miracle, a younger musician who has broken through somehow to younger people. I have no idea how he has managed to chip through the nearly impenetrable rock wall which has separated nearly all people from jazz for so long now.

I am quite confident that 99.99999999999999999 per cent of all people who like Kamasi Washington's music have zero knowledge of where he fits into jazz history, and that probably 98 per cent of them would have zero interest in learning where he fits into jazz history.

Apart from our little group of jazz lovers, which has become about as marginalized in contemporary American society as a group devoted to a love of early colonial American metalworking, no one knows or cares where Kamasi Washington fits into the spectrum of jazz styles or jazz history. I am just grateful, and amazed, that literally anyone wants to listen to any jazz at all. Only good things can come from it, for all of jazz. Some interest and exposure to jazz among many people has to be better than zero interest and exposure to jazz.

To say that when the masses finally discover any jazz at all, it has to be the jazz that we think is aesthetically worthy, or nothing, strikes me as an unrealistic perspective.

Excellent post. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I see him as this generation's Medeski Martin & Wood.  This is a good thing.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Hot Ptah said:

After a divorce, I have hung out in bars a lot with many different groups of people between the ages of 30 to 55. This is necessarily an anecdotal account, as I have done no statistical study and cannot be everywhere at once, to sample everyone in every city.

What I have found though, is a complete absence of any awareness of jazz, or interest in jazz, among all people I have met under 55.. This includes educated people who view themselves as being "into the arts."  As a necessary component of a complete lack of any interest in jazz, or any knowledge of jazz, these many people also have zero knowledge of the history of jazz. I can tell you from first hand experience that they absolutely do not want to be told about the history of jazz, for even a few seconds.

I see Kamasi Washington as a near miracle, a younger musician who has broken through somehow to younger people. I have no idea how he has managed to chip through the nearly impenetrable rock wall which has separated nearly all people from jazz for so long now.

I am quite confident that 99.99999999999999999 per cent of all people who like Kamasi Washington's music have zero knowledge of where he fits into jazz history, and that probably 98 per cent of them would have zero interest in learning where he fits into jazz history.

Apart from our little group of jazz lovers, which has become about as marginalized in contemporary American society as a group devoted to a love of early colonial American metalworking, no one knows or cares where Kamasi Washington fits into the spectrum of jazz styles or jazz history. I am just grateful, and amazed, that literally anyone wants to listen to any jazz at all. Only good things can come from it, for all of jazz. Some interest and exposure to jazz among many people has to be better than zero interest and exposure to jazz.

To say that when the masses finally discover any jazz at all, it has to be the jazz that we think is aesthetically worthy, or nothing, strikes me as an unrealistic perspective.

I hope that good things come of it. I don't know that it can hurt.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The major or one major difference between the live concert I viewed from a musical perspective of the Kamasi Washington concert and the concerts I attend on a regular basis (besides the size of the crowd/venue) is that at the beginning of a concert that is quite 'avant-garde' or not something ears other than those into that sort of thing, there is a severe adjustment period for the ears, mind and heart that the vast majority of listeners can't or won't adjust to. This aspect of the music I love and prefer over all other musical forms (even other musics I love like rock, Dead, classic jazz, etc.) keeps it very marginalized / but this is what the music is. It is an aspect and result of truly dynamic improvised music. 

The Kamasi Washington music is melodic and grooved out right from the start. The "outsidish" playing comes within time based grooves and long portions of modal playing over these easy to listen to grooves.

what I do wonder is what else will he do? And is his tenor solo *always* last and does it always end with a fanfare and screaming exalted end of show playing?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

1) I gotta say, though I like to dress in women's clothes and hang around in bars (stems from my old lumberjack days) I don't really approach the Kamasai thing in non-musical/anedotal terms. Call me crazy (you won't be the first) but I think it's a mistake to attribute anyone's significance to their ability to attract people who have no other knowledge of the music from which they appear to stylistically emanate.  Call me idealistic or deluded or both, but this is still an art form to me (or I have wasted a lot of time); Walter Benjamin advised that there is no such thing as an audience, and that's good enough for me. And Samuel Beckett didn't have an audience full of people who hated Shakespeare or who had no knowledge of Brecht. Yet 60 years after Waiting for Godot, that play remains the central event in modern theater. 60 years from now Kamasi will be a semi-nostalgic footnote. That's also good enough for me.

2) there is no number 2.

3) there is however, a number 3; which is that, time permitting, I hope to (relatively) soon produce an EP in response to The Epic. More later.

Edited by AllenLowe

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think that one can state that from a jazz history perspective, Kamasi is a minor figure, not nearly on an artistic level with the giants of the past or present, while also celebrating that he is a gateway drug to the harder, more addicting stuff. Not all of his users will move on to Pharoah, John Coltrane, Alice Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, and then to Allen Lowe, David S. Ware, Jaki Byard. But some will, while none of the fans of Blake Shelton, Jay Z and Father John Misty will.

There has not been a gateway to jazz in a long time. I needed a gateway to jazz when I was a teenager. If it had not been for the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever (Corea, Clarke, DiMeola, White),  Weather Report, and Jeff Beck's "Blow by Blow",  I would not have been buying Sun Ra, Duke Ellington, Eric Dolphy and Mary Lou Williams  three years later.

 

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's interesting that his 2 shows here in SF next month (sold out!) are in a rock club, not a 'traditional' jazz venue like Yoshi's or SFJAZZ.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The gateway is to get some of us through the part where it seems like the band is warming up. My gateway was Don Van Vliet.

Ge said he liked Cecil Taylor or Ornette Coleman or Charles Mingus

I figured I might try these guys who I kind of heard of

after a while for whatever reason I might have liked Cecil the most

heard Evan Parker in 1994 on the radio playing soprano saxophone duets with Steve Lacy. Couldn't listen. Had to see him live in 1998 or so. For a while not much as important as hearing EP play tenor with Guy and Lytton or Alex and Paul.

then with John Edwards & Mark Sanders

play those records for other people and they don't last 3 minutes

if they sit in front of EP with a kick ass group, they might be all in if they can handle the part where it seems like the band is warming up. Ears, mind and heart needs to be adjusted to the magic of improvisation but it isn't free or easy. 

However, it's worth it

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, Hot Ptah said:

There has not been a gateway to jazz in a long time. I needed a gateway to jazz when I was a teenager. If it had not been for the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever (Corea, Clarke, DiMeola, White),  Weather Report, and Jeff Beck's "Blow by Blow",  I would not have been buying Sun Ra, Duke Ellington, Eric Dolphy and Mary Lou Williams  three years later.

But did that music only have value as a gateway to jazz? If you'd never followed on to 'proper' jazz, would you have been any less happy?

And is that Kamasi Washington's prime value? A gateway to jazz?

Those of us who have discovered a love of jazz (everyone on this board) have found a rich and lasting form of entertainment. But I do think we tend to over-mythologise it and indulge in a form of ancestor worship (much the same happens in other genres). This can lead to a distorted view of contemporary musics that touch on jazz as being just gateways back to jazz rather than areas of music in their own right that might just be heading somewhere very different. 

After all, rock and roll proved to be something rather more than a gateway to the blues, rhythm and blues and country music.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'd never heard of this bloke until I read this thread. I've been listening to the clips on Youtube, and my interest is certainly piqued. I hear Frank Zappa in some of it.

 

And The LIberation Music Orchestra.

 

Edited by rdavenport

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think it's important to note that the real estate that Kamasi presently occupies has almost nothing to do with the press (or lack thereof) given to the likes of Roscoe, Evan Parker, etc. Discussion of The Epic is often accompanied by intra-community hand-wringing about the economic, social, and cultural viability of jazz as an art form, when the marketing and performance of Kamasi's recent music has happened largely outside of traditional "jazz" channels.

I don't think this is an instance of crossover success so much as it is a presentation of jazz tropes and ideas within the context of pop music infrastructure. I mean, he's on Brainfeeder (Flying Lotus's label). I imagine the marketing of this record isn't so different from something like FlyLo's "You're Dead!"--a legacy musician engaging with decades old mechanics, imbuing said mechanics with a modern sheen and nods to the zeitgeist.

Actual crossover success--like getting an earnest Pitchfork review of a new Matthew Shipp album or something like that--is something else entirely, and it is absolutely beyond the scope of most of jazz's deeply insular promotional schema. As others have noted, interpenetration is virtually impossible without some external stimulus. Consider the notion that few people in the mainstream knew about Nels Cline before he joined Wilco. I trust that similarly few would have had impetus to listen to Kamasi prior to To Pimp A Butterfly.

Putting this another way: it's arguable that the success of Star Wars did little to affect the mainstream popularity of Akira Kurosawa's movies outside of film students and hardcore fans. As someone who loves both Star Wars and Kurosawa, I recognize that the monumental success of the former in the West doesn't have anything to do with the lack of recognition for, say, Ikiru or Stray Dog. There's some mutual exclusivity at play--but, more importantly, we're talking about two different (but parallel) "things" made in different ways by different people for totally different audiences. "We" can still have our Sonny Rollins Village Gate boxed sets, and it's probably true that the existence of The Epic will neither negate nor reinforce this.

Edited by ep1str0phy

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

my gateway to Charlie Parker was.....Charlie Parker. Saved me some time.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, A Lark Ascending said:

But did that music only have value as a gateway to jazz? If you'd never followed on to 'proper' jazz, would you have been any less happy?

And is that Kamasi Washington's prime value? A gateway to jazz?

Those of us who have discovered a love of jazz (everyone on this board) have found a rich and lasting form of entertainment. But I do think we tend to over-mythologise it and indulge in a form of ancestor worship (much the same happens in other genres). This can lead to a distorted view of contemporary musics that touch on jazz as being just gateways back to jazz rather than areas of music in their own right that might just be heading somewhere very different.

After all, rock and roll proved to be something rather more than a gateway to the blues, rhythm and blues and country music.

I liked my gateway music, and still listen to it sometimes. I think it has real value.

I actually like Kamasi Washington's "The Epic." To me, it is a good mainstream jazz album, with some solid piano and trumpet solos, with choral and string backgrounds which are not essential to me, and also not offensive to me. I find Kamasi himself to be the least impressive soloist on the album. He reminds me of Cab Calloway, except that he does not sing (to my knowledge). I mean that he is a charismatic front man who gets the popular attention, while the stronger soloists are among the sidemen.

One thing that I think is interesting about "The Epic." It is very melodic and appealing to the untrained ear on first listen. It is appealing to people who have not listened a lot  to Charles Ives, Albert Ayler or Cecil Taylor. There are many people who have not stretched their ears to include 20th century classical music and avant garde jazz in their listening.

When I was first listening to jazz in the 1970s, there was a lot of jazz as melodic and conventionally easy on the ears. One of the characteristics of the academic jazz artists of the past 20 years is that they seem to be nearly allergic to conventionally pleasant melody.

I do not view "The Epic" as a masterpiece. I also do not view it as an abomination. It strikes me as a nice, solid album. If there was not all the media hype around it, we might file it under, "play a few times, enjoyable, only some of it sticks to the ears."

56 minutes ago, AllenLowe said:

my gateway to Charlie Parker was.....Charlie Parker. Saved me some time.

We all got to a good place by different routes. I am not going to put down people who came to jazz from disco or punk, which I did not do. If they are sitting next to me at a Wayne Shorter concert, I don't really care how they got there.

Edited by Hot Ptah

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, ep1str0phy said:

I think it's important to note that the real estate that Kamasi presently occupies has almost nothing to do with the press (or lack thereof) given to the likes of Roscoe, Evan Parker, etc. Discussion of The Epic is often accompanied by intra-community hand-wringing about the economic, social, and cultural viability of jazz as an art form, when the marketing and performance of Kamasi's recent music has happened largely outside of traditional "jazz" channels.

I don't think this is an instance of crossover success so much as it is a presentation of jazz tropes and ideas within the context of pop music infrastructure. I mean, he's on Brainfeeder (Flying Lotus's label). I imagine the marketing of this record isn't so different from something like FlyLo's "You're Dead!"--a legacy musician engaging with decades old mechanics, imbuing said mechanics with a modern sheen and nods to the zeitgeist.

Actual crossover success--like getting an earnest Pitchfork review of a new Matthew Shipp album or something like that--is something else entirely, and it is absolutely beyond the scope of most of jazz's deeply insular promotional schema. As others have noted, interpenetration is virtually impossible without some external stimulus. Consider the notion that few people in the mainstream knew about Nels Cline before he joined Wilco. I trust that similarly few would have had impetus to listen to Kamasi prior to To Pimp A Butterfly.

Putting this another way: it's arguable that the success of Star Wars did little to affect the mainstream popularity of Akira Kurosawa's movies outside of film students and hardcore fans. As someone who loves both Star Wars and Kurosawa, I recognize that the monumental success of the former in the West doesn't have anything to do with the lack of recognition for, say, Ikiru or Stray Dog. There's some mutual exclusivity at play--but, more importantly, we're talking about two different (but parallel) "things" made in different ways by different people for totally different audiences. "We" can still have our Sonny Rollins Village Gate boxed sets, and it's probably true that the existence of The Epic will neither negate nor reinforce this.

Here is an earnest Pitchfork review of Matthew Shipp:  http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/19713-matthew-shipp-ive-been-to-many-places/

In fact, if you type Matthew Shipp into the search function on Pitchfork, you come up with reviews of many of his albums.

Here is a review of a Cecil Taylor album on Pitchfork:  http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/20505-the-complete-cecil-taylor-in-berlin-88/

On the other hand, searches on Pitchfork for Roscoe Mitchell, Anthony Braxton, and Allen Lowe, come up with nothing. I have not tried to find how many jazz artists have been reviewed on Pitchfork.

Edited by Hot Ptah

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, Hot Ptah said:

Here is an earnest Pitchfork review of Matthew Shipp:  http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/19713-matthew-shipp-ive-been-to-many-places/

In fact, if you type Matthew Shipp into the search function on Pitchfork, you come up with reviews of many of his albums.

Here is a review of a Cecil Taylor album on Pitchfork:  http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/20505-the-complete-cecil-taylor-in-berlin-88/

On the other hand, searches on Pitchfork for Roscoe Mitchell, Anthony Braxton, and Allen Lowe, come up with nothing. I have not tried to find how many jazz artists have been reviewed on Pitchfork.

You're right--that was a flip, offhand example on my part, and it doesn't hold water. That being said (and this is probably obvious), but getting reviewed in Pitchfork isn't really my point. Kamasi is playing Coachella and (less exciting but still remarkable in Bay Area terms) Noise Pop. It would be an unbelievable and improbable coup for Matthew Shipp to play a festival like that. (And I'd be very pleased if I'm wrong about this and somehow someone like Shipp has made it onto this circuit.)

Let me pose an earnest question, since I'm really curious what informed, diehard jazz fans and musicians have to say about it (and not for the purposes of drinking the Kool-Aid one way or another): what would it take for Kamasi to be ok?

I get it--the press and acclaim are disproportionate to his contribution to the canon. So to expand on the question above: who would be an "ok" alternative to Kamasi? Is the issue that this prefab messiah isn't "good enough," or that we neither need nor want one? Would it allay our collective internal frustration if we were talking about Meltframe or Break Stuff in lieu of The Epic?

For my part, I would love to see critical and musical consensus crown a "next Coltrane"--in part because of the obvious musical considerations, in part because I've grown increasingly weary of contemptuousness. Every time someone like Kamasi spills into mainstream consciousness (The Bad Plus, Badbadnotgood, VIjay Iyer, etc. etc.), the jazz community will be quick to say, "This has been done before, but better." At the same time--and like clockwork--we see articles, blog posts, Facebook rants, etc. about jazz's dwindling audience and economic unviability.

Jazz culture is protective of its past in a way that is depressingly compatible with its own ossification and obsolescence. It's "ok" to hold the opinion that the Bad Plus are hacks for playing pop tunes, but it's completely self-defeating to then complain when Ethan Iverson attempts to engage with Billy Hart in a straightahead context. I've seen people herald obviously talented folks like Mary Halvorson or Tyshawn Sorey as next generation masters, but a big part of this has to do with deep and apparent connections to folks like Braxton, Roscoe, and Steve Coleman. Kamasi's music emanates from the same community that fostered the UGMAA's music. We complain when Kamasi plays Tapscott-ian jazz, but not when Halvorson engages with Braxtonian conceits?

So I ask again--not in a rhetorical sense, but because I want to learn--what would it take for Kamasi to be ok? What are we waiting for, and is there a way that we can expedite the future for the art form/music that we want? Or have we (even more depressing, especially for young musicians) just a reached a point where we're circling the drain and someone uses the wrong plug?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.