Kamasi Washington, who has played Durham’s Art of Cool Festival, returns to the Triangle this weekend.
Jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington has made a name for himself by playing with such critical darlings as Kendrick Lamar and Ryan Adams. He toured with Snoop Dogg and played with the Gerald Wilson Orchestra.
But he also needed to do his own thing.
“That experience was great but I had to find my voice as a musician,” Washington says while calling from Charlottesville, VA. “When I was touring or in the studio with other recording artists, that was fine. That was part of my journey. But I knew that I had to move in another direction. So I turned down opportunities to work with other artists for awhile so I could put everything into making an album and establishing myself.”
Washington, 36, took a few months off in 2014 to get his solo career off the ground. “The Epic,” his breakthrough release, which dropped in 2015, catapulted Washington from obscurity to celebrity status. The aptly titled 172-minute debut is an ambitious, eclectic project, which hits with jazz funk, Latin jazz and avant jazz.
“I had the time of my life making ‘The Epic,’ Washington says. “I wanted to make something that represented who I am. So I went to a lot of different places sonically with ‘The Epic.’ I grew up in a musical household. We had music, different kinds of music, that was constantly played. I love all kinds of music and ‘The Epic’ reflects how I feel about music, which is that the music should define the genre. The genre shouldn’t define the music.”
Washington is touring behind his latest album, “Harmony of Difference,” which is a varied 6-song EP. “I try to take people on a different trip with each track,” Washington says. “I think I did just that with ‘Harmony of Difference.'”
His degree in ethnomusicology at UCLA, where he studied composition, had a huge impact on his career. “My education gave me a new way of thinking,” Washington says. “It opened my mind up, which is healthy for any musician.”
Washington has completed his forthcoming album, which is as yet untitled. The new release will see the light of day at some point in 2018. It’s possible that Washington will preview some tunes when he performs at the Duke Energy Center Saturday night. “I know a lot of people don’t do that before the album comes out but I might play some new songs by the time I come in,” he says. “I love playing fresh material. It’s all about the songs and the saxophone.”
The clarinet was the instrument Washington’s musician father hoped he would play as a teen. “But that was just not in the cards,” Washington said. “I started off playing drums when I was 3 and then went to the piano. When I was around 11, my dad told me that I would play the clarinet. I grabbed the saxophone and learned how to play it quickly. I showed him what I could do. I told him, ‘It’s too late for me to play anything but the saxophone.’ I was onto something. I never put the saxophone down. It was the smartest move I ever made.”
Kamasi Washington with Moonchild
When: 7:30 p.m., Dec. 2
Where: Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South street, Raleigh
Cost: $28 and $33
Info: dukeenergycenterraleigh.com or 919-996-8700