Back in 2015, saxophonist extraordinaire Kamasi Washington (above, performing “Re Run” live in studio for KEXP FM) put out the aptly named triple album The Epic (stream it below) to universal acclaim—becoming one of the hottest jazz musicians on earth in the process. He’s since toured the world and then returned this past September with the impressive EP Harmony of Difference (stream it below). Now out on the road, crisscrossing America’s highways and byways, Washington, with pedal-steel virtuoso Robert Randolph as a special guest, plays Terminal 5 next Wednesday, the night before Thanksgiving. (Local favorites—and feisty live performers—Break Science open the show.) Last weekend, Washington (below, doing “The Next Step” live for Paste Studios) rang up The House List from Cleveland to answer Five Questions.
As a touring musician do you notice if your music is received any differently in New York city than it is elsewhere? I feel like the response has been pretty universal for me, but I’ve always gotten a lot of love in New York, which is a huge honor because you see everything there. And it humbles me every time. New York has an energy that’s unlike any place in the world. There’s just so much going on that you get supercharged.
Once material is recorded, does it stay that way permanently? Or as you play songs live do they continue to stretch and grow? They stretch and grow and change every night, basically. The recording is the version I heard in my head. It’s the definitive version, but live we do it different every time.
As a jazz musician, you appear at nontraditional venues and you’ve played huge festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo. Was this part of your plan all along to cross over? Or has it just been a natural progression of where your music’s taken you? It’s where my music naturally wants to live. It’s definitely rooted in jazz. It’s my foundation. But there’s lots of other kinds of music in there. And it doesn’t really fit into one box very well. We definitely still play jazz clubs, but it’s natural to jump to different kinds of clubs and audiences—different experiences, sitting down in one place and standing in another. It’s options: Every day do something different.
You’ve appeared on albums by Kendrick Lamar, Run the Jewels and, back in the day, Ryan Adams. Is that something you’re still looking to do? And now that you’ve made such a name for yourself is there any chance you’d look for some of them to appear on your albums? Yeah, man. I’m always open to adding people to my music and I still love working with other artists. But I’m enjoying focusing on my own music and collaborating with my friends. I always leave it up to the music. The music dictates to me what to do with it. If it feels like it needs this or that, I’ll try to get it. But I never try to force it.
For someone who’s never seen you perform before, how would you describe a live Kamasi Washington show? It’s different every time. I try to connect to the room and the vibe, a journey we all go on together. I hope what it feels like is very inclusive. The music connects us and we all push the night in the same direction. And by the end we’re all together in one place. —R. Zizmor | @Hand_Dog