Thursday, January 21, 2016

Kamasi Washington on the Groove

Adam Schatz has an article about Kamasi Washington in the NY Times Magazine. Here's some passages.

Playing in church:
When Kamasi first expressed a desire to play, his father sent him to church. ‘‘It’s the best place to learn,’’ Rickey said. ‘‘You play every week, and you’ve got to play a groove. It doesn’t come any other way but with a groove. They’re clapping on two and four, and you’re moving to the music. If you listen to Kamasi, you know what the groove is, because it’s right in his body.’’
On working with Snoop Dogg:
At the point when Washington got the call, he had been spending most of his time trying to master harmonically demanding songs like Coltrane’s ‘‘Giant Steps.’’ Now his job was to play apparently simple riffs to ‘‘line up with the groove.’’ Playing those riffs, however, was tougher than it looked: Hip-hop was a miniaturist art of deceptive simplicity. ‘‘When you play jazz in school, you talk about articulation, but it’s a very light conversation,’’ he said. ‘‘The question was about what you were playing, not how you were playing it. But when I was playing with Snoop, what I was playing was pretty obvious — anyone with ears could figure it out. The question was how to play it, with the right articulation and timing and tone.’’ Snoop didn’t come to rehearsals or even really explain what he wanted. ‘‘It was all very unspoken. You had to use your intuition to figure out why it didn’t sound right. We had to have it right before he got there, because if it was wrong, he’d veto it, and we’d have to just sit there.’’

Snoop was particularly demanding when it came to the placement of notes in relation to the beat, and Washington struggled at first to hear the beat the way Snoop did. After a while, though, he began to discern what he calls ‘‘the little subtleties,’’ the way, for example, ‘‘the drummer D-Loc would lock into the bass line.’’ He continued: ‘‘It wasn’t like the compositional elements in Stravinsky. It wasn’t about counterpoint or thick harmonies. It was more about the relationships and the timing, the one little cool thing you could play in that little space. It might just be one little thing in a four-minute song, but it was the perfect thing you could play in it. I started to hear music in a different way, and it changed the way I played jazz. Just playing the notes didn’t do it for me anymore.’’ He came to see hip-hop as a relative of jazz. ‘‘All forms are complex once you get to a really high level, and jazz and hip-hop are so connected,’’ he said. ‘‘In hip-hop you sample, while in jazz you take Broadway tunes and turn them into something different. They’re both forms that repurpose other forms of music.’’
Wynton Marsalis and James Brown:
That mellow, West Coast inclusiveness is another pointed contrast between Washington and the young Wynton Marsalis, who once declared, ‘‘There is nothing sadder than a jazz musician playing funk.’’ When Washington and his trombonist, Ryan Porter, trade riffs, they make no secret of their love of Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley, two of the horn men in the James Brown band. ‘‘It wasn’t a mistake to call James Brown’s music funk, but I’m not sure it was good for jazz,’’ Washington told me. Jazz, as he sees it, is not so much a genre as a way of styling music. Which means that if he is playing Debussy’s ‘‘Clair de Lune’’ — as he does in a languorous, brazenly sentimental arrangement on ‘‘The Epic’’ — it’s jazz.

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