“At five minutes to nine last Wednesday, DJ Rich Medina looked out across the suffocating floor of a sold-out Webster Hall in New York and shouted, “Are you motherfuckers ready for some Kamasi Washington?!”
It’s not the kind introduction jazz fans are accustomed to—nor was the security pat down at the door—but they erupted nonetheless when he appeared onstage in a flowing black robe. In an era when so many jazz musicians could be mistaken for the IT guy, Washington—a thirty-five year-old tenor saxophonist and composer from Los Angeles—looks not only like a star; he looks downright regal. Originally scheduled for January as part of the annual Winter Jazzfest but postponed after he broke his ankle, the concert was his first of 2016. It had the the buzz of a decisive sporting event, a game seven or a title fight.
You could make the argument that if jazz is on the cusp of a renaissance, Kamasi Washington is its leader. (One teenager yelled, “Kamasi, you’re my hero!”) He is not the first young-ish jazz musician to play a pop venue; Miles Davis famously rocked the old Fillmore East, a few blocks from Webster Hall, in 1970. And though Washington has been associated with the hip-hop community—he plays on Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 album To Pimp A Butterfly—he’s not the first jazz musician to go there. Robert Glasper, for one, has included the likes of Bilal, Lupe Fiasco, and Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def) on his records.“