Kamasi Washington (center) performs with his father, Rickey Washington (left), at Pickathon, 2015. Photo by Todd Cooper.

All in the Family

Acclaimed jazz musician Kamasi Washington performs in Eugene

Jazz musician Kamasi Washington says Fearless Movement, his latest album, was inspired by the birth of his daughter three years ago. Kamasi’s dad, Rickey Washington, a jazz musician and flutist, will accompany his son on June 1 at the McDonald Theatre in Eugene. “Three generations,” involved in the music, Kamasi tells Eugene Weekly — that’s a beautiful thing. 

Kamasi says he noticed his daughter’s elasticity and freedom of movement when she was born, and for this reason, Fearless Movement is a dance record, he says. But don’t expect big club beats or techno grooves. It’s a jazz-fusion through and through, interspersed with hip hop, funk and soul, as well as atmospheric wanderings like “Dream State,” featuring Kamasi’s saxophone in conversation with one-time rapper turned new age flutist André 3000.

Elsewhere, “Asha The First” is a regal, Parliament (P-Funk)-inflected birth announcement for Kamasi’’s daughter featuring Taj and Ras Austin with Thundercat on bass. Kamasi’s saxophone captures the raw emotions of a newborn child clutching for a means of expression, while the funk and breakbeat backdrop adds the euphoric chaos of brand-new life. Kamasi pays tribute to his P-Funk forebears when George Clinton himself shows up on “Get Lit.”

Growing up with Rickey Washington, jazz music was in Kamasi’s life from a young age, like the air or water. He says it took time before it felt like his music, though, not his dad’s. Once it did, he explored his dad’s record collection. “My first love was Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers,” Kamasi says. 

Kamasi Washington. Photo by Vincent Haycock.

Kamasi spent his youth in Leimert Park, a historic neighborhood of Los Angeles rich with culture and known as Ella Fitzgerald’s home. He remembers hearing rappers, drummers and jazz musicians playing together in parks and open spaces. He played the clarinet, but once he picked up a saxophone, he could finally make the sound he was hearing in his head. “I was hooked from then on,” Kamasi says. 

Kamasi now calls himself a composer. But when he brings the music to other musicians, he opens it up for reinterpretation. “I try to get a clear vision of what I was hearing,” Kamasi says, writing out detailed charts in advance. When the other musicians understand his vision, he says, “What do you think? What are you hearing? What is this music saying to you?”

Kamasi worked on Fearless Movement with big names in the studio, most of whom won’t join him in Eugene. DJ Battlecat does, however, make the trip on percussion and talk box, with Kamasi’s dad on soprano saxophone and flute. Trombone, vocals, bass and drums round out the lineup. 

As a bandleader, Kamasi fades into the ensemble. “I don’t see myself as separate from the band,” Kamasi says. “These are musicians I’ve known my whole life. Great band leaders understand their band. They understand the players. They understand how to form the music and the musicians together.” 

More than anything, Kamasi’s music is about self-expression. “As long as you’re living, you’ll be changing and growing,” Kamasi says, with new aspects of yourself to discover. Be true to yourself, he adds, and “create music that expresses who you are and what you hear — that’s the music that will have the most depth and honesty.”

Kamasi Washington’s Fearless Movement tour comes to the McDonald Theatre 8 p.m. Saturday, June 1; $38.50 advance, $40 door, all ages.