On Wednesday, August 23, the Hollywood Bowl featured Herbie Hancock and Kamasi Washington, in a concert that intersected the Black jazz experience and tradition, while exploring non traditional sound and and jazz evolution. Each band did a balancing act in choosing compositions that honored convention and innovation.
For L.A. native Kamasi, this ride started on the same stage, some twenty years earlier, when the high school senior from prestigious Hamilton Musical Academy, played a solo with Multi School Jazz Band, using his same saxophone used in the show. “That was an important concert for me. It was there, that I decided I wanted to be a professional musician,” said Washington. “I’ll never forget it; It was 20 years ago and here we are today.”
Raised in inner-city L.A., and influenced by venues such as Leimert Park’s World Stage, Kamasi has a band of talented artists who he respects and loves. Kamasi says you can feel it in the music and see it in the eyes of all the players. His band, the West Coast Get Down, are still touring from Washington’s “The Epic”, his 2015 triple platinum album that took the jazz world local by storm.
Kamasi’s set, conducted by Geoff Gallegos, 24-piece orchestra was comprised of violins, violas, cellos, basses, including a 13 member choir. Also playing clarinet in the band was Kamasi’s father, Ricky Washington, a musical virtuoso in his own right. The senior Washington is a retired music teacher who now has time to gig on the road with his son. “When Kamasi was very young, I use to take him to the music studio, and to rehearsals, and to gigs. I was a single parent with three boys. Kamasi knew I wanted to go on the road with all my musician friends but I sacrificed and became a music teacher,” said Ricky Washington. Years later, Kamasi offered his dad an opportunity of a lifetime. “When the opportunity came for Kamasi to tour, he asked me if I wanted to play, and I said yes. the rest is history.”
Kamasi’s music moves people. “Magnificent 7” captured and unified the Hollywood Bowl audience, and led them through a journey of melodic strings, thunderous horns, gut-checking percussions, ethereal chants, and maverick solos.
Kamasi spoke to the audience regarding the current racial tensions in America and about music’s ability to manifest harmony through diversity. “The song ‘Truth’ reveals to us the love of difference not that of tolerance. We all bring beautiful cultural gems to the American way of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all, he said.
Kamasi has performed with the likes of Horace Tapscott, Gerald Wilson, Wayne Shorter, Lauryn Hill, Nas, Snoop Dogg, George Duke, Chaka Khan, Flying Lotus, Thundercat, Mike Muir, Francisco Aguabella, the Pan Afrikaan People’s Orchestra and Raphael Saadiq. He also played saxophone on Kendrick Lamar‘s To Pimp a Butterfly.
Herbie Hancock has served as creative chair for jazz for the Los Angeles Philharmonic since 2009 and must have been grinning ever since conceiving the notion of a hip hop influenced jazz concert, featuring collaborator’s of hip hop’s game-changing Kendrick Lamar, in Kamasi and L.A. –based, saxophonist-producer Terrace Martin.
To understand the genius of the Emmy and Grammy award winning Hancock, is to revisit Hancock’s debut album “Takin’ Off”, featuring Herbie Hancock on piano, Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Dexter Gordon on Tenor Saxophone, Butch Warren on bass and Billy Higgins on drums drums. The album featured original songs like “Watermelon Man”, which garnered his fame and the ability to continue his career.
Today, at age 77, Hancock has been playing music for 70 years, learning to play piano since the age of seven, in Chicago, in the 1940’s. His music career as expanded throughout the decades and the Hollywood Bowl is his latest offering of jazz from such a vast history that extends collaborations with jazz legends such as Miles Davis, Donald Byrd, and his “harmonic guru”, Chris Anderson.
Hancock and his newly formed band opened with classic’s, “In a Silent Way” and “Maiden Voyage” but he made sure to keep Martin’s arsenal of modern tech skillset close by, with his contemporary rendition of “Come Running to Me” and “Secret Sauce”. “As accomplished a performer as [Terrance Martin] is, he is as accomplished as a music producer,” said Hancock. He was sure to mix the vibe by extending the music experience with West African guitarist, Lionel Loueke, who brought Africa with him through his gifted voice and instrument.
Hancock ended the night with more classics, like “Canteloupe Island”, “Chameleon”, and “Head Hunters”, showing the audience why he lives up to the name, “Mr. Hands”.
Herbie Hancock gave L.A. a rare gift in jazz history and its ever evolving journey.