Kamasi Washington
The Riv // Chicago, IL // November 10, 2017

Hip hop’s best-kept secret sets out on a huge solo tour.

Last weekend, Kamasi Washington played a nearly two-hour show at The Riviera Theatre with his band, The Next Step. Washington’s specialty is the tenor saxophone, and his style is somber and complex. Channeling famous saxophone players like John Coltrane, Ben Webster, and even David Bowie, Washington and The Next Step gave Chicago a reason to fall in love with jazz all over again. While The Windy City is one of the birthplaces of jazz and blues, The Riviera Theatre normally hosts fast-paced rock n’ roll shows. For Kamasi Washington to nearly sell out the venue is not only impressive, it’s practically unheard of for a saxophonist.

It’s not everyday that a jazz musician crosses over into hip-hop and pop music while still maintaining credibility in their genre. Yet, Kamasi Washington has managed to do just that, lending his talent to such artists as Ryan Adams, Run the Jewels, and Snoop Dogg. Washington has been considered a staple in the jazz community for over a decade, but it wasn’t until he collaborated with Kendrick Lamar on his album To Pimp a Butterfly that he started receiving praise from the indie rock world. After playing national festivals like Coachella and Pitchfork, Kamasi Washington released his first album on Brainfeeder Records in 2015. The Epic was widely praised and put Washington in a unique position. Now regarded as an indie artist amongst critics and fans, the 36-year old artist and bandleader is able to sell out venues with his signature sound of jazz, funk, and hip-hop.

Alongside The Next Step, Washington is a strong leader and gave his fellow bandmates their own solos and chances to riff off each other. Growing up in a musical family, Washington’s parents were musicians and educators and encouraged him to play. Washington’s father is currently on tour with him and played alongside his son for a few songs. Although the band only played eight songs in total (one of which was a Terence Blanchard cover), each song took on a mind of its own and was a unique take on the original track. Kamasi Washington is not a typical jazz musician, and his audience is not a typical jazz audience. It’s no wonder he has played such huge rock festivals and will continue to be known in both jazz and indie circles for years to come.

Kamasi Washington