An Inspiring Speech from Rickey Washington

Kamasi Washington’s father speaks to the participants at the 2016 RBMA Bass Camp at Bonnaroo

At the 2016 RBMA Bass Camp at Bonnaroo, we invited speakers from a variety of different genres and disciplines to chat about their creative process. These talks usually take the form of in-depth interviews we call lectures. Kamasi Washington’s father, Rickey, took a different tack, speaking directly to the audience. It was an inspiring speech, excerpted in part below.

Drew Gurian

I’m going to tell you the truth. Most people doubted that Kamasi’s record was going to do anything because it had 11 minute, 13 minute, 15 minute solos. That’s not what’s going on in the world. It’s two-and-a-half minute hip-hop grooves. But one day I heard a knock at my door. I saw four or five people from NPR. “Hey, does Kamasi Washington live here?” “Yeah.” “Well, we came here to kind of chronicle what he was doing.” I looked around and say, “Come on in, come on in.”

They came in and they said, “Okay. What you guys doing?” They started writing things down, asking me questions, asking Kamasi questions, asking Terrace Martin questions. They followed us around and they saw that it was real. This wasn’t fake. It wasn’t about the money. It was about the conviction of a heart.

The conviction of a heart. It’s about what? It’s about your desire. It’s about who you are in the inside. It’s about what you trust. Do you trust yourself or do you trust the dollar? Because if you trust yourself, the dollar will come.

Because those who have will give to those who don’t, if there’s a reason. That’s the truth. Those who have will give to those who don’t if there’s a real reason for it. If you’re really about something and you’re not fake, if you end there every single day dreaming, working towards your goal and you’re the best at what you do, you have a chance for real.

Rickey Washington Solo (LIVE) // The Epic Tour 2016

I don’t look it, but I’ve been in the music business for 50 years. I’m traveling all around the world with my son. I played until 3:30 in the morning last night. I’m an amazing saxophone player, flute player. I play nine instruments. I got records, but it doesn’t always happen on your hour, on your time. You may not be 22 and have a hit record. You’re maybe 32. You got that?

Your ship is not guaranteed to come in on your time but it will come in if you’re persistent, if you have a sovereign mind, that immutable mind, that mind that says, “I’m here for the long run. I’m here because I love what I’m doing, and one more thing. I got my homies, I got my friends who believe in me and we believe in each other and we lift each other up.” That’s the real message. That is the real message. You got to have a group of individuals who you can sound off of, who could help you refine yourself. Iron sharpens iron. Wood doesn’t sharpen an iron. When you had the homies who don’t practice, who are not dreamers, who are television watchers, always get loaded, on the couch who spill out excuses why they’re not great, that’s wood. That wood could smell pleasant, that could be good looking wood, but it’s still wood.

Take it all in, in little steps.

I’ve been playing saxophone for 50 years. 50 years. When Kamasi was born, I was a serious musician, producing records, in the recording studios, working with people. I had a decent living. I made a living in music all my life. I made a good living too. Got a house, car, family, all the trappings. Living comfortably.

But that wasn’t enough for me. Is that enough for you? House, a husband, three kids, a nice music job. Is it enough for you just to be a musician on the side? On the weekends? Is that enough for you? Are you sure?

Here’s what happened to me. I was playing, I was a really good saxophone player, and 30, almost 40 years ago, someone offered me a job to teach music. I said no at first. But I took the job [eventually]. Still produced records, still played, and I taught, and my students made platinum records, gold records. My students looked up to me and thanked me. I said, “Okay. Okay, God. I’m going to do this. That’s what I’m going to do for a while. I’m still going to practice, I’m still going to play, but I’m going to teach. I’m going to pass the gift on. I’m going to be John the Baptist. I ain’t going to be Jesus.”

I had taught my oldest son how to play piano, and he was good. He was more talented than Kamasi. Check that out. More talented than Kamasi. Can you believe that? He was more talented. He was number one. What happens with number one? You put in a lot of time with number one, but Kamasi said, “Hey Pops. I want to play.” I said, “Man, I’ve already taught your brother. He didn’t take to it. He was good, but he didn’t take to it.” I don’t want to teach again. I’m tired. I’m want to take care of myself. I want to play my own music. I don’t want to teach him.

All good music is the same because all good music touches your soul.

“Hey Pops. I want to play the saxophone. I’m serious. I’m really, I’m serious. I’m 12, but I’m serious. I want to play saxophone. I want to be like you.” Thank you God. Thank you. Thank you, Lord Jesus, help me. Guess what I did? No. I did this. I fed him too much. I fed him too much. What happens if somebody gives you too much food? You don’t want to eat. You’ve got to ... This is the most profound thing I can tell you. The most profound thing I’m going to tell you right now: Take it all in, in little steps.

If I say, “Can you learn one measure of music?” One measure. What you going to say? If I say, “Hey, learn 10,000 measures of music in one day.” What are you going to say? No. But if I say one, two or three, what’s going to happen? I can do that.

I gave Kamasi too much. I gave him lessons. Then later, his cousin introduced him to some music, and he starts saying, “Wow. This is really, really cool,” and I came back at it. I said, “Okay now, if you really want to understand this music, it’s got to be inside you. I’m not lying. If you want to be the best at what you do, it’s got to be inside you.”

Some of you are fake. I’m going to say that again. Some of you are fake. You are an impostor. You’re not deep. You’re not committed. You got one foot in and one foot out. But you want to look like you in the mix. You want to say you’re in the mix. It’s all right to be halfway committed, because you have an opportunity to grow. You have an opportunity to become totally committed, to become self-absorbed, to find self-actualization, to locate the introspection and to destroy complacency.

Guess where Kamasi started? He started with Snoop Dogg playing funk. I taught him jazz and I taught him to open his mind. I taught him classical R&B and the first place he went at 18, after he was at UCLA. Terrance Martin said, “Yo Kamasi. Battlecat lives down the street from me. He got me in on the groove, on the gig. Let’s do Snoop for two or three years.” Kamasi learned from that experience that all music is the same.

What do I mean by that? All good music is the same because all good music touches your soul. Now if you’re so stupid that you block, that you inhibit your consciousness from hearing a specific style of music, you’re limited. Why you want to be limited? Why would anybody want to be limited because of prejudice, ignorance, stupidity and a small brain? If you’re limited, you got a small brain. You got little thinking. We played with Dolly Parton last night. She’s not a funk musician. She’s not a jazz musician. She’s a country and western musician, but Kamasi was big enough to understand the preeminence of universal consciousness.

By Rickey Washington on January 18, 2017

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