Cliches about Los Angeles usually allude to Hollywood, and its preponderance of models and actors — not so much its jazz scene. But with his singular album To Pimp A Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar changed all that; calling up some of the city’s then-little-known luminaries like Thundercat, Terrace Martin and Kamasi Washington. The latter turned the jazz world on its head in 2015 with a double-disc release called The Epic, and now Miles Mosley — the bassist on that album — is preparing to release his own project Uprising (Jan. 27, World Galaxy), born of the same sessions that generated Kamasi’s sea change-inducing record.
Mosley, a fixture of the Los Angeles scene, has appeared on recordings with everyone from India.Arie to Chris Cornell — recently, he was tapped for Andra Day’s 2015 record Cheers To The Fall. As a co-founder of the West Coast Get Down (the collective behind The Epic), his own tastes have been similarly broad: the group is often categorized as jazz, but funk, R&B and even rock have a place in their groovy, festival-friendly sound (with Kamasi, the band played almost 200 shows in 2016). The West Coast Get Down form the backbone of Uprising, specifically saxophonist Washington, trombonist Ryan Porter, keyboardist Brandon Coleman, pianist Cameron Graves, and drummer Tony Austin.
“L.A. Won’t Bring You Down,” premiered exclusively on Billboard, is fairly self-explanatory, at least as far as its subject matter. But though it’s intended to be personal, the upbeat, funky song could easily serve as a treatise on how the City of Angels brought a whole new audience to jazz and improvised music. Listen to the track and read more about how Mosley put the project together below, and preorder Uprising here.
What inspired “L.A. Won’t Bring You Down”?
It’s a love letter to all of the wonderful and colorful people who come to live in the city in which I was born. I meet them every day, and I hear how their hearts break because “the dream” is so big and so elusive — it can take you to the highest of heights, and the next day bring you to the lowest of lows. I felt that there needed to be a song that could act as an apology letter, sealed with a kiss of hope for all those (including myself) that felt like they had lost their drive to move forward. There are also many phrases in this song that my long-time manager, Barbara Sealy, has said to me over the years. This song reminds me of the kinds of songs I sing in the shower. [Laughs.] It can help you get your day going, or it can help you wash it away.
As someone who’s worked in the jazz and pop worlds, how would you say they feed off of each other?
Whether it was Duke Ellington covering Cole Porter, Nina Simone covering the Beatles, or Brad Mehldau covering Radiohead, jazz and pop music have always had an intertwining relationship. Today “pop” has a box drawn around it, as does “jazz”, and both of these massively expansive terms are always trying to escape their definitions, and seek each other out — like star-crossed lovers.
Personally, I grew up studying both styles of music carefully. I have always been amazed by the fact that in a perfect pop song, no single element can be removed without ruining the magic. Everything builds to a “hook” that stays with people forever. Jazz is all about energy and capturing a fleeting moment. Combining those two philosophies has sent me down a path that challenges me to create memorable hooks, and surround them with performances that really capture a specific moment in time.
What do you think makes the L.A. scene unique, and why is it so influential right now?
There are so many different avenues for the ideas you have as an artist in the L.A. scene. Just because something I write doesn’t work as a song, it might later find a home in a film score, or commercial campaign. It takes a long time for an idea to die in L.A., especially if it was created from an honest place. Because of that, musicians from all over the world have moved to Los Angeles to be a part of the recording industry. Growing up in the ’90s, we had the opportunity to take music lessons from many legendary musicians across all styles — I think L.A. is a good example of what happens when one generation wholeheartedly passes the torch of knowledge to the next.
L.A. has been out of the spotlight for a while, which gave me and West Coast Get Down, as artists, time to experiment and make mistakes without everything being scrutinized. Not only does that give life to a fresh perspective on where music is right now, it also provides a freer state of collaboration across genres. If you are open to anything, then anything can happen. Admiration and deep respect for all styles of music creates a playground of influences to pull from when you begin to create something uniquely your own.