When talking about today’s popular music, jazz isn’t typically the first word people think of. But Kamasi Washington, who is perhaps the most important jazz musician right now, says it’s infused into mainstream music more than most realize. “There’s a misuse to the genre that almost makes it a slave to the term,” Washington says. “How can you really even describe 100 years worth of music, thousands of musicians and millions of songs with one word?”

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Making a choice
Washington discovered jazz early in his life, largely due to his father (who is also a musician)’s influence. “In LA, you have you two choices. Either you’re going to do something really good, or you’re going to get sucked into gangs, violence, drugs and everything else,” he says. Music opened up a whole new community for him.

“During the day, [friends and I] would get together and play all day, go to a band rehearsal until 2 a.m. and come back to my house and play until 4 a.m. We were pushing ourselves to be on the forefront of the jazz community,” Washington says.

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Gaining respect
It paid off. Right after high school, he landed a regular gig playing with Snoop Dogg, which later led to collaborations with Nas, Lauren Hill, Flying Lotus, Hervie Hancock and many more. Most recently, Washington played saxophone and composed the strings and choir for Kendrick Lamar’s album “To Pimp A Butterfly.”

“Originally I was just going to write the strings for one song,” he says. “But when I listened to the whole album, I would hear a bridge here or a chorus there to add strings to. So we ended up working together for multiple songs.”

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It was all a dream
In May, Washington released his own album, a three-hour, three-disc compilation called “The Epic,” which took him four years to complete. His songs are the stuff dreams are made of --- literally. “I had this crazy dream of a sky and a mountain. It was just really dramatic and music was in the dream. I could hear the whole song from beginning to end.” That song became the first track, "Change The Guard.”

“When I started working on a song called ‘The Magnificent 7,’ I had another dream. I just started having these dreams that created the story for the album,” he says.

He hopes people will listen to his album and realize there’s more to jazz than what they most likely currently have conjured up in their minds. “The terminology can cause a social divide even before you think about the song. … I’m making music people can relate to and calling it jazz."

If you go:

Aug. 20, 8 p.m.
The Sinclair
52 Church St., Cambridge

New York City
Aug. 24-25, 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. both nights
Blue Note Jazz Club
131 W. 3rd St., 212-475-8592

Aug. 27, 7 p.m.
World Cafe Live Philadelphia
3025 Walnut St., 215-222-1400

Follow Emily on Twitter: @EmLaurence