The Crate Nerd: 

Dorothy Ashby, Queen of Jazz Harp

Hey reader! Have you ever played that game where I name a musician or band and list reasons why they are cool to keep you from turning the page? No? It goes like…

Reasons why Dorothy Ashby was/is the best freaking jazz harpist in the universe:

While not particularly obscure, anyone with an appreciation for music can hear that her ability to play the harp was rarer than a red diamond.

By the way, how many strings on a harp? A million? At times, Ashby played her instrument as if it were guitar. If you’ve ever heard anyone who can play a million-stringed guitar please let me know.

In 1958, she called her second album Hip Harp.

Harp instruments like the lyre existed in ancient Africa and Asia back deep to BCE (the Chinese even had harp orchestras), but let’s face it: the harp is a European "Mid-Evil" instrument for elves, fairies, and leprechauns. But have you ever seen elves or leprechauns playing bop music in a nightclub? No of course you haven’t, because not many of them can. Dorothy can play better than an elf.

Almost no one used the harp in jazz, until Dorothy took shit over as band leader with the harp as lead instrument (she also made heavy use of the great flute player Frank Wess).

She played with Earth, Wind and Fire.

She covered many bases. From 1958’s In a Minor Groove, which is good to play at dinner if you want to get someone into bed, to 1968’s Afro Harping, which is a samba-influenced masterpiece. Starting with the song ‘Soul Vibrations’, Afro Harping transports us to an overhead shot of Fantasy Island. Mr. Roarke and Tattoo are cruising down a tropical path in a golf cart towards the unknown darkness of the island’s subconscious. But the tourists are no lame B-grade movie actors, no. They are a heavy crew of deep minds. By the time we get to ‘Little Sunflower’ and ‘Come Live With Me’ everyone is off somewhere getting laid, or at least on their tenth piña colada. Adam Ganderson


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