Dorothy Ashby’s Harp Jazz Is Always On Point

by | Dec 26, 2021 | Arts + Culture, Icons

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Voltaire famously said:

Pleasure is found first in anticipation…and then in memory.

Dorothy Ashby must have known the same. Jazz is the musical form of choice when it comes to leveraging anticipation to create pleasure. 

But don’t you dare group her albums among the other jazz greats. Their lengthy, meandering solos and heady complexity takes too much concentration after a day of office work. 

Dorothy Ashby is a different breed than Davis and Thelonius. Jumping three cultural hurdles (black, female, and preferring non-traditional jazz instruments) she pushed her love of a classical instrument cross-genre to create a work that stands on its own. Dorothy’s Harp is at once accessible and coy in its argument that harp isn’t just for the symphonic or folk stage- but for all good times. Whether it’s your MadMen style cocktail party, your family summer BBQ, or that flirty top-down roadtrip…this album is the soundtrack you’ve been looking for.

All music has a place and a time- and finding something that can fit any activity in transition isn’t easy.

We have our roadtrip playlists, our karaoke go-tos, and family Christmas albums that get pulled out with the decor on black friday. Tell me you’ve got something you want me to listen to on our drive into the city and I’m game. 

But play the top hits from your high school graduation at your dinner party? Well….it had better be a themed dinner party. 

There are few albums that transcend circumstance to be the perfect soundtrack for all good memories. 

Dorothy’s Harp is One of Those Rare Gems.

Dorothy Ashby and harp Whether you’re flying solo with a highball and a good read, or hosting a full soiree, choosing an audio backdrop that enriches the activity at hand without overpowering the main purpose isn’t as simple as it seems. 

You need an album palatable to many tastes, congruent with the environment, and conducive to rich experiences. 

When you don’t know which way the mood will turn- nothing outperforms Dorothy Ashby. 

I love all of her albums. From her coming out on Hip Harp to the 1970s Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby – a psychedelic journey into world rhythm- all of her work is impressive. But Dorothy’s Harp is the LP I’ll turn to when I need a salve, a pleaser for a mixed crowd, or a mental break from zoom calls. 

Her work has a true cross-pollination appeal. Part of this album may already sound familiar to you. She’s been sampled by- or produced in collaboration with- larger-than-life names like Stevie Wonder and Drake. Meanwhile, you’ll find classically trained musicians chilling out to her tracks at season opening after parties. 

I once was playing Dorothy’s Harp while working in the lawn when a salt-of-the-earth excavator came across the street to ask what was on the Bluetooth speaker.  

“Yeah usually we just play country hits but this-” he gestured vaguely at my portable speaker, “is kinda nice. It don’t have any words but it feels good.”

Dorothy Ashby does that. She makes music feel good. 

What’s more? 

On this album- Ashby does it on every track.

The 4th track “Reza” feels like an afternoon cruise in an Aston Martin DB5 along the Amalfi Coast with Sean Connery’s James Bond in the passenger seat.

Listen to Reza here:

“Windmills of Your Mind” is the sensual entrance of a mysterious beauty at the cocktail party. All the while, tracks like “Just Had To Tell Somebody” embody the light sweetness of summer jazz that fills the gaps while you wait for that one last guest before kicking off the party. 

Dorothy Ashby uses jazz to create the anticipation pleasure a la Voltaire. All that’s left for you is to create the memories associated. Add Dorothy’s Harp to your album rotation and watch the good times fly as fast as the harp licks under this woman’s fingertips.