I take exception to Tom Moon’s characterization of Dorothy Ashbury (quoted as the title): she isn’t just among “the most unjustly under-loved jazz greats of the 1950s”; she is almost certainly the most inexplicably under-appreciate jazz great ever.
Born in 1932 in Detroit, Ashbury broke barriers at every angle: a Black female professional artist in a male dominated industry, Ashby established the harp as an improvising jazz instrument, cracking open both mainstream society’s notion’s of what was and was not appropriate for a Black woman to do (playing classical harp) and cracking up the counterculture’s notion of what could and could not be done (bringing “novelty” background instruments like harp and koto to center stage, bringing global cultural and musical tropes to Euro-American-centric jazz).
“It’s been maybe a triple burden in that not a lot of women are becoming known as jazz players. There is also the connection with black women. The audiences I was trying to reach were not interested in the harp, period—classical or otherwise—and they were certainly not interested in seeing a black woman playing the harp.”Dorothy Ashbury
But I kinda give zero shits about any of that; just listen to her music:
Don’t you dare click away from that track before you cross the 1min20sec mark! “Joyful Grass and Grape” is, like, 90% of the way to being a Wu Tang banger all by itself, just add some ODB and RZA.
This is why I love Ashbury: the deep, quiet Afro-futurism of this music that came 40 years earlier than it had any right to. She was sampling and mixing and beat juggling in her head, without the benefit of turntables and a sound system. In it’s infancy hiphop constantly justified itself by pointing to jazz—and sadly somehow missed its most obvious Matriarch. I am so delighted to have algorithmically stumbled upon Ashbury that my outrage about her erasure is itself entirely erased.
Here’s the initial track that joyfully blew my goddamned mind:
And there’s much much more out there. Listen. Listen!