Dorothy Jeanne Thompson (August 6, 1930 – April 13, 1986), better known as Dorothy Ashby, was an American jazz harpist and composer. Ashby extended the popularization of jazz harp past a novelty, showing how the instrument can be utilized seamlessly as much a bebop instrument as the saxophone. Her albums were of the jazz genre, but often moved into R&B, world and other musics, especially on her 1970 album The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby, where she demonstrates her talents on another instrument, the Japanese koto, successfully integrating it into jazz.
Dorothy Thompson grew up around music in Detroit where her father, guitarist Wiley Thompson, often brought home fellow jazz musicians. Even as a young girl, she would provide support and background to their music by playing the piano. She attended Cass Technical High School where fellow students included such future musical talents and jazz greats as Donald Byrd, Gerald Wilson, and Kenny Burrell. While in high school she played a number of instruments (including the saxophone and string bass) before coming upon the harp.
She attended Wayne State University in Detroit where she studied piano and music education. After she graduated, she began playing the piano in the jazz scene in Detroit, though by 1952 she had made the harp her main instrument. At first her fellow jazz musicians were resistant to the idea of adding the harp, which they perceived as an instrument of classical music and somewhat ethereal in sound in jazz performances. So Ashby overcame their initial resistance and built support for the harp as a jazz instrument by organizing free shows and playing at dances and weddings with her trio. She recorded with Ed Thigpen, Richard Davis, Frank Wess and others in the late 1950s and early 1960s. During the 1960s, she also had her own radio show in Detroit.
Ashby’s trio, including her husband, John Ashby, on drums, regularly toured the country, recording albums for several record labels. She played with Louis Armstrong and Woody Herman, among others. In 1962 Down Beat magazine’s annual poll of best jazz performers included Ashby.
In the late 1960s, the Ashbys gave up touring and settled in California where Dorothy broke into the studio recording system as a harpist through the help of the soul singer Bill Withers, who recommended her to Stevie Wonder. As a result, she was called upon for a number of studio sessions playing for more pop-oriented acts.
Ashby died from cancer on April 13, 1986 in Santa Monica, California. Her recordings have proven influential in various genres. The High Llamas recorded a song entitled “Dorothy Ashby” on their 2007 album Can Cladders. Hip hop artists have sampled her work often, including Jurassic 5, on their album Feedback, as well as Andre Nickatina on his song Jungle. Bonobo included the track ‘Essence of Sapphire’ on his mix album ‘Late Night Tales’… _______________________________________________________________________________________________
01.Pawky (Dorothy Ashby)…(00:00)
02.Moonlight In Vermont (J.Blackburn/K.Suessdorf)…(07:05)
03.Back Talk (Dorothy Ashby)…(12:23)
04.Dancing In The Dark (H.Dietz/A.Schwartz)…(17:30)
06.Jollity (Dorothy Ashby)…(26:20)
07.There’s A Small Hotel (L.Hart/R.Rodgers)…(30:00). _______________________________________________________________________________________________
1.Dorothy Ashby – harp
2.Frank Wess – flute
3.Herman Wright – bass
4.Art Taylor – drums. _______________________________________________________________________________________________
Recorded: Van Gelder Studio,Hackensack,New Jersey;March 21,1958.
Label:Prestige – 7140
Liner Notes – Ira Gitler
Recording Supervisor – Bob Weinstock
Engineer – Rudy Van Gelder.