Dorothy Ashby – The Jazz Harpist

The Jazz Harpist

Dorothy AshbyThe Jazz Harpist Regent MG-6039 (1957)

Dorothy Ashby’s debut album as a leader The Jazz Harpist gives a taste of what was to come from the woman who seems to be unanimously regarded as the greatest jazz harpist.  But at the same time this recording relies a bit too much on the novelty of having a harp in a jazz setting.  It wallows in a few gimmicks.  She uses two in particular on many of the songs: the stereotypical harp glissando (sweep) and imitation of guitar.  For the latter, she strums and plays a few melodic notes, which gives the impression of two guitarists.  It is kind of a neat trick, but she doesn’t do that much with it.  Her frequent collaborator Frank Wess is here, though his playing on flute is a little stiff compared to on the pair’s later recordings.  Ashby would just get better over her next few albums, exploring hard bop and cool jazz idioms, before she would take a turn toward soul jazz and eastern-flavored spiritual jazz.