Songs Of The Day 2/10/2013: Dorothy Ashby - "Soul Vibrations" & "The Moving Finger"

Dorothy Ashby (1932-1986) was one of two jazz harpists that I know of, the other being Alice Coltrane. There must be others. Ashby, though, will probably be the standard-bearer for some time to come. If you have Stevie Wonder's Songs In The Key Of Life, and if you don't I'd correct that ASAP, you'll hear Ashby playing harp on the ballad "If It's Magic" on Side Four.

As rare as it is to hear harp in any setting besides an orchestra, a massage therapist's office or your ascent to heaven, Ashby's records were neither novelties nor necessarily soft. She did bop sides, some slices of the Great American Songbook, and showed how it's entirely possible to improvise a solo on the harp. It's really kind of a revelation.

But not as much as these two songs, which were recorded in 1968 and 1970, and placed Ashby's talent in the unthinkable realm of hard funk and soul jazz. They're from the albums Afro-Harping, which I believe is still available, and The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby, which might take some digging around for you to find. I couldn't decide between the two of these songs, because they both have unbeatable grooves, so you get 'em both. "The Moving Finger," a piece I'm relieved to have heard before I kicked the bucket, features Ashby on Japanese koto rather than harp.

Discovering artists like Dorothy Ashby is pretty much what I live for. Well, the family and select sports teams too, but besides those, finding music like this.
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