Dorothy Ashby’s “The Moving Finger.”

Maile Carballo / KUTX

Every Friday on Left of the Dial, Music Director Rick McNulty shares the best thing he heard that week.

The jazz harp is uncommon, but two legendary women defined its sound and carved a place for it in the world of jazz: Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby.

Trailblazers are often unloved in their time, and Detroit native Dorothy Ashby was not immune to that unfair reality. Described as “the most unjustly under-loved jazz greats of the 1950s,” Ashby nonetheless recorded nearly a dozen records as a bandleader, and eventually, gigs as a session player on some of the most well-known soul records of the 70s; from Bill Withers’ +Justments to Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life.

More recently, you may have heard her name dropped on LCD Soundsystem’s debut single “Losing My Edge,” or sampled across the spectrum of hip hop, including Pete Rock, Jurassic 5, to Drake. Although disregarded in life, her art has immortalized her in the weave of greats who laid the canvas for contemporary music.

“Dorothy Ashby was already “out there” as a jazz harpist, but on this track she went even further by playing a Japanese koto. What I really like about it is the odd combination of instruments (kalimba, vibes, fuzz guitar, flute, and strings arranged by the vastly underrated Richard Evans). All together, it’s a solid representation of the psychedelic Chicago sound that Chess Records had mastered in the late ’60s.”

-Rick McNulty

Support KUTX’s ability to bring you closer to the music.

Donate Today