Brandee Younger is uniquely qualified to be paying tribute to the great harpist, composer, and artistic visionary Dorothy Ashby this weekend at Revive Music Group’s Winter JazzFest stage. Not only has she been privy to private diaries, unheard compositions, unseen pictures, and untold stories from the late Ashby, but plain and simple Younger is one of the most exciting young harpists in the business! “It’s like stars aligning for me,” Younger explains about how she comes across these treasures. “No one can get in touch with the estate. Record labels even call me trying to get in touch with them.”
Younger gave us some insight into the significance of Dorothy Ashby:
There’s a lot that she did in her life and she is really under-sung. She had proposals for records that labels rejected, where if you look at them today, you’re like, “Whoa, they rejected that?” I mean, Afro Harping was before it’s time; no one paid attention to it until Pete Rock sampled it! The general public knows, “Oh she played the harp. She was a jazz harpist.” But she played with Frank Wess; he got her the first record deal. She played with a lot of great musicians, a lot of whom are still alive today. A lot of people don’t know that. I think the harp world ignored her too. They did to an extent. There were big race issues back then.
Younger is not the type of artist to go about a project like this possessively, but her unique qualifications are indisputable. It’s not just that she knows a lot about it or that she has played Ashby’s harp, Younger even studies with Carol Robbins who was a longstanding student of Ashby’s. “One thing Carol always said was that Dorothy was all about creating your own. She didn’t even like Carol to play other people’s music. She liked her to write her own music and do her own thing. That’s something that I’ve done from day one,” Younger explains. “She made her living — or whatever — by putting her harp in different settings and other genres where you wouldn’t expect it. Sure, I’m not on her level, but that’s what I do. I’m classically trained, but I make my living playing in jazz ensembles and Top 40 recordings. I’m sure Dorothy would be on mad tracks if she was alive today. I feel like we parallel.”
We caught up with Brandee Younger in person to catch some rehearsal footage and discuss more about Dorothy Ashby’s legacy — check it out below:
Interview & Video by Eric Sandler (@ericsandler)