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Dorothy Jeanne Thompson (Detroit, August 6, 1930-Santa Monica, California, April 13, 1986) better known as Dorothy Ashby , was a harpist and American jazz composer.
Ashby extended the popularization of the harp in jazz, demonstrating that the instrument could be used for bebop to the same extent as the saxophone. Although his albums were jazz, he often also turned to R & B and other genres, particularly in his 1970 album The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby, where he demonstrated his talent with the koto, a Japanese instrument that also successfully integrated into the jazz.
Dorothy Thompson grew up Detroit, in an environment full of music. His father, guitarist Wiley Thompson, often brought home other jazz musicians. From a very young age, she accompanied them playing the piano. He studied at Cass Technical High School along with other students who would later also become great jazz talents, such as Donald Byrd, Gerald Wilson, and Kenny Burrell. During her time in high school, Dorothy played several instruments, including saxophone and double bass, before crossing with the harp.
He went to Wayne State University, Detroit, where he studied piano and music education. After graduating, he began playing the piano at Detroit jazz venues, but by 1952 he had turned the harp into his main instrument. At first, the other jazz musicians were reluctant to add the harp, since they perceived it as an instrument of European classical music and its sound seemed too ethereal for jazz performances. But Ashby overcame his initial resistance, and got support to use the harp as a jazz instrument by organizing free performances and playing dances and weddings with his musical trio. In the late 50’s and early 60’s he recorded an album with Ed Thigpen, Richard Davis, Frank Wess and others. During the 1960s, he also had his own radio show in Detroit.
Her jazz trio (which included her husband, John Ashby, on drums) regularly toured throughout the country and also recorded records for several record companies. Ashby played with Louis Armstrong and Woody Herman, among others. In 1962, it was included in the annual list of the best jazz performers published by Down Beat magazine. But Ashby also had other interests and talents: in the 60s she worked with her husband in a theater company, the “Ashby Players”, which was founded by her husband in Detroit and for which she composed all the songs and lyrics, while that he wrote the script. Dorothy also played the harp and piano for such plays, and even starred in one of them, “3-6-9”. Most of her compositions for the theater were available only in the recordings she made herself, only a couple of the many songs she created for her works appeared on the records she recorded. Later, Dorothy recorded and performed concerts with the goal of raising money for theater performances by the Ashby Players, who used to produce works that were relevant to the African-American community in Detroit. But not only that, but they also offered job opportunities to black actors such as Ernie Hudson (from Ghostbusters 1 & 2; cited as Earnest L. Hudson) who took part in the play “3-6-9”.
At the end of the 60s, the Ashbys stopped touring and settled in California, where Dorothy burst as a harpist in the world of studio recording, with the help of soul singer Bill Withers, who recommended her to Stevie. Wonder As a result, she participated in a series of study sessions interpreting more pop-oriented themes.
Ashby died of cancer on April 13, 1986, in Santa Monica, California. His recordings have been influential in several musical genres. The High Llamas recorded a song titled “Dorothy Ashby” on their 2007 album Can Cladders. Some hip hop artists have used samples of their songs, including Jurassic 5, on the Feedback album, and so did Andre Nickatina on his song “Jungle”.
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