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Album Review

Former Duke Ellington band member Harold Ashby, although approaching 75 years, shows no sign of slowing down and no decrease in his sax playing prowess. Cut for Mapleshade Records, this album also reveals that Ashby is a composer of no mean accomplishment. All but three of the tunes are his, with the others belonging to Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. Ashby's distinctive rendition of Ellington's "Lotus Blossom" is an outstanding reading. Strayhorn's "The Intimacy of the Blues" swings, and Ellington's "Sultry Serenade" is played by Ashby, with his characteristic, lightly touched tone combined with a kind of frolicking flavor. The tunes penned by Ashby run the gamut of style: "Reminiscing" is a sensual ballad while "Forever" has a faint Latin beat. The title tune is an intimate piece, reminiscent of Ellington's own "Azure," and is an album highlight. On the session's coda, "Sweet Nuthins," Ashby's tenor takes on a Hodge-esque flavor, featuring his soft-played approach to this blues-tinged number.

Ashby is supported by three gifted musicians on the scene today; their efforts are consistent with the very relaxed feeling Ashby and producer Hamiet Bluiett have established for this session. No one is being pushed here, and John Hicks' piano playing is lightly touched. Keter Betts, long-time Washington, DC resident and elegant bass player supreme, combines with premiere drummer Jimmy Cobb to provide the proper rhythmic setting for both Ashby and Hicks to ply their wares. Those who prefer their jazz sophisticated and suave, not loud and raucous, will certainly be attracted to this very good album that amply demonstrates how good this music can sound when in the right hands.


Born: March 27, 1925 in Kansas City, MO

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s

An excellent Ben Webster-inspired tenor saxophonist, Harold Ashby fit right in during his period with Duke Ellington. He had played in Kansas City (starting in 1946) and, in the early '50s, in Chicago. While most of his previous work was in R&B and blues bands, he was always a fine swing-based improviser. In 1957, Ashby moved to New York, met Ben Webster, and through the elder tenor was introduced to Duke Ellington. During the next decade he was on the periphery of Duke's world, playing with Mercer...
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