June 30, 2008



Courtney Bryan, a native of New Orleans, Louisiana, is a prolific and eclectic composer, pianist, and arranger. Her overall ambition in life is the "creation of uninhibited beauty." Her compositions are wide-ranging, including Solo Works, Jazz Quartet, Jazz Orchestra, Symphonic Orchestra, and even collaborations of dancers, visual artists, writers, and actors.

Courtney Bryan currently performs in and around New York with the Courtney Bryan Trio at venues like St. Nick's Pub, Nuyorican Poets Café, The Jazz Spot, Cecil's Jazz Club, A Gathering of Tribes Gallery, and Casa Frela Gallery. The Courtney Bryan Trio has also headlined at the Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro and Sweet Lorraine's Jazz Club of New Orleans, Louisiana. Courtney Bryan co-leads Duet, with vocalist TreZure Mone performing a mix of Jazz and Rhythm and Blues. She co-developed and co-leads the Courtney Bryan/Ez Weiss Jazz Orchestra in New York, a Big Band organization that is composed of volunteer musicians who are particularly interested in the revival of Big Band. Courtney works frequently with Rome Neal and the Marvtastic Ladies. In addition, she freelances with various jazz and R & B artists.

Recently, the Courtney Bryan Trio featuring saxophonist Donald Harrison opened for the Curtis Fuller/Louis Hayes Quintet and the Chico Hamilton Sextet at the Guild Hall in East Hampton, New York. Also, Courtney performed as part of Stanley Cowell's Piano Choir in the spring of 2006. Courtney's compositions have been performed at Lincoln Center’s Rose Studio and commissioned by Cleveland State University's Jazz Heritage Orchestra, Dennis Reynolds’s Brass Choir, Conrad Herwig's Scarlet Knight Trombone Ensemble, and by saxophonist Devin Phillips for his 2006 release Wade in the Water, which was titled after her arrangement. She was featured as composer with Kathy Randel's Artspotproductions in The New Orleans Suite performed at the Contemporary Arts Center of New Orleans, Louisiana in 2005. Courtney was also recently a finalist in the Beyonce Knowles All-Girl Band competition for her B-Day tour. Courtney Bryan has recently released her debut recording entitled Quest for Freedom featuring famed trumpeter Marcus Belgrave.

Courtney, a proud graduate of the Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong Jazz Camp of New Orleans, has academic degrees from the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA) '00, Oberlin Conservatory '04 (bachelors in music composition), Rutgers University '07 (masters in jazz piano). Currently, Courtney is a Faculty Fellow at Columbia University of New York pursuing a doctorate of musical arts in music composition.

Courtney was featured along with Jason Marsalis and Irvin Mayfield in Geoffrey Poister's documentary Jazz Dreams. Courtney Bryan has performed in the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival 2000-2002, in the Detroit Ford International Jazz Festival 2003 and 2004, in the Lansing Jazz Festival 2004, and in the Detroit Taste Fest 2005. She has also performed at the Cleveland Bop Stop and Nighttown of Cleveland, Ohio; the Serengeti Gallery of Detroit, Michigan, among other venues. In 2002, Bryan was selected as a NOCCA (New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts) All-Star along with such musicians as Nicholas Payton, Donald Harrison, Adonis Rose, and Clyde Kerr, Jr.


Every generation or so, some enterprising soul comes along determined to haul the concert harp out of the orchestra pit. Today, there's Joanna Newsom, the anti-folk singer and songwriter who just released the characteristically harp-intensive Ys. Before her, there was the mellow Debra Hanson-Conant, and before her, the New Age freak Andreas Vollenweider. Go back another few generations, and you run into the late Dorothy Ashby, the Detroit-born harp master who stands as one of the most unjustly under-loved jazz greats of the 1950s.
Ashby swings, plain and simple. When she plays some mid-tempo scooting-along tune, like her own
"Rascallity" (audio) all the stock riffage and jazz bravado common on so many records of this era disappears. Leading her chamber group, Ashby operates in an unassuming way, leaping through intricate arpeggios that no other jazz instrumentalist could attempt. Her single lines may not be terribly fancy, but she selects her notes carefully, and plays each one with a classical guitarist's stinging articulation. Ashby accompanies flautist Frank Wess on "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To" (audio), sometimes snapping off chords as if the harp were just a bigger guitar, and at other times using its immense range to conjure an enveloping wash of sound in the background.
Given all the peak jazz experiences recorded around 1957 and '58 (Sonny Rollins' Live at the Village Vanguard, Miles Davis' Milestones, and so on), it's easy to understand why Ashby's In A Minor Groove didn't attract a massive audience. She and her groups of the day including Roy Haynes on drums, play pleasant, utterly typical and hardly earth-shattering chamber jazz. Still, it's a notably smart and polished version of typical, and anyone who can make a massive instrument like the concert harp dance — and use it to swing in such a cool, low-key way — deserves to be more than a footnote.

Born Dorothy Jeanne Thompson on
August 6, 1932 in Detroit, Michigan, Ashby grew up around music in Detroit where her father, guitarist Wiley Thompson, often brought home fellow jazz musicians. Even as a young girl, Dorothy would provide support and background to their music by playing the piano. She attended Cass Technical High School where fellow students included such future musical talents and jazz greats as Donald Byrd, Gerald Wilson, and Kenny Burrell. While in high school she played a number of instruments (including the saxophone and string bass) before coming upon the harp.
She attended
Wayne State University in Detroit where she studied piano and music education. After she graduated, she began playing the piano in the jazz scene in Detroit, though by 1952 she had made the harp her main instrument. At first her fellow jazz musicians were resistant to the idea of adding the harp, which they perceived as an instrument of classical music and also somewhat ethereal in sound, into jazz performances. So Ashby overcame their initial resistance and built up support for the harp as a jazz instrument by organizing free shows and playing at dances and weddings with her trio. She recorded with Ed Thigpen, Richard Davis, Jimmy Cobb, Frank Wess and others in the late 1950s and early 1960s. During the 1960s, she also had her own radio show in Detroit.
Ashby's trio, including her husband John Ashby on
drums, regularly toured the country, recording albums for several different record labels. She played with Louis Armstrong and Woody Herman, among others. In 1962 Downbeat magazine's annual poll of best jazz performers included Ashby. Extending her range of interests and talents, she also worked with her husband on a theater company, the Ashby Players, which her husband founded in Detroit, and for which Dorothy often wrote the scores.
In the late 1960s, the Ashby’s gave up touring and settled in
California where Dorothy broke into the studio recording system as a harpist through the help of the soul singer Bill Withers, who recommended her to Stevie Wonder. As a result, Dorothy was called upon for a number of studio sessions playing for such popular recording artists as Dionne Warwick, Diana Ross, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Barry Manilow. Her harp playing is featured in the song "Come Live With Me' which is on the soundtrack for the 1967 movie, Valley of the Dolls. One of her more noteworthy performances in contemporary popular music was playing the harp on the song "If It's Magic" on Stevie Wonder's 1976 album Songs in the Key of Life. She is also featured on Bill Withers' 1974 album, +'Justments.
Her albums include The Jazz Harpist, In a Minor Groove, Hip Harp, Fantastic Jazz Harp of Dorothy Ashby with (Junior Mance), Django/Misty, Concerto De Aranjuez, Afro Harping, Dorothy's Harp, The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby, and Music for Beautiful People. Between 1956-1970, she recorded 10 albums for such labels as Savoy, Cadet, Prestige, New Jazz, Argo, Jazzland and Atlantic. On her "Rubaiyat" album, Ashby played the Japanese musical instrument, the
koto, demonstrating her talents on another instrument, and successfully integrating it into jazz.

Dorothy Ashby, died from cancer on April 13, 1996 in Santa Monica, California.

1 comment:

a.s said...