Harold Ashby: Just for You
Hey Ellington and Ben Webster fans, check out Ashby’s blues-drenched, melodic tenor sax. You just know
that jaw-dropping sound came from a lifetime of paying dues. In 1950, Ash moved to Chicago to become
Ben Webster’s protégé and record with those Chess blues legends. During the sixties, he subbed more and
more with the Ellington Orchestra, taking over Jimmy Hamilton’s chair in 1968. Ash played and recorded
with Duke until 1974. Just For You is “…for fans of unpretentious, melody-rich jazz that has a good beat…”
4-Stars according to Stereophile. You’ll hear Ash fire up the swing in John Hick’s piano playing.
And that same fire lights up Keter Bett’s huge-sounding contrabass. Even Jimmy Cobb’s ever-tasty snare and
high hat show extra snap and sparkle. Tunes include “Lotus Blossom”, “Sultry Serenade” and “The Intimacy
of the Blues”.
- 1. Reminiscing (H. Ashby)
-Listen to Sample
- 2. Stampash (H. Ashby)
-Listen to Sample
- 3. Lotus Blossom (W. Strayhorn)
- 4. Forever (H. Ashby)
- 5. Tasty (H. Ashby)
-Listen to Sample
- 6. Just For you (H. Ashby)
- 7. Neat (H. AShby)
- 8. The Intimacy Of The Blues (W. Strayhorn)
- 9. Sultry Serenade (E.K. Ellington/ T. Glenn)
- 10. Sweet Nuthins (H. Ashby)
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Review by Sonics
Hal Ashby was the protege of Ben Webster, the Swing-era tenor saxophonist renowned for his 1940s tenure
with Duke Ellington and numerous fine albums he made in the ’50s and ’60s. Webster’s unique, magisterial,
creamy-to-barking tone was designed for ballads, but was aces on medium-to-fast swingers, too. Frog
(a Webster nickname) took fellow Kansas City native “Ash” under his wing and ultimately introduced him
to Ellington, with whom Ashby worked on and off from 1960 until Ellington’s death in 1974. (He stayed in
the band led by Duke’s son, Mercer Ellington; until 1975.)
Despite his Webster lineage, Ashby was never a mere copy. His sound, gorgeous like his mentor’s, often
has a shade more edge and darkness, and he has more facility than Ben, handling fast tempos with
aplomb--proved here by “Stampash”.
Seventy-three when this album was made last year, Ashby is still vital and commanding. the program—three
lovely ballads, including the opening “Reminiscing”; several fine medium groovers; and a telling slow
blues, “Sweet Nuthins”—is for fans of unpretentious, melody-rich jazz that has a good beat and isn’t
Ashby offers the poignant theme of “Reminiscing” with that succulent, gusts-of-breath tone. Hicks then
solos’ economically telling his story with one series of choice notes after another. Billy Strayhorn’s
enthralling “Lotus blossom,” with a deft rubato intro by Hicks, is also given a theme-only performance by
Another Strayhorn classic, “Intimacy of the Blues,” reveals the leader as a hearty cooker. He doesn’t
play a lot of notes, often going with short phrases for maximum rhythmic impact; Ash can make a repeated
single note swing like mad. High tones shake with his sure vibrato, and contrastingly low bottom notes
pop right out. “Tasty” is a shuffle blues taken a bit faster. Again, less is more. On “Forever,” and
Ellington-like bossa nova, Ashby essentially sings his solo with dancing, pretty notes. What else is new?
Throughout, Hicks is an ideal accompanist; bassist Keter Betts and drummer Jimmy Cobb provide additional
As we’ve come to expect from Pierre Sprey and Mapleshade, there’s a massive soundstage, superb tonal and
timbral reproduction, and outstanding sonic clarity and detail.
Review by Jazz Times
Tenor saxophonist Harold Ashby, best known for his work with Duke Ellington in the late ’60s to mid ’70s,
leads a quartet here with pianist John Hicks, bassist Keter Betts, and drummer Jimmy Cobb. Ashby’s heard
to the best advantage on ballads and moderate tempoed tunes, displaying his full, breathy tone; he’s
quite reminiscent of Ben Webster. On faster selections, such as “Stampash”, he sounds shaky. He’s
contributed some attractive originals, including “Reminiscing” and “Just for You”, to the date, though.
The laudable Hicks normally plays with more modern musicians than Ashby, but adjusts nicely and turns
in some swinging, intelligent solos of his own. Betts and Cobb move things along smoothly and
unobtrusively. -Harvey Pekar
Review by All Music Guide
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. -Dave Nathan
Review by The Sensible Sound
This excellent-sounding new release from Mapleshade is worth picking up for one incredibly beautiful
and moving cut, "Lotus Blossom" by Billy Strayhorn. What tenor saxophonist Harold Ashby, pianist
John Hicks, bassist Keter Betts, and drummer Jimmy Cobb are able to achieve on this tune defies my
humble attempts to describe it. Nearly half the time is taken up by a soulful bowed-bass and piano
duet of surpassing loveliness, then Ashby comes in with his horn, and things get even better.
Jazz perfection! The clean sound captured by Mapleshade makes it all the better. There are some other
good performances on this CD, but as I said at the outset, "Lotus Blossom" is worth buying this CD for
just by itself—the other nice cuts are a wonderful bonus. Ashby has a big, breathy tome reminiscent
of Ben Webster, plus a tender way with a melody that will draw you right in. His sidemen support him ably,
making this a most rewarding recording that is best played late at night. -Karl W. Nehring
Review by Cadence
According to the liner notes, Ashby dominated this session, schooling the other musicians as he went along.
The others, no slouches themselves were happy to learn from the master. This sense of dominance and
deference pervades the music. Although perfect in some respects, rarely does the rhythm section push
Ashby, and thus rarely does he have to push back, and so the music is missing that certain tension that
is needed to make great music. Or, I should say, to make great music even better, for the music here is
lush and beautiful. Ashby is an urbane saxophonist, often identified by his long tenure with Duke
Ellington. Even when he plays a gritty blues, what shines through is his gentility. It's as if he's not
walking through the grit, but hovering above it, taking it in, but only that. Hicks, on the other hand,
is not an urbane player. Ashby deals with that by encouraging Hicks to simplify his playing. This works
nicely: Hicks puts less in his accompaniment than is usually there, which adds to the music's simple
elegance. Then, when he solos, he brings out more of his ideas, while still keeping it simple. As for
Betts, I think of him as the epitome of studied elegance, so he fits in just right. Hicks and Betts spend
the first 2:30 of "Lotus Blossom" playing a duet that's so gorgeous I resented the intrusion of Ashby's
tenor even though he created barely a ripple in the mood when he came in. Cobb's playing might lean more
to the bebop ideal than Ashby might like, but that gives the music a little bit of a needed edge. So, a
pretty album of beautifully rendered tunes, with little in the way of an edge, but that's likely to be
appreciated by its intended audience. -Eric Saidel