I turned in a column yesterday, and while writing it I had cause to google the phrase “jazz harp”, and had my mind absolutely blown by an introduction to Dorothy Ashby.
I’m so dazzled by this. I came to harp-playing age (15) on a steady diet of Celtophilia and Loreena McKennitt, was informed by interested parties that Alan Stivell and his Renaissance de la harpe Celtique were responsible for McKennitt’s ascendency, and that the lineage of harp-playing resurgence in the 20th century looked and sounded a certain way. Seeing Ashby’s photographs and listening to her album and reading about her life has me trembling like an instrument under her power.
The first track on that album is fascinating because I keep trying to figure out how they’ve miked the harp — it sounds muffled, uncertain, as if in a distant room, especially next to the piping confidence of flute. But by the second track — oof. It’s all there, all the bluegold depth I associate with this instrument, how its percussive qualities are sharp and catching as a rain of needles.
Do any of you play an instrument? Whether you do or not, tell me about a time your paradigm shifted so thoroughly and suddenly you didn’t even realize it was a paradigm until you’d shed it like a skin.
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