Irving Ashby

Ashby was one of the great jazz guitarists of his generation. He played in many groups that jumped over the pop music line, but eventually saw the unique style of Ashby be outclassed by more talented pickers. Ashby was first introduced to Django Reinhardt’s speed and skill by the radio. He was then frightened to death when he heard him play the French gypsy guitar. Then came a wave smarty-pants jazz musicians like Barney Kessel who ended up taking Ashby’s place in the Oscar Peterson trio. Jazz listeners will remember Ashby’s early recordings with the Nat King Cole Trio. He played there from 1947 to 1951 and replaced Oscar Moore. This was where he first rose to prominence on jazz’s scene. It is often this collaboration that attracts the attention of new listeners. For example, Taj Mahal, a blues revivalist, will not include Ashby in his list of important early influences. He stands out from other blues guitarists like Robert Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson. Mahal stated that “everybody else I heard was playing tight chords when i started hearing guitar in ’40s.” Irving Ashby, who was a Nat King Cole player, was the first person I loved. He was a genius. He had a particular sound.” He had a certain sound. This was Ashby’s choice guitar in his time with Lionel Hampton’s group, before he started performing with the Cole band. Ashby’s guitar playing in this combo was notably known for its large size, which was nicknamed “the Yellow Cloud.” This axe was also the one Ashby paid tribute to in the 1950s, when a group under his name recorded the epic single “Big Guitar.” Legends are abound about the Ashby guitars. Wes Montgomery was said to have borrowed one of them for a Los Angeles recording session. Although Ashby’s rhythm playing was often overlooked when compared to Lionel Hampton’s music. He was best known for his swing-influenced rhythm guitar playing. The Cole group was the ideal format for both his rhythmic and soloing style. It also allowed the Cole leader to have an energizing effect on the audience, which could hardly have hindered the sidemen’s communication. Ashby left Cole and concentrated on the west coast. He teamed up with Oscar Peterson’s three-piece in the early 1950s. Norman Granz, a promoter, was able to bring this Canadian performer huge attention on tours. Cole was an influence on Peterson, but Art Tatum was much more influential. Tatum’s Byzantine harmonic inventions, which were continued by Peterson, was not the Ashby forte. Kessel and then Herb Ellis replaced him. Ashby spent the majority of his time in the studios recording with musicians such as Pat Boone, a crooner, and Sandy Nelson, a surf music guru. Ashby began to work outside of the music industry in the 1960s, but he continued to play occasionally, often being brought back into the spotlight by guitarists he strongly influenced like Howard Roberts. He was a jazz man who was primarily a mainstream swing musician, and was always in awe his bandleader, Lester Young. Ashby once said that he worshiped Lester Young. When the interviewer replied that worship was too strong a word, Ashby responded, “If there were a stronger word, it would be use.” Ashby’s ventures into modern jazz are rare, except for the fact that he lent his guitar to Montgomery. Even worse, Charles Mingus’ discography includes Ashby. This is despite the fact that it was erroneously assumed that the guitarist Ashby De la Zooch was Nat King Cole’s sideman. It turns out that the name is a second World War English song about an idyllic seaside resort called “Ashby De La Zooch” and the recording wasn’t made by Mingus. It is one of many early Mingus pieces, along with “Love on a Greyhound Bus,” which are all part of Mingus discographies. They only exist because they have master numbers that appear in the same order as Mingus recordings. Allmusic

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