Ashby, Harold (March 27, 1925-June 13, 2003)
- Existence: March 27, 1925 - June 13, 2003
Harold Kenneth Ashby was born March 27, 1925, in Kansas City, Missouri, the last of six children of Herbert Ashby and Anna Lewis. He began playing saxophone and clarinet at an early age and was a protégé of jazz tenor saxophonist Ben Webster, also a Kansas City native. Raised and educated in his hometown, Ashby graduated from R.T. Coles Junior High in 1938 and Lincoln High School two years later, where he was the recipient of the Service Award of the Department of Music in 1939. He graduated from Lincoln Junior College in 1942 and was inducted into the United States Navy the following year. After his honorable discharge in December 1945, Ashby returned to Kansas City to play music.
In the 1950s Ashby moved to Chicago, playing in various bands, often in an R&B or blues-based style. While in Chicago, he played and recorded with Willie Dixon, Jimmy Witherspoon, Memphis Slim, Chuck Berry and Otis Rush. In 1957 he moved to New York to work with, among others, Mercer Ellington. Through that association, Ashby received work from Mercer's father, Duke Ellington, and gained the respect of many of Duke's current and former sidemen. From the late 1950s through the mid 1960s, Ashby recorded with Ben Webster, Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves and Lawrence Brown. In 1968, Ashby became a permanent member of the Duke Ellington band and small groups, and his role progressively grew as the band toured across the country and around the world.
Following Ellington's death in 1974, Ashby continued to perform at concerts and festivals around the world, such as the 1985 Nice Festival, as well as with aggregates of the Duke Ellington band, including the orchestra under Mercer's direction. In addition, Ashby worked with Sy Oliver and Benny Goodman; did tours in Europe, including those with Junior Mance and Kansas City jazz pianist Jay McShann; and recorded under his own name during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Ashby's final performance was on September 14, 2002, at the Folly Theatre in Kansas City, where he was featured with Bobby Watson and the Duke's Men. Ashby died June 13, 2003, in New York at age 78.