Ian Ashby’s senior recital at the Birenbaum on Tuesday May 24th was as warm and inviting as his personality. The intimate basement venue was packed with close family and friends celebrating a lifetime of creating music. The jazz bassist started off with a classic, “All The Things You Are”, by Jerome Kern, which he described as “the baseline for the jazz community, no pun intended”. His intro was met with laughter and applause from the audience, which segued perfectly into the rich leading tones of the first track.
From the beginning, Ashby played with the emotion and fervor of a man possessed. His solos looked and sounded as if the music was literally flowing through his body. His technique was outstanding; he plucked with such power and precision that it looked like the strings were about to fly off.
His supporting cast on this tune was just as memorable. Joined by Coleman Rose on saxophone and Abe Gold on piano, the trio played with a jovial, celebratory tone. The piece started off brazenly, but finished with a quiet, fading outro, like a party bus driving away into the night.
Next up was Ashby’s “Doce”, an original composition dedicated to his long-time girlfriend. “Doce” means “sweet” in Portuguese, and the piece was certainly short but sweet. Joined by jazz legends Jay Ashby on tambourine and Jamey Haddad on drums, this silky smooth Samba was played with a Latin bounce and funk that had the whole room moving, like a safari through a vibrant, sunny jungle.
From there, Ashby slowed the tempo down for the next few numbers. For Neal Hefti’s “The Odd Couple”, Ashby introduced what he described as “his odd couple”, his roommate Eric Weaver and his father, Jay Ashby, on trombones. During the elder Ashby’s solo, he played with the poise and unmitigated swagger of a true jazz icon. (They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree). During his solo, Ashby got so low on the fingerboard that it looked like he was going to start talking to the bass – or at least listening to it very closely.
Bernice Petkere’s “Lullaby of the Leaves” had a unique style compared to the other pieces. The song featured Ashby alone, who played with a foreboding tone while showing off his incredible versatility. The sounds that he made were rare to hear from a jazz bassist: some of his double-stops almost sounded like alternative guitar. Though it was a departure from previous styles, it was certainly a lullaby for the ages.
Ashby then dedicated “The One Step” to the late Chick Corea. Noah Nelson’s soft, soothing snare and cymbal paired perfectly with debonair harmonies of Gold’s piano and Ashby’s bass. The piece was performed flawlessly, like something you would hear on a Saturday night in the finest jazz club in New York City.
Ashby began wrapping up the recital with Duke Ellington’s “Love You Madly” featuring his mother Kim Nazarian on vocals. Nazarian’s scatting was exceptional. Her voice was rich and full of life, a modern-day Ella Fitzgerald. Once again, Ashby showed off his skills with another exceptional bass solo. In this one, he showcased his hand speed, playing fast-moving scalar lines for multiple sections. The performance received a standing ovation, both because it was so moving and because no one realized the actual last piece was on the back page of the program.
To cap off the evening, Graeham Goble’s “Reminiscing” featured Ashby with all of his collaborators. He said he picked the piece because it was featured in Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg’s hit comedy, The Other Guys. The audience couldn’t help but laugh during the introduction, and it was the perfect tune to conclude a night of exciting music making.
The recital was a wonderful cornucopia of jazz that encapsulated Ian Ashby’s lifelong musical journey. He is attending the Berklee College of Music in Boston next fall, and intends to pursue a career in music. From this recital alone, it was easy to tell that he already has the makings of a professional musician. There is no limit to the heights he could ascend to in the future.