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Music

Some of Jazz's Behind-the-Scenes Heroes Shine in Unsung, a New Series on Afternoon Jazz

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Harpist Dorothy Ashby, a prime example of the artists we're featuring in Unsung on Afternoon Jazz

From go-to sidemen to artists who just never coveted the limelight, jazz is full of heroes who deserve more shine. Unsung is a new series on Afternoon Jazz that seeks to uncover those musicians that are key pieces in the jazz tapestry and beyond. 

Musicians like Les Spann, Hazel Scott, Leroy Vinnegar and Alice Coltrane have made contributions that reach far beyond their public profiles. Take Weldon Irvine, for instance — not only was he the bandleader for Nina Simone and composer of the anthem "Young, Gifted, and Black,” he was also a poet and playwright that mentored hip-hop artists Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def) and Q-Tip.

Another example would be D.C.'s own sax-playing postman, Roger Wendell "Buck" Hill. While maintaining a career as a postal worker for more than 30 years, he managed to work as a professional musician, serving as a sideman to Charlie Byrd, Shirley Horn and Shirley Scott. He also recorded a dozen albums as a leader. He was really a hometown hero for me and so many others, a musician whose story warrants celebration.

Dorothy Ashby, a multi-instrumentalist who forged a trail as the first important harpist on the jazz scene, was also an educator in the Detroit school system. She made it possible for the next generation of jazz harpists like Brandee Younger, Riza Printup and others to further the reach of the traditionally symphonic instrument in the jazz genre.

It's often the supporting voices that shaped the sound of marquee artists like John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Betty Carter and Wes Montgomery. Unsung strives to place those supporting individuals at center stage. Whether you're a jazz connoisseur or a novice, there's something for everyone to glean from this series.