Jazz Harpist Brandee Younger on ‘Brand New Life’ and Paying Homage to Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane

Brandee Younger performs on the WJCT Soundstage on Thursday, March 14 | Courtesy of the artist (cropped)
Listen to Keanna Faircloth and Ulysses Owens Jr. (hosts of Jazz Beyond Tradition) interview Brandee Younger

Brandee Younger is a trailblazer. Over the course of the last 15 years, the New York-bred musician, composer and educator has contributed to works by a range of contemporary artists, from Common and Lauryn Hill to John Legend and Moses Sumney, placing her among a peer group of classically trained musicians strengthening the connective tissue between jazz and hip-hop, R&B, soul and pop. Along the way, she’s emerged as one of the more influential artists working in jazz today, shining a new light on her main instrument: The harp.

An unwieldy, perpendicular-shaped stringed instrument, the harp is more often associated with classical or symphonic music. Spiritual jazz pioneer, the late Alice Coltrane played the harp. But the late Dorothy Ashby is arguably the most influential jazz harpist. Samples of Ashby’s compositions began finding their way into hip-hop in the early ‘90s and Ashby’s work continues to be interpolated today. Younger’s 2023 album, Brand New Life, traces Ashby’s influence from post-bop jazz to contemporary hip-hop. The album earned Younger a Grammy nomination for best instrumental composition, making her the first Black woman to be nominated in that category. 

Back in January Keanna Faircloth and Ulysses Owens Jr. – hosts of Jazz Beyond Tradition, a new program coming to WJCT News on Sunday nights in April – caught up with Younger during New York City’s Winter Jazz Fest, where Younger was performing with her trio. Hit play above to hear highlights from that conversation.

Brandee Younger plays the WJCT Soundstage on Thursday, March 14. Doors are at 7 p.m. and local singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Jay Myztroh and Friends opens the show at 8 p.m. Younger goes on at 9 p.m. Tickets and more information here.

In this article: