Episode 15-Brandee Younger: Jazz Harp Meets Hip-Hop

In jazz, two legendary harp musicians come to mind. Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane. Now, there is a third musician whose image immediately erupts into focus. For harp artist, educator, and Grammy nominated musician Brandee Younger, both Ashby and Coltrane made a tremendous impact on her. And with her latest recording, Brand New Life, on Impulse Records, Brandee Younger embraces Ashby and her impact on the harp.

I caught up with Grammy nominated harpist Brandee Younger at the Spoleto Jazz Festival in Charleston, North Carolina.

This was a major opportunity for me to learn how the harp, this extraordinarily large instrument, can be used in improvisational jazz. I am unfamiliar with how to play the harp so talking with Brandee Younger was a good time to learn how she does it. And learning about her major influence, Dorothy Ashby was an extra for me.

Brandee’s latest recording, Brand New Life, finds her embracing Ashby’s compositions and styles as she crosses genres on this album. Chicago producer, drummer and bandleader Mikaya McCraven produced this album, infusing hip-hop and R&B influences in this recording. Some of the artists include Mumu Fresh (Maimouna Yousef), rapper, bassist and singer-songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello and Blue Note recording artist and vibraphonist and bandleader Joel Ross.

She was nominated for a Grammy in 2022 for Best Instrumental Composition for “Beautiful is Black” from her 2021 Recording Somewhere Different becoming the first black woman to do so. That same year she was also nominated for an NAACP Image Award and named winner of the DownBeat Critics Poll in the category of “Rising Star” Miscellaneous Instrument. In 2023 Brandee Younger won in Jazz Journalists Association annual recognition awards in the category Rare Instrument.

Brandee’s discography includes Somewhere Different (Impulse, 2021)-composition Grammy nominated; Force Majeure (International Anthem Recording Co.) 2021; Soul Awakening (Self-Released) 2019; Wax & Wane (Disk Union) 2016; Prelude (Self-released) 2011.

Brandee Younger is currently on the teaching artist faculty at New York University and The New School College of Performing Arts. She also serves as Symphonic and Jazz Harp Artist in Residence at the Cicely L. Tyson Community School of Performing and Fine Arts.

The photo of Brandee Younger is by Erin O’Brien.

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