I began performing professionally at age eight with my parents and brothers in our hometown of Baldwinsville, NY. The “Ashby Family” was one of Central New York’s most in-demand Society Bands during the 1970’s and provided a strong musical base for all of the Ashby boys. I was accepted to the Ithaca College music program on scholarship at age 16 and thus graduated High School in three years to pursue a career in music.
During my undergraduate years I began producing Jazz Festivals in order to escape the smoky jazz club scene and, more importantly, present the music in a dignified way. This proved to be a wonderful vehicle to premiere new music and perform with a variety of my idols for the first time. Up until this time, I had concentrated on learning the Jazz repertoire and gaining as much gig experience as possible. I was now beginning to write more music, create new ensembles and tour with my own bands.
Upon completion of undergraduate schooling, I moved to New York City to continue my pursuit of music and capitalize on relationships developed while in Ithaca. In order to survive in the city I had three jobs and worked as a musician in every conceivable way from tuba gigs to banjo gigs to $50 jazz club gigs. One of my day gigs was selling subscriptions to the New York Philharmonic. The immense business structure of the orchestra fascinated me and I ended up in a management position very quickly. I was intrigued by the gross disparity between the orchestra, opera, ballet, etc. world and the jazz industry. My goal became how to present jazz in the manner of the other performing arts (OPA’s).
I spent the next five years working for a variety of OPA’s groups including: The Cleveland Orchestra, Ohio Ballet, National Symphony and finally The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. All the while, I was experimenting on small scale jazz events and festivals with the techniques I was learning concerning marketing, promotion, consumer relation database management, presenting, fundraising, etc.
In 1987, I was introduced to the newly completed, Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild and immediately knew that I had to work there. I left the Pittsburgh Symphony, took a 50% pay cut and set out to create a Jazz Subscription Series. Now, 31 years later, I am the Executive Producer of MCG Jazz, a program of the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild (MCG). MCG is a multi-disciplined center for arts and learning that complements traditional humanities education with studio-based art and performance programs that serve as a catalyst to academic achievement. Over the past thirty years at MCG I have produced 2,500 concerts and 50 recordings on the MCG Jazz label, including five GRAMMY Award winners and six additional nominations. The mission of MCG Jazz is to preserve, present and promote Jazz.
For over three decades, I have served artistic advisor and producer for jazz concerts and festivals around the country including the Animal Crackers jazz series in Racine, Wisconsin, Jazz on the Circle at Severance Hall in Cleveland, OH, and the Jazz at Seven Springs Festival in Champion, PA and have been a strong advocate for developing a broad-based initiative to expand the audience for jazz and increase new public/private partnerships for the music. I have consulted with many jazz societies and presenting organizations and has led workshops and panel discussions for The American Federation of Jazz Societies, Arts Midwest, Southern Arts Federation, International Association for Jazz Education, the Japan Society, and the National Jazz Service Organization, among others. I have also served as a panelist for several state arts councils, the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.
As a guitarist, I have performed and recorded with Slide Hampton, Claudio Roditi, Nancy Wilson, Paquito D’Rivera, Herbie Mann, Phil Woods, The Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band and others. I am currently finishing an educational book/CD entitled: “Barney Kessel’s Art of Guitar Trio”. I have my Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from Ithaca College and a Masters in Music from Duquesne University. I am a voting member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), the Latin Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (LARAS) and a member of the Society of American Magicians (SAM).