Poster Ashley Jackson harpist
Harpist Ashley Jackson collaborates with the Harlem Chamber Players in their recently released album, "Ennanga."
New Classical Tracks®

Harpist Ashley Jackson and Harlem Chamber Players explore African roots

New Classical Tracks (Extended Interview) - Ashley Jackson

Ashley Jackson and the Harlem Chamber Players – Ennanga (Bright Shiny Things)

New Classical Tracks - Ashley Jackson
New Classical Tracks - June 21, 2023

“I started thinking about this album in the summer of 2020. We were still living in Harlem, and the protests were happening just outside of our street,” harpist Ashley Jackson says, “And I really remember sitting and practicing and thinking, ‘What can I put on my music stand that's going to be able to speak to what's happening right now?’”

Jackson is an assistant professor of music at Hunter College. She commutes to New York City once a week from her home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. That gives her time to hang out with the Harlem Chamber Players, who join her on her debut recording, Ennanga.

“I started [playing] African American spirituals. For me, they're America’s first performing art form. We have so many different genres of music that stem from them.” Jackson says, “I started with two spiritual arrangements by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, and then I wanted to branch out to other genres. And so that's why I have a mixture. I have a piece by Alice Coltrane called Prima, and, of course, Ennanga, by William Grant Still. 

Ennanga as a piece that takes us on a journey through different American musical styles. And that's really what I was trying to go for in this debut album. Ennanga itself is a type of Ugandan harp, and I really wanted to focus and have listeners think about not only the African American roots of American music, but the West African roots of American music.”

The album opens with a recording of a piece by Alice Coltrane. What inspired you to include it?

In the fall of 2018, I had the opportunity to perform an arrangement of Prima with the Urban Playground Orchestra, and it was one of those pieces where I thought, ‘I'm not finished with it, I still have more learning to do.’ So fast forward to now and I'm planning the concept of the album. I take out Prima and I'm thinking about the summer of 2020 and moments of healing and justice, and prima means love, pure love for the divine, which completely melts the heart. So, I said, this piece has to be on here.”

There is a piece by composer and harpist Brandy Younger called Essence of Ruby in this album. Could you tell more about her and this piece? 

She's one of my harp sisters. Starting in 2020, she started to release solo harp arrangements of her compositions and I was really excited. I thought, yes, finally, something she’s composed that I can play, and Essence of Ruby was one of them. And I love the piece. I loved the groove-based rhythm that it has and I love how it draws from not only jazz but R&B, and that's my musical DNA, that's the music I grew up listening to.”

There are two African American spirituals on this recording by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. One is called I'm Troubled in Mind, and it is the last track of the album. Why did you decide to close the recording with this piece?

 It’s one of those rare spirituals that uses the first person. ‘I'm troubled in mind’ speaks so clearly and plainly to how the enslaved channeled grief and pain on a daily basis. The angels changed my name. I looked at my hands and my hands were new. I looked at my feet and my feet were new,’ so I wanted to close the album by asking us to consider how we can move forward towards the future in a way in which we are changed for the better, that we're looking ahead towards a brighter day, a moment of freedom for all of us.”

To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.


Ashley Jackson and the Harlem Chamber Players – Ennanga (Amazon)

Ashley Jackson and the Harlem Chamber Players – Ennanga (Bright Shiny Things)

Ashley Jackson (official site)

Harlem Chamber Players (official site)

Love the music?

Donate by phone

Show your support by making a gift to YourClassical.

Each day, we’re here for you with thoughtful streams that set the tone for your day – not to mention the stories and programs that inspire you to new discovery and help you explore the music you love.

YourClassical is available for free, because we are listener-supported public media. Take a moment to make your gift today.

More Ways to Give

Your Donation


Latest New Classical Tracks® Episodes


Latest New Classical Tracks® Episodes


About New Classical Tracks®

Host Julie Amacher provides an in-depth exploration of a new classical music release each week.

Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Radio Public, or RSS.

About New Classical Tracks®