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People: Jay Ashby

A one-shot trombone gig turns into a summer tour with Bob Dylan and Paul Simon

Saturday, October 16, 1999

By Scott Mervis, PG Weekend Editor

Jay Ashby played only one Pittsburgh gig this summer, but it was one for the ages. The trombonist was on stage at the Coca-Cola Star Lake Amphitheatre with the stellar international cast of Paul Simon's band.

  Jay Ashby says Bob Dylan is carefree when he plays and Paul Simon is more analytical.

Ashby, a jazz producer at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild (where he works with his brother Marty) and teacher at Duquesne University, is just back from a summer on the road with two legends: Simon and Bob Dylan. Originally he was hired to stay behind the scenes. Simon called him in as an arranger, on the strength of his work with Paquito D'Rivera, Tania Maria and Astrud Gilberto and his connection with Simon's drummer Steve Gadd.

"After the first day of rehearsal in New York," Ashby explains, "Paul said, 'These guys tell me you're a really good trombone player. Can you rearrange this stuff to include trombone?' I said, 'Ah, yeah.' "

Ashby always loved Simon's songs, he says, and when he was a kid in upstate New York he studied method books to learn "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Although the gig didn't call for the kind of jazz soloing he specializes in, he didn't hesitate to join the ensemble.

Night after night, he observed the differing styles of the headliners.

"Dylan is real kind of carefree and plays what he feels," Ashby says. "Simon, in contrast, is very analytical, and while there's a ton of feeling and emotion in his singing and writing, he figures out every single note, and how it fits and how it works with the one before it."

Along the road, Ashby says, the tour had a friendly and more laid-back atmosphere than he expected. The two bands mixed freely backstage and during one off day in Massachusetts, even hooked up for an inter-band softball game.

"I will say that Dylan didn't interact with us too much," Ashby says. "In four months he said a grand total of two words to me, which were 'Hey, man.' "

Since getting off from the tour, Ashby's hectic pace hasn't slowed much. He went from there to Germany for an Oktoberfest performance with the Radio Orchestra, where he played jazz over Bavarian folk music.

Today, he makes another trip -- to the altar. Ashby is marrying Kim Nazarian, an old friend from Ithaca College and soprano for the major-label jazz ensemble New York Voices. The couple will go back and forth between residences in Pittsburgh and New York, where this very jazzy wedding is taking place.

And the thread that brings this story full circle? The last record by Nazarian's group was none other than "New York Voices Sing the Songs of Paul Simon."

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