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Marty Ashby Labeled Jazz Genius

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Marty Ashby's career constantly twists and turns, but he never gets lost.

“Like music, your work doesn't always go from A to B," says the executive producer at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild in the North Side. “It doesn't always go in a straight line."

Straight lines seem nonexistent in the work of this jazz musician and organizer who has, in 22 years, established the Craftsmen's Guild as the dominant jazz-presenting force in Pittsburgh and led to the capture of four Grammy awards.

He has done that in ways that have gone from presenting free programs in city parks to fancy evening shows at Downtown concert halls. And he's done it by playing his guitar in a small restaurant on the South Side and in a recording sessions with the Dizzy Gillespie All Star Jazz Band.

He has done that in concerts at the Guild featuring some of the biggest names. And in laid-back gigs with local performers.

Ashby's ambition never fades. His latest project has him involved in planning a Jazz Day in America with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., as another way to put jazz in the face of those who otherwise don't glance its way.

Ashby, 47, has done his work with one philosophy in mind: To bolster respect for jazz in a formal setting and in the street life where it developed.

“Clearly, the goal right now is to celebrate the masters," he says, “but also to look at the fine, young musicians who are taking the music into the future."

“We need 1,000 more of him on the jazz scene," says Todd Barkan, the director of programming at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola in New York City. The executive from the venue at Jazz at Lincoln Center and producer of more than 1,000 albums calls Ashby “one of the most dedicated people we have had in jazz in the past 30 years."

Saxophonist Ben Opie, who also teaches at the Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, says Ashby's value is obvious.

“If he and the Guild weren't doing what they are doing, nobody else would be," he says.

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