Horn faculty member Jerome Ashby (B.M. ’77, horn), who had been associate principal horn with the New York Philharmonic since 1979 and made his solo debut with the orchestra in 1982, died on December 26, 2007, after a prolonged battle with prostate cancer. Born in Charleston, S.C., on February 15, 1956, Ashby performed with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the New York Philharmonic Ensembles, as well as at music festivals around the world. One of the few African-American musicians in a prominent position with a major orchestra, Ashby—who also taught at the Manhattan School of Music, the Curtis Institute, and the Aspen Festival Music School—was a special inspiration to his students. He was loved and respected by his many colleagues—including horn faculty member Julie Landsman, who attended Juilliard with Ashby and recalls her former schoolmate and faculty colleague here with affection and admiration.
Editor's Note: In November 2011, a scholarship was set up in Ashby's name.
I first met Jerome in 1974, on the fifth floor of Juilliard, near the elevators. He was a tall, skinny kid from the Bronx; I, a short, Jewish girl from Westchester. Although we came from such different backgrounds, we instantly connected as we spoke about our mutual teacher, Jimmy Chambers, and of the beauty of the sound of the French horn. A few years later, Jerome and I became college roommates at the infamous 808 West End Avenue apartment building. This was the place to live, long before there were any official dorms at Juilliard. Our community on 99th and West End was filled with horn players, thus leading to many late-night impromptu horn-quartet sessions with our colleagues. Profound friendships were forged during those colorful years, and music and sound concepts were solidified.
After we graduated from Juilliard, Jerome moved to Mexico to follow his dream of becoming a first-horn player. He was also following his love, Patricia Cantu, who eventually became his wife and the mother of his four beautiful daughters. I remember our tearful parting as he left New York, lamenting my feeling that we would never again live in the same city and simultaneously pursue our career paths to become principal horn players.
Fast-forward 20 years, and we find Jerome working for the New York Philharmonic, and I am playing at the Metropolitan Opera. Amazingly, New York was a big enough town to support both of our dreams!
As he has passed on, I know that one of the most painful times for me without Jerome will be the auditions at School. During these adjudications, I always made a point of sitting as close to Jerome as possible. His deep connection to the music was audible as he breathed with every phrase as each candidate played. It was as if he became the player himself, and this remarkable ability on his part enabled me to appreciate those exceptional players who eventually became our students at Juilliard. Our endless discussions about our students were invaluable to both of us. We shared a deep mutual concern for our students—a love, really, as they became our children—and I treasure the memories of these times with him.
At Jerome’s funeral service on December 29, Phil Myers, the leader of Jerome’s horn section at the Philharmonic, commented on how uncomfortable Jerome was with expressing his emotions to the people he loved. Perhaps this is why his music making was so deeply personal. He channeled his feelings of love and joy through his horn playing, his unique sound, and his teaching.
By the time Jerome received his cancer diagnosis, the disease had become very advanced. Devastated by the news, I asked him how I could be there for him. His answer revealed to me that there was very little that he asked of his friends. His plan was to stay close to home, to his wife, his children and grandson, and to his mother. He intended to pray for a miracle. He only asked for my assistance with his students, who surely would need extra support in his absence.
At the funeral service, I was struck by the fact that almost everyone there referred to Jerome as “my best friend.” The number of “best friends” Jerome had is a sure testament to his generous heart.
You might wonder what kind of satisfaction he achieved in his final months. In a recent conversation I had with Jerome, he told me that this past year had been the best year of his life. The closeness with his family, which he so desired, flourished, and remarkably, he was even able to return to teaching at Juilliard and to performing with his other family, the New York Philharmonic.
The strongest evidence to me of this deep spiritual change in Jerome was how, in the last year of his life, he and I began to say “I love you” every time we parted. Our very last words were just that.
And Jerome, we will miss you.