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Eric Dolphy: Wikis


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Eric Dolphy
Birth name Eric Allan Dolphy
Born June 20, 1928(1928-06-20)
Los Angeles, California
Died June 29, 1964 (aged 36)
Berlin, Germany
Genres Jazz, Avant-garde jazz
Occupations Bandleader, Composer, Sideman
Instruments Alto saxophone, Flute, Bass clarinet
Years active 1949–1964
Labels Verve
Blue Note
Associated acts Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Booker Little
Notable instruments
Bass clarinet, alto saxophone, flute

Eric Allan Dolphy (June 20, 1928 – June 29, 1964) was an American jazz alto saxophonist, flautist, and bass clarinetist. Dolphy was one of several groundbreaking jazz alto players to rise to prominence in the 1960s. He was also the first important bass clarinet soloist in jazz, and among the earliest significant flute soloists. His improvisational style was characterized by the use of wide intervals based largely on the twelve tone scale, in addition to using an array of extended techniques to reproduce human- and animal-like effects which almost literally made his instruments speak. Although Dolphy's work is sometimes classified as free jazz, his compositions and solos had a logic uncharacteristic of many other free jazz musicians of the day; even as such, he was considered an avant-garde improviser.




Early life

Dolphy was born in Los Angeles and was educated at Los Angeles City College. He performed locally for several years, most notably as a member of bebop big bands led by Gerald Wilson and Roy Porter. On early recordings, he occasionally played soprano clarinet and baritone saxophone, as well as his main instrument, the alto saxophone. Dolphy finally had his big break as a member of Chico Hamilton's quintet. With the group he became known to a wider audience and was able to tour extensively through 1959, when he parted ways with Hamilton and moved to New York City.

Early partnerships

John Coltrane had gained an audience and critical notice with Miles Davis's quintet. Although Coltrane's quintets with Dolphy (including the Village Vanguard and Africa/Brass sessions) are now legendary, they provoked Down Beat magazine to brand Coltrane and Dolphy's music as 'anti-jazz'. Coltrane later said of this criticism: "they made it appear that we didn't even know the first thing about music (...) it hurt me to see [Dolphy] get hurt in this thing." [1]

The initial release of Coltrane's stay at the Vanguard selected three tracks, only one of which featured Dolphy. After being issued haphazardly over the next 30 years, a comprehensive box set featuring all of the recorded music from the Vanguard was released by Impulse! in 1997. The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings carried over 15 tracks featuring Dolphy on alto saxophone and bass clarinet, adding a new dimension to these already classic recordings. A later Pablo box set from Coltrane's European tours of the early 1960s collected more recordings with Dolphy for the buying public.

During this period, Dolphy also played in a number of challenging settings, notably in key recordings by Ornette Coleman (Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation), arranger Oliver Nelson (The Blues and the Abstract Truth and Straight Ahead) and George Russell (Ezz-thetics), but also with Gunther Schuller, Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln, multi-instrumentalist Ken McIntyre, and bassist Ron Carter among others.

As a leader

Out to Lunch, 1964

Dolphy's recording career as a leader began with the Prestige label. His association with the label spanned across 13 albums recorded from April 1960 to September 1961, though he was not the leader for all of the sessions. Prestige eventually released a 9-CD box set containing all of Dolphy's recorded output for the label.

Dolphy's first two albums as leader were Outward Bound and Out There. The first, more accessible and rooted more in the style of bop than some later releases, was recorded at Rudy Van Gelder's studio in New Jersey with hard-bop trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. However the album still offered up challenging performances, which at least partly accounts for the record label's choice to include "out" in the title. Out There is closer to the third stream music which would also form part of Dolphy's legacy, and reminiscent also of the instrumentation of the Hamilton group with Ron Carter on cello and Dolphy on bass clarinet, clarinet and flute as well as saxophones.

Far Cry was also recorded for Prestige in 1960 and represented his first pairing with trumpeter Booker Little, a like-minded spirit with whom he would make a set of legendary live recordings at the Five Spot in New York before Little's death at the age of 23.

Dolphy would record several unaccompanied cuts on saxophone, which at the time had been done only by Coleman Hawkins and Sonny Rollins before him. The album Far Cry contains one of his more memorable performances on the Gross-Lawrence standard "Tenderly" on alto saxophone, but it was his subsequent tour of Europe that quickly set high standards for solo performance with his exhilarating bass clarinet renditions of Billie Holiday's "God Bless The Child". Numerous recordings were made of live performances by Dolphy on this tour, in Copenhagen, Uppsala and other cities, and these have been issued by many sometimes dubious record labels, drifting in and out of print ever since.

20th century classical music also played a significant role in Dolphy's musical career. He performed Edgard Varèse's Density 21.5 for solo flute at the Ojai Music Festival in 1962[2] and participated in Gunther Schuller's Third Stream efforts of the 1960s.

In July 1963, Dolphy and producer Alan Douglas arranged recording sessions for which his sidemen were among the leading emerging musicians of the day. The results were his Iron Man and Conversations LPs. Around this time Dolphy's pianist was occasionally the young Herbie Hancock, this group was recorded at the Illinois Concert and others.

In 1964, Dolphy signed with Blue Note Records and recorded Out to Lunch! with Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Hutcherson, Richard Davis and Tony Williams. This album was deeply rooted in the avant garde, and Dolphy's solos are as dissonant and unpredictable as anything he ever recorded. Out to Lunch, his last major studio recording, is often considered his magnum opus.[3]

Final months

After Out to Lunch! and an appearance as a sideman on Andrew Hill's Point of Departure, Dolphy left to tour Europe with Charles Mingus' sextet in early 1964. From there he intended to settle in Europe with his fiancée, who was working on the ballet scene in Paris. The Mingus band for this tour is recorded on the Cornell 1964 album and is one of Mingus' strongest line-ups, including Dolphy and pianist Jaki Byard. After leaving Mingus, he performed with and recorded a few sides with various European bands, including the mis-named Last Date with Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink, and was preparing to join Albert Ayler for a recording.

The liner notes to the Complete Prestige Recordings say that on June 28, 1964 Dolphy "collapsed in his hotel room in Berlin and when brought to the hospital he was diagnosed as being in a diabetic coma. After being administered a shot of insulin (apparently a type stronger than what was then available in the US) he lapsed into insulin shock and died." A later video documentary disputes this, saying Dolphy collapsed on stage in Berlin and was brought to a hospital. The attending hospital physicians had no idea that Dolphy was a diabetic and thought that he, like so many other jazz musicians, had overdosed on drugs, so he was left in a hospital bed until the drugs had run their course.[4]

Dolphy died on June 29, 1964 in a diabetic coma, leaving a short but tremendous legacy in the jazz world. He was quickly honored with his induction into the Down Beat magazine Hall of Fame in 1964. Coltrane paid tribute to Dolphy in an interview: "Whatever I'd say would be an understatement. I can only say my life was made much better by knowing him. He was one of the greatest people I've ever known, as a man, a friend, and a musician." Dolphy's mother, Sadie, who had fond memories of her son practicing in the studio by her house, gave instruments that Dolphy had bought in France but never played to Coltrane, who subsequently played the flute and bass clarinet on several albums before his own death in 1967. Dolphy was engaged to be married to Joyce Mordecai, a classically-trained dancer.


Dolphy's musical presence was hugely influential to a who's who of young jazz musicians who would become legends in their own right. Dolphy worked intermittently with Ron Carter and Freddie Hubbard throughout his career, and in later years he hired Herbie Hancock, Bobby Hutcherson and Woody Shaw to work in his live and studio bands. Out to Lunch! featured yet another young lion who had just begun working with Dolphy in drummer Tony Williams, just as his participation on the Point of Departure session brought his influence into contact with up and coming tenor man Joe Henderson.

Carter, Hancock and Williams would go on to become one of the quintessential rhythm sections of the decade, both together on their own albums and as the backbone of the second great quintet of Miles Davis. This part of the second great quintet is an ironic footnote for Davis, who was not fond of Dolphy's music (in a 1964 Downbeat Blindfold Test, Miles famously quipped, "The next time I see [Dolphy] I'm going to step on his foot."[5]) yet absorbed a rhythm section who had all worked under Dolphy and created a band whose brand of "out" was unsurprisingly very similar to Dolphy's.

In addition, his work with jazz and rock producer Alan Douglas allowed Dolphy's style to posthumously spread to musicians in the jazz fusion and Rock environments, most notably with artists John McLaughlin and Jimi Hendrix. Frank Zappa, an eclectic performer who drew some of his inspiration from jazz music, paid tribute to Dolphy's style in the instrumental "The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue" (on the 1970 album Weasels Ripped My Flesh).

Dolphy posthumously became an inductee of the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1964.


As leader

Prestige Records
  • Status (1960)
  • Dash One (1960)
  • Outward Bound (1960)
  • Here and There (1960)
  • Looking Ahead (1960)
  • Fire Waltz (1960)
  • Out There (1960)
  • The Caribe with the Latin Jazz Quintet (1960)
  • Magic (1960)
  • Far Cry (1960)
  • Eric Dolphy (1960)
  • The Quest (1961)
  • The Great Concert of Eric Dolphy [live] (1961)
  • Live! at the Five Spot, Vols. 1 & 2 (1961) with Mal Waldron and Booker Little
  • Eric Dolphy in Europe, Vols. 1-3 [live] (1961)
  • Copenhagen Concert [live] (1961)
  • Quartet 1961 (1961)
  • Eric Dolphy Quintet featuring Herbie Hancock: Complete Recordings (1962)
Blue Note
Other labels
  • Hot & Cool Latin (1959)
  • Wherever I Go (1959)
  • Candid Dolphy (1960)
  • Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise (1961)
  • Berlin Concerts [live] (1962)
  • Vintage Dolphy (1962)
  • Iron Man (1963)
  • Conversations (1963) (also known as Jitterbug Waltz)
  • Last Date (1964)
  • Naima (1964)
  • Unrealized Tapes (1964)

As sideman

With Chico Hamilton

  • Chico Hamilton Quintet with Strings Attached (1958)
  • The Original Ellington Suite (1958)
  • Gongs East! (1958)
  • That Hamilton Man (1959)(also released as Truth)

With Charles Mingus

With Ornette Coleman

  • Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation (1960)

With Oliver Nelson

With John Coltrane

With Makanda Ken McIntyre

  • Looking Ahead (1960)

With Booker Little

  • Out Front (1960)

With George Russell

With Max Roach

With Andrew Hill

With John Lewis

  • The Sextet of Orchestra U.S.A. (1964)
  • John Lewis Presents Jazz Abstractions (1960)

With Phil Diaz

  • The Latin Jazz Quintet (United Artists, 1961)


  1. ^ Interview with Frank Kofsky in Black Nationalism and the Revolution in Music p242
  2. ^ Barry Dean Kernfeld, The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, p. 632, 2002, Macmillan, ISBN 0-333-69189-X
  3. ^ Huey, Steve. Allmusic Review accessed 7 January 2010
  4. ^ Hylkema, Hans and Bruneau, Thierry. Eric Dolphy: Last Date (video), Rhapsody Films, 1991
  5. ^ Feather, Leonard. 3rd Blindfold Test Miles Davis. accessed 7 January 2010.

Further reading

  • Vladimir Simosko & Barry Tepperman: Eric Dolphy: A Musical Biography and Discography, Da Capo Press, New York, 1979, ISBN 0-306-80107-8
  • Guillaume Belhomme: Eric Dolphy, Le mot et le reste, Marseille, 2008, ISBN : 9782915378535

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Eric Allan Dolphy (June 20, 1928 – June 29, 1964) was a jazz musician who played alto saxophone, flute, clarinet and bass clarinet.


  • "When you hear music, after it's over, it's gone in the air. You can never capture it again."


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