Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Artists: Eric Dolphy (1928-1964)

Extraordinary multi-instrumentalist (saxophonist, clarinettist and flutist), an intense production as soloist despite his brief career, several collaborations with important jazz innovators (Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman etc.), a singular aptitude for researching new methods of expression, unexplored languages and techniques in music he loved.
Eric Dolphy represented one of the most significant musical figures of the past century and his presence/influence keep on living into contemporary jazz music scene.

Date Of Birth: June 20, 1928, Los Angeles, US
Date Of Death: June 29, 1964, Berlin, GER

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.

Dolphy wasted little time upon settling in New York City, quickly forming several fruitful musical partnerships, the two most important ones being with jazz legends Charles Mingus and John Coltrane; musicians he'd known for many years. While his formal musical collaboration with Coltrane was short (1961-63), his association with Mingus continued intermittently from 1949 until Dolphy's death in 1964. Dolphy was held in the highest regard by both musicians; Mingus considered Dolphy to be his most talented interpreter and Coltrane thought him his only musical equal.

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."

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.

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 in the style of bop than some later releases, was recorded at the home of hard-bop 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 another important partnership, trumpeter Booker Little, a like-minded spirit with whom he would go on to make a set of legendary live recordings at the Five Spot in New York before Little's tragic 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 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 the legendary Blue Note label and recorded Out to Lunch (once again, the label insisted on using "out" in the title) 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 regarded not only as Dolphy's finest album, but also as one of the greatest jazz recordings ever made.

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.

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, 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 death in 1967.

In Memoriam, Le Moyne College of Syracuse, New York celebrates a day completely dedicated to Eric Dolphy. This event is held in the spring and is well known throughout the central New York area.

Dolphy's musical presence was deeply 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 at various times 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 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).


  • Hot & Cool Latin (1959, Blue Moon)
  • Wherever I Go (1959, RReMark / Subharmonic)
  • Status (1960, Prestige, P 24070)
  • Dash One (1960, Prestige, MPP 2517)
  • Outward Bound (1960, New Jazz, NJLP 8236)
  • Fire Waltz (1960, Prestige, P 24085)
  • Other Aspects (1960, Blue Note, BT 85131)
  • Out There (1960, New Jazz, NJLP 8252)
  • Candid Dolphy (1960, Candid, CJS 9033/CCD 79033)
  • Magic (1960, Prestige, P 24053) (w/ Ron Carter)
  • Far Cry (1960, New Jazz, NJLP 8270)
  • Here And There (1960, Prestige, PR 7382)
  • At The Five Spot, Vol. 1 (1961, New Jazz, NJLP 8260)
  • At The Five Spot, Vol. 2 (1961, Prestige PRLP 7294)
  • Eric Dolphy & Booker Little - Memorial Album (1961, Prestige, PR 7334)
  • Berlin Concerts (1961, Enja, ENJ 3007/09)
  • The Uppsala Concert, Vol. 1 (1961, Serene, SER 03)
  • The Uppsala Concert, Vol. 2 (1961, Serene, SER 04)
  • In Europe, Vol. 1 (1961, Prestige, PRLP 7304)
  • In Europe, Vol. 2 (1961, Prestige, PR 7350)
  • In Europe, Vol. 3 (1961, Prestige, PR 7366)
  • Stockholm Sessions (1961, Enja, ENJ 3055)
  • Stockholm Sessions (1961, Enja, ENJ 1009) (reissue of ENJ 3055 with 1 bonus track)
  • Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise (1961, Stash, )
  • 3 Dolphy Groups (1961, Unique Jazz, UJ 026)
  • The Great Concert Of Eric Dolphy (1961, Prestige, )
  • Eric Dolphy Quartet 1961 (1961, Jazz Connoisseur, JC 107)
  • Eric Dolphy Quintet - Eric Dolphy Quintet Live On Mount Meru (1961, Historic Performance, HPLP 1)
  • Eric Dolphy Quintet - Eric Dolphy Quintet Live On Mount Meru, Vol. 2 (1961, Historic Performance, HPLP 5)
  • Eric Dolphy Quintet Live At Gaslight Inn, October, 1962 (1962, Ingo, fourteen)
  • Vintage Dolphy (1962, GM Recordings 3005D)
  • Iron Man (1963, Douglas, SD 755)
  • Conversations (1963, Fred Miles, FM 308)
  • The Illinois Concert (1963, Blue Note, CDP 7243 4 99826-2)
  • Last Date (1964, Fontana, 681 008-ZL)
  • Naima (1964, Jazzway, MUTT 1502)
  • Out To Lunch! (1964, Blue Note, BLP 4163)
  • Eric Dolphy Quintet Featuring Herbie Hancock: Complete Recordings (1964)
  • Epistrophy (1964, Instant Composers Pool, ICP 015)
  • Unrealized Tapes (1964, West Wind, WW 2016)


Collaborations, participations:

  • Abbey Lincoln - Straight Ahead (1961, Candid, CJM 8015)
  • Andrew Hill - Point Of Departure (1964, Blue Note, BLP 4167/CDP 7 84167-2)
  • Andrew Hill - The Complete Andrew Hill Blue Note Sessions (1963-1966) (1964, Mosaic, MR10-161)
  • Benny Golson - Just Jazz! (1962, Audio Fidelity, AFLP 1978)
  • Benny Golson - Pop + Jazz = Swing (1962, Audio Fidelity, AFSD 5978)
  • Booker Little - Out Front (1961, Candid, CJM 8027)
  • Charles ‘Baron’ Mingus - West Coast 1945-49 (1949, Uptown, UPCD 27.48)
  • Charles Mingus - Pre-Bird (aka Mingus Revisited) (1960, Mercury, MG 20627)
  • Charles Mingus - Mingus At Antibes (1960, Atlantic, SD 2-3001)
  • Charles Mingus - Presents Charles Mingus (1960, Candid, CJM 8005)
  • Charles Mingus - Mingus (1960, Candid, CJM 8021)
  • Charles Mingus - Reincarnation Of A Love Bird (1960, Candid, CJM 8026)
  • Charles Mingus - Mysterious Blues (1960, Candid, CJS 9042)
  • Charles Mingus - The Complete Candid Recordings Of Charles Mingus (1960, Mosaic, MR4-111)
  • Charles Mingus - Town Hall Concert (1962, United Artists, UAJ 14024)
  • Charles Mingus - The Complete Town Hall Concert (1962, Blue Note, CDP 7243 8 28353-2)
  • Charles Mingus - Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus (1963, Impulse, A 54)
  • Charles Mingus - Concertgebouw Amsterdam, Vol. 1 (1964, Ulysse Musique, AROC 50506/07)
  • Charles Mingus - Concertgebouw Amsterdam, Vol. 2 (1964, Ulysse Musique, AROC 50608)
  • Charles Mingus Sextet Live In Oslo 1964, Vol. 1 (1964, Landscape, LS2 913)
  • Charles Mingus Live In Oslo 1964 Featuring Eric Dolphy (1964, Jazz Up, JU 307)
  • Charles Mingus Sextet Live In Oslo 1964, Vol. 2 (1964, Landscape, LS2 919)
  • Charles Mingus Sextet Live In Stockholm 1964 (1964, Royal Jazz, RJD 518)
  • Charles Mingus Sextet Live In Copenhagen 1964 (1964, Landscape, LS2 905)
  • Charles Mingus Orchestra With Eric Dolphy 1964, Vol. 1 - Hope So Eric (1964, Ingo, ten)
  • Charles Mingus Sextet Live In Europe (1964, Unique Jazz, UJ 023)
  • Charles Mingus Orchestra With Eric Dolphy, Vol. 2 - Fables Of Faubus (1964, Ingo, thirteen)
  • Charles Mingus Orchestra With Eric Dolphy, Vol. 3 - Parkeriana (1964, Ingo, fifteen)
  • Charles Mingus - The Great Concert Of Charles Mingus (1964, America, 30 AM 003/005)
  • Charles Mingus - Meditation (1964, Esoldun, FC 102)
  • Charles Mingus Live In Paris 1964, Vol. 2 (1964, Esoldun, FC 110)
  • Charles Mingus - Mingus In Europe, Vol. 1 (1964, Enja, ENJ 3049)
  • Charles Mingus - Mingus In Europe, Vol. 1 (1964, Enja, ENJ 3049-2)
  • Charles Mingus - Mingus In Europe, Vol. 2 (1964, Enja, ENJ 3077)
  • Charles Mingus - Mingus In Europe, Vol. 2 (1964, Enja, ENJ 3077-2)
  • Charles Mingus - Mingus In Stuttgart, April 28, 1964 Concert (1964, Unique Jazz, UJ 007/08)
  • Charles Mingus - Mingus In Stuttgart, April 28, 1964 Concert (1964, Unique Jazz, UJ 009)
  • Charles Mingus - Town Hall Concert 1964, Vol. 1 (1964, Mingus JWS 005)
  • Charles Mingus Sextet With Eric Dolphy - Cornell 1964 (1964, Blue Note 92210-2)
  • Charles Mingus - Revenge! (1964, Revenge Records, 32002)
  • Chico Hamilton Quintet With Strings Attached (1958, Warner Bros., WB 1245)
  • Chico Hamilton Quintet - The Original Ellington Suite (1958, Pacific Jazz, 7243 5 24567 2 7)
  • Chico Hamilton Quintet - Gongs East! (1958, Warner Bros., WB 1271)
  • Chico Hamilton - Jazz Milestone Series (1958, Pacific Jazz, PJ 10108)
  • Chico Hamilton - That Hamilton Man (Also Released As Truth) (1959, Sesac, N2901/02)
  • Chico Hamilton - The Three Faces Of Chico (1959, Warner Bros., WB 1344)
  • Daniel Humair - Surrounded 1964-1987 (1964, Flat & Sharp, PAM 970)
  • Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis - Trane Whistle (1960, Prestige, PRLP 7206)
  • Ernie Andrews - Travelin' Light (1958, Gene Norman Presents, GNP 43)
  • Freddie Hubbard - The Body And The Soul (1963, Impulse, A 38)
  • George Russell - Ezz-Thetics (1961, Riverside, RLP 375)
  • Gil Evans - The Individualism Of Gil Evans (1964, Verve, V/V6 8555)
  • Jazz Artists Guild - Newport Rebels (1960, Candid, CJM 8022)
  • John Coltrane - Olé Coltrane (1961, Atlantic, LP 1373)
  • John Coltrane - Africa/Brass (1961, Impulse, A 6) John Coltrane - The Africa/Brass Sessions, Vol. 2 (1961, Impulse, AS 9273)
  • John Coltrane - The Coltrane Legacy (1961, Atlantic, SD 1553)
  • John Coltrane - The Mastery Of John Coltrane, Vol. 4 - Trane's Modes (1961, Impulse, IZ 9361/2)
  • John Coltrane - The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings (1961, Impulse, IMPD 4-232)
  • John Coltrane - The Other Village Vanguard Tapes (1961, Impulse, AS 9325)
  • John Coltrane - From The Original Master Tapes (1961, MCA/Impulse, MCAD 5541)
  • John Coltrane - Coltrane "Live" At The Village Vanguard (1961, Impulse, A 10)
  • John Coltrane - Impressions (1961, Impulse, A 42)
  • John Coltrane Quintet Featuring Eric Dolphy - Live In Paris 1961 (1961, Jazzway, LTM 1503)
  • John Coltrane - The Complete Paris Concerts (1961, Magnetic, MRCD 114/15)
  • John Coltrane - The Complete Copenhagen Concert (1961, Magnetic, MRCD 116)
  • John Coltrane - Coltrane Quartet And Quintet In Europe (1961, Jazz Connoisseur, JC 112)
  • John Coltrane - That Dynamic Jazz Duo! (1962, Ozone, 10)
  • John Lewis / Gunther Schuller / Jim Hall - Jazz Abstractions (1960, Atlantic, LP 1365)
  • John Lewis' All Stars - The Wonderful World Of Jazz (1960, Atlantic, LP 1375)
  • John Lewis With Gary McFarland's Orchestra - Essence (1960, Atlantic, LP 1425)
  • John Lewis - The Sextet Of Orchestra U.S.A. (1964, RCA Victor, LPM 3498)
  • Ken McIntyre / Eric Dolphy - Looking Ahead (1960, New Jazz, NJLP 8247)
  • Mal Waldron - The Quest (1961, New Jazz, NJLP 8269)
  • Max Roach - Percussion Bitter Sweet (1961, Impulse, A 8)
  • Oliver Nelson - Screamin' The Blues (1960, New Jazz, NJLP 8243)
  • Oliver Nelson - The Blues And The Abstract Truth (1961, Impulse, A 5)
  • Oliver Nelson / Eric Dolphy - Straight Ahead (1961, New Jazz, NJLP 8255)
  • Orchestra U.S.A. - Debut (1963, Colpix, CP 448)
  • Ornette Coleman - Twins (1960, Atlantic, SD 1588)
  • Ornette Coleman - Free Jazz (1960, Atlantic, LP 1364)
  • Pony Poindexter - Pony's Express (1962, Epic, LA 16035)
  • Ron Carter - Where? (1961, New Jazz, NJLP 8265)
  • Sammy Davis Jr. - I Gotta Right To Swing (1960, Decca, DL 8981)
  • Ted Curson - Plenty Of Horn (1961, Old Town, OTLP 2003)
  • Teddy Charles - Russia Goes Jazz (1963, United Artists, UAL 3365)
  • The Latin Jazz Quintet - The Latin Jazz Quintet (1960, United Artists, UAL 4071)
  • The Latin Jazz Quintet / Eric Dolphy - Caribé (1960, New Jazz, NJLP 8251)
  • VV.AA. - Black California (1948, Savoy, SJL 2215)
  • VV.AA. - Newport Jazz Festival 1958-59 (1958, FDC, 1024)
  • VV.AA. - Jazz Festival In Stereo: Hear In And Far Out (1958, Warner Bros., WB 1281)
  • VV.AA. - 25 Years Of Prestige (1960, Prestige, PR 24046)
  • VV.AA. - The Jazz Life! (1960, Candid, CJM 8019)
  • VV.AA. - Almost Forgotten: Various-Instrumentalists (1962, Columbia, FC 38509)
  • VV.AA. - The Definitive Jazz Scene, Vol. 1 (1963, Impulse, A 99)

Books on Eric Dolphy:
  • Vladimir Simosko & Barry Tepperman - Eric Dolphy: A Musical Biography And Discography (1979, Da Capo Press, New York)
  • Claudio Sessa - Il Marziano Del Jazz. Vita E Musica Di Eric Dolphy (2006, Luciano Vanni Editore)
  • Guillaume Belhomme - Eric Dolphy, Le Mot Et Le Reste (2008, Marseille) (here)

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