Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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DOLPHY, Eric

(b 20 June 1928, Los Angeles CA; d 29 June 1964, Berlin, Germany) Alto sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, composer. He worked in Los Angeles, scrambling to make a living, but he was a very good reader, and in those days also played some tenor sax. He can be seen in Roger Corman's cheap thriller Rock All Night (1957) playing behind the Platters, and he played in Nelson Riddle's studio band in 1959. He was a member of Chico Hamilton's quintet '58-9 and went to NYC the next year, joining a Charles Mingus quartet with Ted Curson and Dannie Richmond. His own quintet played a famous gig at the Five Spot with Booker Little, Mal Waldron, Ed Blackwell, Richard Davis on bass '61. He often played with John Coltrane from '61, had own group with Freddie Hubbard '62 and freelanced around NYC, recording as leader and sideman. He toured Europe with Mingus '64, concerts taped with Mingus and with Dutch or Scandinavian rhythm sections; he died of complications of diabetes.

Like Coltrane, Dolphy was a gentle, intelligent man, widely loved, one of the most influential musicians of the decade, with a need to express himself spiritually that extended the frontiers of the music, but paradoxically retaining elegance that Coltrane was more willing to risk. Dolphy was inspired by bird calls, marching bands, etc as well as by deeper mysteries; his playing wasn't actually as far 'out' as people thought at the time, but the hard-won tonal purity in his playing combined with passion and intelligence, joyous speed and sudden leaps between registers may in the long run be a more important influence than that of Coltrane. He mastered the difficult bass clarinet (played later by Chico Freeman, David Murray and others) as Coltrane had explored soprano sax.
   
Albums include Looking Ahead '60 by Ken McIntyre (b 7 September 1931, Boston; d 13 June 2001, also an educator), Waldron's The Quest '61 (with Booker Ervin, Ron Carter on cello, Joe Benjamin and Charlie Persip on bass and drums); Carter's Where? '61 with Waldron; own LPs Out There with Carter, Far Cry with Carter, Waldron, Booker Little and Jaki Byard '60 (latter including an unaccompanied alto solo on 'Tenderly'). Also Outward Bound with Hubbard, three volumes of Live At The Five Spot, three of Live In Europe, all on Prestige, reissued in various formats often under Dolphy's name, now compiled in nine-CD Complete Prestige Recordings as well as on single CDs. Also Out To Lunch with Hubbard on Blue Note, regarded as one of his best.

With Mingus Dolphy played on Mingus Presents Mingus '60, a quartet record (see entry for Curson); Mingus Mingus Mingus '63 on Impulse; Town Hall Concert '64, Mingus's record distributed by Fantasy; two-CD The Great Concert Of Charles Mingus '64, others. With Coltrane: Olé Coltrane, Impressions, Africa/Brass (Dolphy conducting a large group). all '61 on Impulse. With Ornette Coleman: Free Jazz '60 (recorded earlier the same day as Dolphy's Far Cry). With Max Roach: Percussion Bitter Sweet '61 on Impulse, with Little, Waldron, Abbey Lincoln. European and informal dates including Berlin Concerts and Stockholm Sessions '61 on Enja, As In A Morning Sunrise on Natasha. Wonderful tracks recorded 62-3 in NYC by Alan Douglas with Woody Shaw, Clifford Jordan, Richard Davis, Sonny Simmons and others in albums known as Iron Man and Conversations on various labels were on CDs on Fuel 2000 in 2000. Last Date recorded in Holland June '64 was on Polydor, something called Last Recordings on DIW; Unrealised Tapes on West Wind made in Paris 18 days before he died, with Donald Byrd, Nathan Davis on tenor and a good Continental rhythm section. Dolphy's is one of the great unfinished careers in the history of art; later work coming to light sounds as fresh as the day of recording. Tapes from Dolphy's private collection issued as Other Aspects on Blue Note included a beautiful 'Jim Crow', flute solos '60-2; Vintage Dolphy on GM has '62-3 concerts including three compositions by Gunther Schuller from a 20th Century Innovation series at Carnegie Hall. The Complete Prestige Recordings on nine CDs is a fascinating jumble: three studio albums as a leader, one as co-leader, five as a sideman, live tracks from the Five Spot and from a Scandinavian tour plus out-takes all add up to a lot of superb music, most of it from his only recording contract, but no evidence of a record-company overview or of any help in developing a career.