Eric Dolphy

Sun Ship

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Aug 31, 2003
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Eric Dolphy

(1928-1964)

alto saxophone / flute / bass clarinet

Dolphy, a native of Los Angeles, spent the first three decades of his life in his home town. In his parents house he led jam sessions in which many great names of the time took part. His career took off when he was hired as a member of Chico Hamilton's Quintet in 1958. It was in this group that Dolphy was allowed to display and further develop his multi-intrumental skills on alto sax, flue and bass clarinet (which he single-handedly popularised in Jazz). His move to Charles Mingus a year later opened up even more musical freedom for Dolphy and in the same year the first recordings appeared under his own name. When Dolphy left Mingus, several of the period's more visionary musicians were keen to work with Dolphy and collaborations with Max Roach, George Russell and a dream partnership with a young rising star called Booker Little were established. One night in 1961, July 16 to be exact, Prestige recorded a quintet that was playing a two-week engagement at the Five Spot in lower Manhattan. There was no way of knowing that within three years, these two young budding giants of their time, Eric Dolphy and Booker Little, would be dead (Dolphy died 1964 at age 36 and Little died 1961 at age 23). The seven numbers taped that night are still regarded classics. Although celebrated amongst his fellow musicians for being ground-breaking and innovative, Dolphy found little commercial success and joined John Coltrane's group as a featured artist. He also toured with them in Europe, but upon his return found it more and more difficult to record his own music.

The few remaining years of his life were frustrating. The daring explorations that he and Coltrane were pursuing together led to claims that they were playing anti-Jazz and the controversy made it even more difficult for Dolphy to find work as a leader. Eric Dolphy was one of the most intensely personal soloists in all of jazz. He was daring and iconoclastic while fully immersed in the jazz tradition. His musicianship was so thorough that innovators like Charles Mingus and John Coltrane held him in awe. He died in Berlin on June 29 1964.
 
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