Dolphy, Eric (Allan)

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Dolphy, Eric (Allan)

Dolphy, Eric (Allan), jazz alto saxophonist, bass clarinetist, flutist; b. Los Angeles, Calif., June 20, 1928; d. Berlin, Germany, June 29, 1964. Dolphy’s parents were Panamian immigrants who settled in Los Angeles. He took up the clarinet around 1937 and was clearly devoted to music; his grades from junior and senior high school are average except for those from Orchestra and Band. He studied music at Los Angeles City Coll. He apprenticed with an R&B band, Roy Porter’s big band (recording eight titles in 1949), and navy bands, and had numerous opportunities to try out his ideas in jam sessions with many prominent Los Angeles progressive musicians. His father built a small music studio for him in 1955. After playing in the Chico Hamilton quintet, he moved to N.Y., where in 1960 he worked with Charles Mingus in various groups, usually with Ted Curson and Danny Richmond (including a concert in Antibes, France with Booker Ervin in the group and Bud Powell sitting in). The following year he led his own quintet at the Five Spot with Booker Little, Mal Waldron, Ed Blackwell, and Richard Davis and worked with George Russell. The first albums he made for Prestige had surrealistic cover portraits created by “Prophet” (a legendary artist among L.A. musicians) and had titles such as Out There, Where? (led by Ron Carter), and Far Cry. He played with John Coltrane from 1961 until around February 1962, including a European tour in November 1961, and again on Dec. 31, 1963, at Lincoln Center. By this time he owned a Selmer alto, a Buffet soprano clarinet, a Selmer bass clarinet, a Buffet bass clarinet, a Powell flute, and a piccolo. He led a group with Freddie Hubbard in 1962, and also toured with only a rhythm section (at times including Herbie Hancock and Richard Davis); in 1963 he worked in John Lewis’s Orch. U.S.A. and appeared in a Leonard Bernstein Young People’s Concert television program on “jazz and the concert hall” (reissued on video). He also recorded with Oliver Nelson, George Russell, Ornette Coleman, and Gunther Schuller. His repertoire included several avant-garde classical pieces, such as Edgard Varese’s Density 21.5 for solo flute. He toured Europe with Mingus in April 1964, from which many concert recordings survive. During the tour he decided he would remain in Europe rather than return to the U.S. with Mingus at the end of April. He performed and recorded with a number of French musicians and resi-dent African- Americans such as Donald Byrd. He died of complications from untreated diabetes. At the time of his death he was working on a string quartet entitled Love Suite. Composer Hale Smith, a mentor to Dolphy in his classical interests, wrote Dolphy’s parents indicating that he was sending the scores to “Love Suite” and to “Red Planet” (raising the possibility that the latter, also known as “Miles’ Mode” and credited to John Coltrane, could have been a Dolphy composition or perhaps a collaboration), but neither exists. Gunther Schuller, another classical mentor, has some unfinished Dolphy scores. After his parents died around 1988, one Joe O’Con bought their house and was using it as a sort of museum/community center. Unfortunately, in the spring of 1992 the house was trashed during the violence that erupted in L.A. and much was lost, but the house still includes a bass clarinet Dolphy used in the 1950s, the Wurlitzer electric piano he used for composing, stacks of sheet music, exercise books, tons of paperwork, and many photos.


Candid Dolphy (1960); Far Cry (1960); Fire Waltz (1960); Looking Ahead (1960); Other Aspects (1960); Out There (1960); Outward Bound (1960); Status (1960); Berlin Concerts (1961); Copenhagen Concert (1961); Eric Dolphy and Booker Little (1961); Eric Dolphy in Europe, Vol. 1–3 (1961); Great Concert of Eric Dolphy (1961); Latin Jazz Quintet (1961); Live! at the Five Spot, Vol. 1, 2 (1961); Quartet 1961 (1961); Stockholm Sessions (1961); Iron Man (1963); Jitterbug Waltz (1963); Last Date (1964); Out to Lunch (1964).


Raymond Horricks, The Importance of Being E.D. (Tunbridge Wells, 1989); V. Simosko and B. Tepperman, E.D.: A Musical Biography and Discography (N.Y., 1996).

—Lewis Porter