Eric Dolphy
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Los Angeles' flutist, alto saxophonist and bass clarinetist Eric Dolphy (1928), equally influenced by bebop and by classical music, was trained at the schools of Chico Hamilton (1959), Charles Mingus (1959), Ornette Coleman (1960), John Coltrane (1961) and Gunther Schuller (1962-63). His early recordings as a leader contained relatively simple bebop workouts, often on material of his own composition, whose main purpose was to display his style at the various instruments: Outward Bound (april 1960), featuring trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, pianist Jaki Byard, bassist George Tucker and drummer Roy Haynes, and containing Dolphy's own G.W.; Here and There (april 1960), recorded on the same day but with only Byard, Tucker and Haynes, that contains Dolphy's April's Fool; and Out There (august 1960), featuring cellist Ron Carter, bassist George Duvivier and drummer Roy Haynes, and highlighted by his Out There and Serene.
Far Cry (december 1960) upped the ante considerably: trumpeter Booker Little, pianist Byard, Carter on bass and Haynes on drums formed a cohesive unit that did more than just support the leader. Byard's eight-minute Mrs Parker of K.C. and nine-minute Ode to Charlie Parker provided the ideal platform, and Dolphy debuted his Far Cry and Miss Ann.
There were signs that Dolphy was not just playing around with his talent. Several recordings of the era were futuristic: Triple Mix (november 1960), a duet between bassist Carter and Dolphy on alto and flute, eventually released on Naima; the 11-minute Improvisations and Turkas (july 1960) for flute, tabla and tamboura, the solo flute improvisations of Inner Flight 1 and 2 (july 1960), the bass-saxophone duet of Dolphy'n (july 1960), all three eventually released on Other Aspects. Dolphy had been incorporating weird sounds, bordering on noise, into his vocabulary, and emphasized odd time signatures and wide intervals. What had been mere eccentricities were becoming a full-blown language.

Berlin Concerts (august 1961) documents performances by a quintet with George Joyner (bass), Buster Smith (drums), Pepsi Auer (piano) and Benny Bailey (trumpet).
Dolphy, who had been playing avantgarde music with Mingus, Coleman and Coltrane while playing more conventional music on his own albums, was ready to fully embrace the avantgarde, and did so on two albums recorded on the same day. Conversations (july 1963) featured a cover of Fats Waller's Jitterbug Waltz with trumpeter Woody Shaw and vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, a three-minute solo saxophone piece, and the 13-minute clarinet-bass duet on the theme of Arthur Schwartz's Alone Together. Iron Man (july 1963) was even better, highlighted by two lengthy Dolphy originals with Shaw and Hutcherson: Iron Man (nine minutes) and Burning Spear (twelve minutes). The latter in particular (scored for trumpet, four woodwinds, vibraphone, two basses and drums) showed the difference between the pupil and the master: Dolphy's sense of ambience and balance versus Coleman's explosions of sound).
Dolphy had reached his maturity, and his satori was Out to Lunch (february 1964), recorded with Hutcherson, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, bassist Richard Davis and drummer Tony Williams. This masterpiece of dissonant free-jazz sounded remarkably organic and structured, thanks in part to Dolphy's compositional skills on the five tracks: Hat and Beard, Something Sweet Something Tender, the flute piece Gazzelloni, the 12-minute Out To Lunch, Straight Up and Down. Those compositional skills were also on display in the 15-minute Jim Crow (march 1964), off Other Aspects. Dolphy created music by twisting every feature of sound, as if a random process were at work, while in reality a deep logic connected all the pieces. Few founding fathers of free-jazz were so blessed as composers, a fact that was a contradiction in terms, but that it might have led to a further revolution in jazz.

His last recordings, documented on Last Date (june 1964), featured Ukrainian pianist Misha Mengelberg and Dutch drummer Han Bennink, who would go on to become the leaders of Europe's free-jazz movement. The recording was later expanded as The Complete Last Recordings: In Hilversum & Paris 1964, including two radio broadcasts.

Unfortunately, Dolphy died a few days later at 36.

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(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
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