The Who2 Blog

Happy Birthday, Eric Dolphy!

Jazz great Eric Dolphy was born 20 June 1928. He died in 1964, nine days after his 36th birthday. Listen to some music and see a photo gallery.

Eric Dolphy was a virtuoso on the alto saxophone, flute and bass clarinet. A classically trained musician, he moved from Los Angeles to New York in 1959 and quickly became one of the leading figures in avant-garde jazz. Music was all he had ever known, and he was famous for practicing all the time. He made his first recording in 1949, with Roy Porter’s big band, but then he was drafted and spent three years in the Army.

Even while in the service, he was all music. He played with the U.S. Army Band at Fort Lewis, Washington, and he also attended the U.S. Naval School of Music in Washington, D.C.

His first big influence was Charlie Parker. He met John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman in 1954, and they realized they had similar musical philosophies. In New York Dolphy joined Charles Mingus‘s quartet, collaborated with Freddie Hubbard and played with Coltrane. Dolphy made lots of recordings. He didn’t make much money.

Dolphy had a benign tumor removed from his forehead in 1961, and around this time he was often sick. As it turns out, Dolphy was a diabetic, but nobody knew that. He joined Mingus for a European tour in 1964, but during the tour he was seriously ill. Dolphy’s diet the last year of his life consisted mostly of honey, and he carried jars of it with him everywhere.

Despite his illness, he went to Berlin on 27 June 1964 to honor an engagement with pianist Karlhans Berger. He played two sets. Two days later he was in a diabetic coma. A doctor administered an injection of insulin and Dolphy went into insulin shock and died.

Here he is with the Charles Mingus Sextet, doing “Take The A Train” (his solo doesn’t get cut off, but the other guy’s does):

Here’s Dolphy playing “The Stranger”:

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