Eric Dolphy

Eric Allan Dolphy Jr. (June 20, 1928 – June 29, 1964) was an American jazz multi-instrumentalist and bandleader. Primarily an alto saxophonist, bass clarinetist, and flautist, Dolphy was one of several multi-instrumentalists to gain prominence during the same era. His use of the bass clarinet helped to establish the unconventional instrument within jazz. Dolphy extended the vocabulary and boundaries of the alto saxophone, and was among the earliest significant jazz flute soloists.

His improvisational style was characterized by the use of wide intervals, in addition to employing an array of extended techniques to emulate the sounds of human voices and animals. He used melodic lines that were “angular, zigzagging from interval to interval, taking hairpin turns at unexpected junctures, making dramatic leaps from the lower to the upper register.” Although Dolphy’s work is sometimes classified as free jazz, his compositions and solos were often rooted in conventional (if highly abstracted) tonal bebop harmony.

Dolphy was born and raised in Los Angeles. His parents were Sadie and Eric Dolphy, Sr., who immigrated to the United States from Panama. He began music lessons at age six, studying clarinet and saxophone privately. While still in junior high, he began to study the oboe, aspiring to a professional symphonic career, and received a two-year scholarship to study at the music school of the University of Southern California. On June 27, 1964, Dolphy traveled to Berlin to play with a trio led by Karl Berger at the opening of a jazz club called The Tangent.He was apparently seriously ill when he arrived, and during the first concert was barely able to play. He was hospitalized that night, but his condition worsened. On June 29, Dolphy died after falling into a diabetic coma. While certain details of his death are still disputed, it is largely accepted that he fell into a coma caused by undiagnosed diabetes. The liner notes to the Complete Prestige Recordings box set say that Dolphy “collapsed in his hotel room in Berlin and when brought to the hospital he was diagnosed as being in a diabetic coma. After being administered a shot of insulin he lapsed into insulin shock and died”.

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