Eric Allan Dolphy (June 20, 1928 – June 29, 1964) was a jazz musician who played alto saxophone, flute and bass clarinet and was educated at Los Angeles City College. Dolphy was the first important bass clarinet soloist in jazz, and one of the first viable flute soloists in jazz. On early recordings, he occasionally played traditional B-flat clarinet. His unique and individual style utilised wide intervals, speechlike effects and exotic scales.
Classical music played a large role in Dolphy’s early training and remained important to him. Dolphy performed and recorded Edgard Varèse’s Density 21.5 for solo flute as well as other classical works, and participated heavily in Third Stream efforts. Dolphy’s work is sometimes classified as free jazz, though he insisted that his compositions and solos were grounded in a thorough, if occasionally unorthodox, use of harmony. He is often compared to Ornette Coleman.
Numerous recordings were made of live performances by Dolphy, and these have been issued by many sometimes dubious record labels, drifting in and out of print ever since. In 1964, Dolphy signed with the legendary Blue Note label and recorded Out To Lunch (once again, the label insisted on using “out” in the title). This album was deeply rooted in the avant garde, and Dolphy’s solos are as dissonant and unpredictable as anything he ever recorded. Out To Lunch was deeply influential for a generation of jazz players, and remains a cornerstone in the modern jazz movement. On this album, Dolphy cemented an association with Bobby Hutcherson (they had also recorded together the previous year). Together with his work with Andrew Hill on the pianist’s Point of Departure, his working relationship with Hutcherson is one of the intriguing might have beens of jazz history. Dolphy’s 1964 Blue Note recording Out to Lunch is often regarded not only as his finest, but also as one of the greatest jazz recordings.
Dolphy had intended to settle in Europe (his fiancée was working as a ballerina in Paris) but he died in Berlin from a diabetic attack (which doctors believed was due to malnourishment) on June 29, 1964.
He still remains a legend.