Though he has often been overlooked, he has never been forgotten, and helping keep the memory alive is this new Prestige Records compilation, "The Best Of Eric Dolphy". This disc only covers the period between April 1960 and September 1961, but that was the most productive and brilliantly fruitful period of his career, making this album a great overall representation of Eric Dolphy, the artist.
Dolphy was born in Los Angeles in 1928 and began playing oboe, clarinet and alto sax as a young boy. He later attended Los Angeles City College. Dolphy had a reputation for practicing obsessively and he progressed rapidly. He developed his chops playing with several local groups but began to gain national attention when he toured and recorded with Chico Hamilton’s quintet in 1958-59. He went on to record and perform most notably with Charles Mingus, Booker Little and John Coltrane.
Originally a bebop player, over time Dolphy evolved into one of the pioneers of the avant-garde or ‘free jazz’ movement. Stylistically, his phrasing often resembled Charlie Parker’s in rhythmic terms, but harmonically he favored wide intervallic leaps and a dissonant approach to the changes that often sounded atonal. He had a virtuoso command of the alto sax, flute and bass clarinet. Before Dolphy, the flute was a very uncommon instrument in jazz and jazz on bass clarinet was practically unheard of. With his distinctive style, he brought these instruments into the bop limelight. Tragically, his career was cut all too short when he died suddenly in 1964 (while on tour in Europe) from insulin shock shortly after falling into a diabetic coma. He was only 36 years old.
There are so many great players and great moments captured on this disc. Check out Ron Carter’s cello solo on "Out There" or Dolphy’s blues-laden bass clarinet solo on "Serene". Check out the understated interplay between Richard Davis’ bass and Ed Blackwell’s drums on "Booker’s Waltz" or Dolphy’s astonishing flute work on "Glad To Be Unhappy". This album is full of such stellar moments. It is a fantastic tribute to one of jazz’s true trailblazers. Long live Eric Dolphy.