Eric Allan Dolphy, Jr. (June 20, 1928 – June 29, 1964) was an American jazz alto saxophonist, flautist, and bass clarinetist. On a few occasions, he also played the clarinet, piccolo, and baritone saxophone. Dolphy was one of several multi-instrumentalists to gain prominence in the 1960s. He was also the first important bass clarinet soloist in jazz, and among the earliest significant flute soloists.
His improvisational style was characterized by the use of wide intervals, in addition to using an array of extended techniques to reproduce human- and animal-like effects which almost literally made his instruments speak. 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 and melodic lines that suggest the influences of modern classical composers Béla Bartók and Igor Stravinsky.
He performed locally for several years, most notably as a member of bebop big bands led by Gerald Wilson and Roy Porter. He was educated at Los Angeles City College and also directed its orchestra. On early recordings, he occasionally played baritone saxophone, as well as alto saxophone, flute and soprano clarinet.
Dolphy finally had his big break as a member of Chico Hamilton's quintet. With the group he became known to a wider audience and was able to tour extensively through 1958-1959, when he parted ways with Hamilton and moved to New York City. Dolphy appears with Hamilton's band in the filmJazz on a Summer's Day playing flute during the Newport Jazz Festival '5Dolphy's musical presence was hugely influential to a who's who of young jazz musicians who would become legends in their own right. Dolphy worked intermittently with Ron Carter and Freddie Hubbard throughout his career, and in later years he hired Herbie Hancock, Bobby Hutcherson and Woody Shaw to work in his live and studio bands. Out to Lunch! featured yet another young lion who had just begun working with Dolphy in drummer Tony Williams, just as his participation on the Point of Departure session brought his influence into contact with up and coming tenor man Joe Henderson.
Carter, Hancock and Williams would go on to become one of the quintessential rhythm sections of the decade, both together on their own albums and as the backbone of Miles Davis's second great quintet. This part of the second great quintet is an ironic footnote for Davis, who was not fond of Dolphy's music (in a 1964 Down Beat "Blindfold Test", Miles famously quipped, "The next time I see [Dolphy] I'm going to step on his foot.") yet absorbed a rhythm section who had all worked under Dolphy and created a band whose brand of "out" was very similar to Dolphy's.
Dolphy's virtuoso instrumental abilities and unique style of jazz, deeply emotional and free but strongly rooted in tradition and structured composition, heavily influenced such musicians asAnthony Braxton, members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Oliver Lake, Julius Hemphill, Arthur Blythe, Don Byron and many others. Dolphy's compositions are the inspiration for many tribute albums, such as Oliver Lake's Prophet and Dedicated to Dolphy, Jerome Harris' Hidden In Plain View, and Yoshihide Ōtomo's re-imagining of Out to Lunch!.
In addition, his work with jazz and rock producer Alan Douglas allowed Dolphy's style to posthumously spread to musicians in the jazz fusion and rock environments, most notably with artistsJohn McLaughlin and Jimi Hendrix. Frank Zappa, a highly influential composer who drew his inspiration from a variety of musical styles and idioms, paid tribute to Dolphy in the instrumental "The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue" (on the 1970 album Weasels Ripped My Flesh) and listed Dolphy as an influence on the liner notes for the Mothers' first LP, Freak Out!.
In 1997 Vienna Art Orchestra released Powerful Ways: Nine Immortal Non-evergreens for Eric Dolphy, as part of their 20th anniversary boxset.8.