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Music / Eric Dolphy

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Eric Allan Dolphy, Jr. (June 20, 1928 – June 29, 1964) was an innovative American Jazz alto saxophonist, flautist, clarinetist, bass clarinetist and piccolo player. He began performing from the 1940s on and played for Chico Hamilton, Charles Mingus and John Coltrane before going solo in 1960. His solo career only lasted four years and five albums before he died in 1964 of a diabetic-related death, but his influence on the free jazz movement is immeasurable. After his death, he rose into legend, albeit as a cult musician.


  • Outward Bound (1960)
  • Out There (1960)
  • At the Five Spot, Vol. 1 (1961)
  • Far Cry (1962)
  • Iron Man (1963)
  • Out to Lunch! (1964)

Dolphy's work provides examples of:

  • Arc Words: He seemed to like to use the word out in his album titles.
  • Avant-Garde Music: Dolphy was one of the front-runners of the free jazz movement and experimented a lot with different styles, yet didn't discard choral improvisation altogether.
  • Classical Music: He was very influenced by 20th century avant-garde composers such as Igor Stravinsky and Edgard Varèse.
  • Everything Is an Instrument: Dolphy was the first in jazz to use the bass clarinet as a solo instrument.
  • Everything Talks: He reproduced human- and animalistic effects in his instruments.
  • Face on the Cover: His face is seen on the cover of Outward Bound, Far Cry and At the Five Spot.
  • Fun with Acronyms: His track "G.W." on his debut Outward Bound is a homage to Californian bandleader Gerald Wilson.
  • Homage: The first side of his album Far Cry is a homage to Charlie Parker, who, just like Dolphy, died an early age.
  • Improv: Dolphy was known for his improvisational style.
  • Jack of All Trades: Dolphy was a multi-instrumentalist.
  • Let's Duet: The track "Something Sweet, Something Tender" on Out to Lunch! is a duet between Richard Davis (bass) and Dolphy (bass clarinet).
  • Live Album: His 1961 album At the Five Spot, Vol. 1.
  • Nice Guy: According to seemingly everyone who ever worked with him.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: "245" on "Outward Bound" is the number of Dolphy's house.

Eric Dolphy in popular culture