Eric Dolphy

Eric Dolphy

Alto Sax icon Alto Sax, Bass Clarinet, Flute

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June 29, 1964 (Age 36) died

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June 20, 1928 Birthday

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Los Angeles, California, U.S. Birthplace

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Eric Dolphy was a jazz saxophonist, flautist and clarinetist. Known for his avant-garde playing, he largely established the bass clarinet as a jazz solo instrument. Dolphy began his career in Los Angeles and gained national attention in 1958 when he joined Chico Hamilton's quintet. After a year with the group he moved to New York City where he soon became a member of the Charles Mingus Quartet. Dolphy also began recording his own albums under the Prestige label. In 1961 he joined John Coltrane's Quintet. The group generated some of their most acclaimed work, but at the time some critics derided it, calling it "anti-jazz." From 1962-1963 Dolphy played with Gunther Schuller's group playing third stream music, a blending between classical and jazz. In 1964 Dolphy recorded his best known album "Out to Lunch!" which is widely considered one of the greatest avant-garde jazz recordings. In June 1964 Dolphy died unexpectedly from undiagnosed diabetes; he was 36 years old.


Eric Dolphy was posthumously inducted into the DownBeat Hall of Fame in 1964. Eric Dolphy is said to have practiced among birds to develop some of his unique animal-like inflections. Eric Dolphy also was active in 20th century classical music, performed the Edgard Varèse's "Density 21.5 " for solo flute at the Ojai Music Festival in 1962.

Early Life

Eric Dolphy was an only child born in Los Angeles in 1928. He began studying the clarinet and saxophone at age 6 and showed early promise. In junior high he received a scholarship to study at the University of Southern California music school. Following high school, Dolphy studied music at Los Angeles City College, while also playing flute, clarinet and saxophones with Roy Porter's band. In 1950 Dolphy joined the Army and then in 1952 attended the Naval School of Music. Following his discharge in 1953 Dolphy returned to Los Angeles where he spent several years playing locally with musicians such as Gerald Wilson, Buddy Collete and Eddie Beal.