© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“Zev Feldman assembled a three-LP set of primarily previously unreleased material by saxophonist-flutist Eric Dolphy titled “Musical Prophet.” That Resonance release, like many he’s done for the imprint, took years to put together, after Feldman learned of studio tapes that had been hidden away for more than a half-century.
That limited vinyl edition immediately sold out in stores, but the Dolphy collection is set to be released to a much bigger audience as a three-CD set on Jan. 25. Planned for the launch are live events celebrating Dolphy’s legacy at Largo in L.A. on Jan. 23 and Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York on Jan. 25.”
- Variety, January 7, 2019
Independent Jazz record producers such as Milt Gabler [Commodore], Teddy Reig [Savoy], Morris Levy [Roulette], Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff [Blue Note], Bob Weinstock [Prestige] Orrin Keepnews [Riverside], Richard Bock [Pacific Jazz] and Lester Koenig [Contemporary] must be grinning from ear-to-ear in Independent Jazz Record Producers Heaven at the quality of the music that George Klabin, Zev Feldman and the gang at Resonance Records are putting out these days.
And it’s not just what they are putting out Jazz-wise that is so terrific, but the spare-no-expense style in which this great music is packaged is also something that has these former friends of Jazz recordings no doubt shaking their heads in admiration. Would that it were that they could have brought to bear such resources to put out such artfully created and beautifully encased recordings.
Back-in-the-day [post World War II era, 1945-1965], the only independent Jazz record producer who had the resources to approach putting out stuff in the manner in which Resonance does today was Norman Granz at EmArcy,Clef and Norgran all of which he later collected under the Verve rubric.
[Actually, Norman did tread this path with his limited edition, multi disc, extended 78 rpm set The Jazz Scene as well as multiple recordings by selected artists such as the legendary Art Tatum, but these were usually issued as individual volumes and only later collected into boxed set with elaborate annotations and graphics when this music was released on CD].
Perhaps Norman might have done more elaborate presentations if he had not been so caught up in domestic and international tours of his Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts, personally managing the careers of such Jazz luminaries as Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson and recording prominent Jazz musicians such as Coleman Hawkins, Stan Getz and Lionel Hampton, among many, many others on an almost weekly basis in Los Angeles and New York studios.
Incidentally, through his Rising Jazz Stars Foundation, George Klabin also acts as an impresario for many younger Jazz musicians and you can learn more about that organization’s activities and function by reading this interview with him.
This nostalgic trip down a memory lane of independent Jazz record production leads me to wonder what the earlier lions in this field would have thought of the Resonance teams latest offering - Eric Dolphy Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions - which is due out on January 25, 2019 as a deluxe 3CD set and as a digital edition.
Hyperbole is always a danger when describing a Resonance Records finished product but, I ask you, how can you over exaggerate when the media release from Ann Braithwaite at Braithwaite and Katz Communications begins with this description of the new 3CD Dolphy set?
First official release of previously-unissued ERIC DOLPHY studio recordings in over 30 years,including 85-minutes never before released.
Includes an exhaustive 100-page book with rare photos by Chuck Stewart, Jean-Pierre Leloir, Val Wilmer and others; essays by jazz author/scholar Robin D.G. Kelley, Douglas label manager Michael Lemesre, Japanese Dolphy scholar Masakazu Sato, and co-producers Zev Feldman and James Newton.
Plus words by John Coltrane McCoy Tyner Ornette Coleman and Charles Mingus and interviews with jazz icons Sonny Rollins, Sonny Simmons, Richard Davis, Henry Threadgill, Nicole Mitchell, Steve Coleman, David Murray, Bill Laswell, Oliver Lake, Han Bennink, Joe Chambers, Dave
Liebman and Marty Ehrlich.
All this before you’ve even taken the shrink-wrap of the artfully illustrated package that contains the CDs!
Writing in the January 2019 edition of Downbeat, Phillip Lutz observed of Dolphy:
“... he was working at a time when cultural purists often prevailed over pluralists, and, among too many critics and club owners, his expansive aesthetic marked him as an unwelcome outlier. ...
If he were alive, Dolphy might very well be surprised at all the attention being lavished on him, given the difficulty parts of the jazz establishment had in understanding him during his lifetime. That failure reveals itself in the elementary nature ot the questions the late critic Leonard Feather asked of Dolphy in an undated interview, an audio excerpt of which appears at adale.org, a website operated by neuroscientist Alan Saul.
Feather's questions largely revolve around the move away from improvisation based strictly on harmonic progressions. Feather, with his mellifluous British intonation, asks: "If your foundation is not a chord sequence, which is what the traditional basis of jazz was, then what is the foundation?"
Dolphy, in earthier tones, replies: "Some things you play are not based on chords, they're based on freedom of sound. You start with one line and you keep inventing as you go along."
The gap in perspective [between Feather and Dolphy] remains wide throughout the excerpt, with little apparent prospect for a narrowing. Though Dolphy always showed great respect for all jazz traditions — the anthropomorphic cries he wrung from his horns consciously harked back to the early days of Jaz, in New Orleans — those who knew him said he was too iconoclastic to operate within the straight and narrow strictures of jazz convention.
"He was constantly bending," Juanita Smith [a close friend] said. "That's what got him into so much difficulty. You upset the natural thing, people get upset."
These days, when so much of Dolphy's vocabulary has been absorbed into the jazz lexicon, it seems hard to grasp what the upset was all about.”
Ironically, many of the “cultural purists” who “prevailed” [against Dolphy’s music] were the very same critics who twenty years earlier had supported the beboppers in their “revolt” against the [their term] “moldy figs” [collectively, those who preferred the earlier Jazz styles from New Orleans and Chicago and the Swing era big bands].
In a sense, you had to be there [as I was] to understand that things were simply happening too quickly for these “cultural purists” to understand. This was the same era that found Miles Davis recording his 1956 Bebop classic Round Midnight and then in 1959 renouncing chord changes for modes in Kind of Blue and then from 1965-1970 transitioning to Jazz-Rock fusion that ultimately coalesced with the issuance of Bitches Brew in 1970.
Stylistically, too much was happening too fast during the period from 1955-1965 for anyone in the Jazz World to keep up with so what generally happens in the face of rapid change is that resistance to the new - and there was a lot of it - formed the initial or default reaction of the Jazz cognoscenti.
It didn’t help, too, that the freer forms of Jazz that were coming into existence in the early 1960s when Eric Dolphy Musical Prophet was recorded often disdained their audiences when its musicians turned their backs on them in Jazz clubs, failed to communicating with them by introducing the members of the band or offering even the most rudimentary explanation of what was going on in the “new” music and often played their avant garde renditions at decibel levels that were piercing in the extreme.
So, one of the value of reissuing Eric Dolphy Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions is to help Jazz fans understand the value of what may have been missed in all the frency that greeted the New Jazz Movement when it was first introduced on the scene in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
What I found most striking about the music on the 3 CDs is how formative it sounds. These were young musicians who were all very impressionable and malleable and who, developmentally, were in the early years of learning their craft.
They were experimenting, shaping and molding their improvisations; trying things out; learning by doing.
Vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, for example, is playing single note phrasing and not the multi-note runs that he exhibited in his later solos.
Trumpeter Woody Shaw exhibits a heavy Freddie Hubbard influence in his solos, especially with regard to the similarity in tone.
Clifford Jordan, who had established himself as a tenor saxophonist is still very tentative in his new found involvement with the soprano saxophone.
Compositionally, Eric, too, was exploring and investigating new forms that would allow for greater expression of tonality and texture.
Here’s more information about the 3 CD Resonance records Dolphy release from Ann Braithwaite’s media guide.
“Los Angeles, CA – August 2018 – Resonance Records is proud to announce the first official previously-unissued studio recordings of Eric Dolphy in over 30 years, including 85-minutes of never before released material. Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions is being released in partnership with the Eric Dolphy Trust and the Alan Douglas Estate with remastered high-resolution monaural audio transferred directly from the original tapes.
Captured after leaving Prestige/New Jazz Records, and just before recording the timeless classic Out to Lunch! album, Musical Prophet is a 3LP/3CD set that contains the under-appreciated masterpieces Conversations and Iron Man recorded in New York City on July 1 and 3, 1963. Originally produced by Alan Douglas — most well-known for his association with Jimi Hendrix, but who also produced classic jazz albums such as Money Jungle with Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Max Roach — the tapes had been stored in a suitcase with Dolphy’s personal belongings and given to Dolphy’s close friends Hale and Juanita Smith just before he embarked on his fateful European trip in 1964. Years later the contents of the suitcase were given to flutist/educator James Newton, who had developed a close relationship with his mentor Hale Smith and Hale’s wife Juanita in the late 1970s. Then in 2015, Newton connected with Zev Feldman at Resonance and they began working in conjunction with the Eric Dolphy Trust in Los Angeles on this definitive edition of Dolphy’s 1963 New York studio sessions. These tapes were recorded in mono, unlike the stereo versions that were used for the original studio albums and are the only known master sources in existence.
The LP/CD packages are beautifully designed by longtime Resonance designer Burton Yount and include exhaustive booklets replete with rare and never-before-published photos (several of which are in color!) by Chuck Stewart, Jean-Pierre Leloir, Val Wilmer, Hans Harzheim, Lennart Steen, Roger Marshutz and many others, plus reproductions of the original album covers for Conversations and Iron Man. The five essays cover different aspects of Eric Dolphy and this music, starting with co-producers Zev Feldman and James Newton’s accounts of how this album came to be and what Dolphy’s music means to this world. Newton says in his essay, “Eric Dolphy taught us to listen much more carefully to voices from all around the world, but never to forget that the substantially personal and complex feelings within field hollers remained in the mix.” Jazz scholar and author of Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original, Robin D.G. Kelley, gives us the full historical context of these recordings and Dolphy in 1963. Japanese Dolphy scholar Masakazu Sato and Douglas label manager Michael Lemesregive us accounts of Dolphy’s impact in Japan and of producer Alan Douglas’ role in these recordings and relationship with Dolphy.
We’ve gathered a large congregation of voices to reflect, remember and reexamine the person, the music and the legacy of Eric Dolphy. The saxophone colossus himself, Sonny Rollins, recounted first meeting Dolphy when he asked to sit in with Max Roach’s band. Roach liked to embarrass young musicians who asked to sit in by playing a tune at an extremely fast tempo and running them off the stage. Of course, Dolphy was no average musician and he hung in there the whole way through the tune. From that point forward, Rollins knew Dolphy was a serious musician to be reckoned with. The sole living members of the band interviewed for this release, saxophonist Sonny Simmons and Richard Davis, remember Dolphy as being “a Saint” and “angelic” respectively. Close family friend Juanita Smith gives a detailed account of the time she and her husband, Hale Smith, spent with Eric, including the anecdote about how Eric got the enigmatic bump on his head that we see so clearly in photographs from his later years (including our Chuck Stewart photo on the album cover).
The words and thoughts of no less than 17 musicians – from jazz legend John Coltrane to the Pulitzer prize-winning saxophonist/flutist Henry Threadgill – are represented in this deluxe tribute to Eric Dolphy and this archival discovery, and paint a complex portrait of this heralded, loved and misunderstood artist. Acclaimed flutist Nicole Mitchell says, “I don’t know if there’s a better way to start listening to someone improvising on the flute than to hear Eric Dolphy . . . He really was — bar none — one of the greatest flute players of his time, and of any time before him.” Award-winning saxophonist Steve Coleman stated bluntly about Dolphy, “He’s a virtuoso. There’s nothing else to say about that. It’s amazing that he could get that kind of fluency on different instruments. He’s the first guy I heard to play the shit out of the bass clarinet, the saxophone and the flute.”
LP/CD 1 — Conversations
1. Jitterbug Waltz (7:18)
2. Music Matador (9:37)
3. Love Me (3:22)
4. Alone Together (13:36)
5. Muses for Richard Davis (Previously Unissued 1) (7:39)
6. Muses for Richard Davis (Previously Unissued 2) (8:31)
LP/CD 2 — Iron Man
1. Iron Man (9:14)
2. Mandrake (4:47)
3. Come Sunday (6:28)
4. Burning Spear (11:59)
5. Ode to Charlie Parker (8:04)
6. A Personal Statement (Bonus Track) (15:02) *
LP/CD 3 — Previously Unissued Studio Recordings
1. Music Matador (Alternate Take) (8:05)
2. Love Me (Alternate Take 1) (2:27)
3. Love Me (Alternate Take 2) (3:43)
4. Alone Together (Alternate Take) (12:14)
5. Jitterbug Waltz (Alternate Take) (9:36)
6. Mandrake (Alternate Take) (6:48)
7. Burning Spear (Alternate Take) (10:31)
Eric Dolphy – alto saxophone, flute, bass clarinet
William “Prince” Lasha – flute
Huey “Sonny” Simmons – alto saxophone
Clifford Jordan – soprano saxophone
Woody Shaw – trumpet
Garvin Bushell – bassoon
Bobby Hutcherson – vibes
Richard Davis – bass
Eddie Kahn – bass
J.C. Moses – drums
Charles Moffett – drums
Recorded on July 1 & 3, 1963 at Music Maker’s Studios in New York City.
*Bonus Track: “A Personal Statement” is a Bob James composition that was recorded at WUOM studios in Ann Arbor, MI on March 2, 1964 with Eric Dolphy (alto saxophone, bass clarinet, flute), Bob James (piano), Ron Brooks (bass), Robert Pozar (percussion) and David Schwartz (vocals).
Pre-Order Musical Prophet on iTunes and receive 3 tracks instantly:
"Music Matador (Alternate Take}": 'Mandrake (Alternate Take)!! and "Muses for Richard Davis (Previously Unissued 1).”
For order information please go to www.resonancerecords.org.
Here is the complete text of Phillip Lutz’s Eric Dolphy: ‘Prophet’ of Freedom from the January 2019 edition of Downbeat - http://wwwdownbeat.com.
And here is the complete article on the set from Phillip Lutz’s Eric Dolphy: The ‘Prophet’ of Freedom Downbeat article.
“Whether he was wielding his alto saxophone, flute or bass clarinet, Eric Dolphy was a godsend to the cadre of musicians who were on a mission to expand the language of jazz.
“He was like an angel,” Richard Davis, Dolphy’s longtime bassist, said in October. “He was my answer to wanting to play a certain way—free.” In his short life—Dolphy died in 1964 at age 36—he embraced chromatic post-bop, contemporary classical and (what later would be called) world music on their own terms. At the same time, he was moving toward a synthesis of those forms, presaging the modern global sensibility.
But he was working at a time when cultural purists often prevailed over pluralists, and, among too many critics and club owners, his expansive aesthetic marked him as an unwelcome outlier. Struggling to find work as a leader, the reedist decided that after a 1964 tour accompanying bassist Charles Mingus, he would remain in Europe. Dolphy settled in Berlin, where his diabetes went untreated, leading to his tragic death on June 29.
“When I heard it, I didn’t want to believe it,” said Davis, 88.
That sense of denial summed up the reaction of others close to Dolphy—not least his composition mentor, Hale Smith (1925–2009), and Smith’s wife, Juanita. Smith, 91, explained that the pain was so deep that, for many years, her husband refrained from digging into the boxes Dolphy had left at their Long Island home before the saxophonist departed for what would be his final tour.
“It was sort of a raw thing,” she said.
But finally, in 1978, the Smiths contacted flutist and scholar James Newton, who flew out from California to take a look. What he found was a multitude of scores and recordings, many ready to be mined. Nine years later, he produced Other Aspects (Blue Note), a 41-minute, five-track collection that, by his own account, was put together hurriedly to benefit Dolphy’s parents.
After that, Newton returned the material he had used to the Smiths’ home, where it remained until Hale’s death, when Newton became custodian of the entire cache. At that point, he undertook a more intensive exploration of the music, gradually coming to understand that it filled out the picture of a genius’ life cut short. When Resonance Records got wind of the tapes and proposed a project, Newton was game.
“I started to think that this music had to come out,” he said.
The result is Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions. From seven-and-a-half hours of tapes, Newton, working with Resonance Co-President Zev Feldman at the label’s studio in Beverly Hills, culled 74 minutes of music, which had been released in the ’60s as the albums Conversations and Iron Man, plus 85 minutes of previously unreleased material. Co-produced by Newton and Feldman, the collection, which includes extensive liner notes and photos, will be available in a limited-edition three-LP version (out Nov. 23 for Record Store Day’s Black Friday event). There also will be a three-CD version and a digital edition (both out Jan. 25).
By the time Dolphy went into the studio for these sessions — on July 1 and 3, 1963 — he had recorded with dozens of artists. Prominent among them was John Coltrane. Dolphy spent long hours practicing with Coltrane in the latter’s home in St. Albans, Queens, according to bassist Reggie Workman, who worked with both musicians on Impulse classics like Africa/Brass and Live! At The Village Vanguard.
“They were very close,” he said. “They respected one another highly.”
On the bandstand or in the studio, Workman recalled, the two operated as equals. No matter what Coltrane’s imagination yielded, he said, “Eric would step forward and produce something of the same nature. He always held his own. John expected you to believe in the music and know the terrain, and Eric was happy to be part of it. He always brought his own voice to the music.”
That voice, using a full range of instruments to express limitless emotion, was amply expressed as well with Mingus. The two musicians’ relationship, which began in Dolphy’s native Los Angeles, had reached an early peak with albums like Mingus At Antibes (Atlantic) and The Complete Town Hall Concert (Blue Note). Despite its ups and downs, the musical bond was so strong that Mingus repeatedly hired Dolphy, right up until his death.
While his reputation as a sideman grew, Dolphy built his own catalog as a leader. By the early ’60s, it already included two records of live performances at the Five Spot and three studio gems on Prestige’s New Jazz imprint: Outward Bound, Out There and Far Cry — the last recorded on Dec. 21, 1960, the same day he laid down tracks for Ornette Coleman’s singular Free Jazz (Atlantic).
Even as the New Jazz dates employed conventional song structures, they hinted at a subversive streak. By 1963, that streak had become more pronounced, and clearer still on 1964’s Out To Lunch!, recorded with Davis, Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Bobby Hutcherson (vibraphone) and Tony Williams (drums). Posthumously released, that album widely is considered Dolphy’s most definitive; the new collection, with Hutcherson and Davis among the personnel, documents a moment of transition leading to it.
“You’re hearing changes, you’re hearing swing, but you’re also hearing this approach that really gives you a lot of room to express who you are as an individual,” Newton said.
For Dolphy — who was voted into the DownBeat Hall of Fame by readers in 1964 — individual expression was paramount. Offstage, Smith said, he was an omnivorous consumer of knowledge and an assertive participant in seminar-like sessions her husband and Dolphy held in the Smiths’ residences, first in Harlem’s Flanders Hotel and, later, in their Long Island home. Onstage, Davis recalled, Dolphy rarely offered direction, preferring to give musicians full rein to shape their sound.
“There was never any discussion of the music,” he said. “We just played.”
That kind of trust, Davis said, reflected a closeness forged in the crucible of New York — at the Five Spot in a pressurized two-week residency, at Philharmonic Hall performing Gunther Schuller’s “Journey Into Jazz” under Leonard Bernstein’s watchful eye, at Town Hall contributing music between poet Ree Dragonette’s searing disquisitions on race. All of which proved powerful bonding agents.
In the 1963 sessions, that bond also was a morale-booster as Dolphy and Davis squeezed into a single day a series of sonorous duos built on a diverse set of vehicles: the Arthur Schwartz-Howard Dietz ballad “Alone Together,” Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday” and, in two previously unreleased takes, Roland Hanna’s elegiac “Muses For Richard Davis.”
Though Dolphy was no stranger to duos with bassists — two duos with Ron Carter, for example, appear on an acetate disc produced at Esoteric Sound Studios — the interplay in the ’63 sessions has a quality of restraint that reflects a level of intimacy with Davis. The restraint is conspicuously unforced, particularly when Davis’ bow meets Dolphy’s bass clarinet — prompting the bassist, when asked what most stands out about the sessions 55 years after the fact, to cite Dolphy’s unique expressivity on that instrument.
“Nobody else played it like that,” Davis said. “Some good players would not even attempt to play it.”
The impact of the Dolphy-Davis colloquies on Newton was evident. “They bring tears to my eyes, how they understood each other as artists and human beings,” he said, adding that he was so taken by “Muses” that, for purposes of analysis, he devised a system for juxtaposing the two takes by simultaneously playing the improvisations — one on his main computer and the other on his laptop.
His conclusion? “Each time it’s like they had a thousand different ways of approaching how the improvisation could unfold.”
Beyond the duos, all of which were recorded on July 1, Musical Prophet offers a variety of settings that shed light on the various dimensions of Dolphy’s art. A quintet with Hutcherson, Woody Shaw (trumpet), J.C. Moses (drums) and Davis alternating with Eddie Khan on bass interprets two Dolphy originals, “Iron Man” and “Mandrake,” as well as Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz” — a loping head-solos-head exercise whose conservative form belies the flickering of microtonality in Dolphy’s birdlike flute.
“Birds have notes in between our notes — you try to imitate something they do and, like, maybe it’s between F and F#, and you’ll have to go up or come down on the pitch,” Dolphy said in “John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy Answer the Jazz Critics,” an article by Don DeMicheal that ran in the April 12, 1962, edition of DownBeat. “It’s really something. ... Indian music has something of the same quality — different scales and quarter tones. I don’t know how you label it, but it’s pretty.”
A sextet with Davis, Prince Lasha on flute, Sonny Simmons on alto saxophone, Clifford Jordan on soprano saxophone and Charles Moffett on drums provides the setting for some soulful multiphonics on “Music Matador.” Composed by Lasha and Simmons, the tune traffics in the kind of avant-Latin groove with which Dolphy, a Spanish-speaking Panamanian-American, was comfortable.
“It’s one of the least understood aspects of his language,” Newton said. The largest complement of musicians — 10 in all, with the addition of Garvin Bushell on bassoon and the replacement of Moffett by Moses — is enlisted on “Burning Spear.” The song is named for Jomo Kenyatta, who acquired that moniker for his militant role in Kenya’s fight for independence and served as his country’s first prime minister and first president. The tune, a raucous celebration led by Dolphy’s exclamatory bass clarinet, is one of two in the collection that have an explicitly political edge.
The other is a 15-minute track titled “A Personal Statement.” Recorded on March 2, 1964, at a radio station in Ann Arbor, Michigan — where the composer, pianist Bob James, was an adventurous student — the piece is the collection’s longest. It’s also the most wide-ranging sonically, with each of Dolphy’s three instruments assuming a distinct profile amid a shifting soundscape of woodblock accents, pianistic clusters and ensemble passages in a kind of fractured waltz time — all framed by a classically rendered libretto centered on a vocal line: “Jim Crow might one day be gone.”
A version of the piece also appears on Other Aspects, on which Newton — uncertain of its name or composer at the time of that album’s release — provisionally titled it “Jim Crow.”
Still another side of Dolphy is offered in the single solo outing — three takes, actually — of the Ned Washington-Victor Young tune “Love Me.” Those tracks, the shortest in the collection at less than four minutes each, find Dolphy in full flight, pushing his alto saxophone to the limit and beyond. In its risk-taking, Newton said, Dolphy nods to piano titans — Thelonious Monk (for his counterintuitive leaps) and Art Tatum (for his harmonic and technical range).
“He went to the edge of the cliff and he jumped off,” Newton said of Dolphy. “He was falling and he had to fly.”
Dolphy’s artistic courage has had a profound impact on other players, too. Newton, who has topped the Flute category in the DownBeat Critics Poll 23 times, acknowledges the debt on his album Romance And Revolution (Blue Note). The album was released in 1987 — as was Other Aspects — and Dolphy was clearly on his mind.
Newton’s soaring solo version of the Walter Gross-Jack Lawrence ballad “Tenderly” was, he said, “highly influenced by Eric,” who had done the piece solo on alto saxophone on Far Cry. “A lot of [Romance And Revolution] was.”
Newton’s friend and colleague Bennie Maupin, known for his horn work on albums by Miles Davis (Bitches Brew) and Herbie Hancock (Head Hunters and Mwandishi), similarly was taken by Dolphy’s work. His fascination began with an encounter with Dolphy at the Minor Key lounge in Detroit. Following a particularly ferocious set, the youngster got up the nerve to engage Dolphy.
“I told him what I was doing,” Maupin recalled. “He was just standing there, holding a flute, and said, ‘Play something for me.’” Maupin did, and an impromptu lesson ensued in which Dolphy spent 45 minutes explaining how to hold the instrument, improve one’s embouchure and the like. “They were key things only somebody who really knew the instrument could have shown me. He was very patient and very kind.”
Inspired by that experience, Maupin bought a bass clarinet, which he ultimately used on dates with both Davis and Hancock. After Maupin moved from his native Detroit to California, he began using the instrument in gigs with Newton. And when Newton came into possession of the Dolphy sheet music, Maupin used the instrument in a band, Dolphyana, created to play that music.
The group was short-lived, but it brought Maupin and Newton together for a concert at the 2008 Healdsburg Jazz Festival in California. The band covered a variety of material from Out To Lunch!, Outward Bound and Last Date — the last represented by “The Madrig Speaks, The Panther Walks,” which, appearing on Musical Prophet as “Mandrake,” serves as a platform for Dolphy’s alto at its most agitated.
“It was definitely a challenge,” Maupin said. “We worked through the music measure by measure to see what kind of blend we could get.
“Dolphy’s music speaks for itself. He was involved in making things sound beautiful. He was always trying to be himself. A lot of people compare me to him. He’s one of my mentors, even from the grave.”
Dolphy’s influence was felt beyond wind players. The late pianist Geri Allen analyzed Dolphy’s music for a master’s thesis, incorporating what she learned into her writing, in tunes like “Dolphy’s Dance.” Another pianist, Diane Moser, drew on Dolphy’s predilection for winged creatures — he was said to transcribe the chirping of birds — with her “Birdsongs For Eric,” which had its premiere in 2014 at a commemoration of Dolphy’s music at Montclair State University in New Jersey.
That year, the 50th anniversary of Dolphy’s death, saw a tribute in Berlin, at Rickenbackers Music Inn, featuring a group led by Gebhard Ullmann on saxophone, flute and bass clarinet. Ullmann, who formed the group Out to Lunch in the 1980s, remains a central figure among veteran Dolphy enthusiasts in Germany’s capital.
Dolphy also counts enthusiasts among a younger generation. At The Bop Stop, a listening room in Cleveland with a reputation for offering eclectic fare, the new-music ensemble No Exit presented an all-Dolphy program in May 2017. The set offered fresh takes on familiar tunes, including a version of “Hat And Beard,” from Out To Lunch!, reimagined for string trio, trumpet, alto saxophone and drums.
Recorded tributes to Dolphy began to appear in the years after his death. The late Frank Zappa, who listed Dolphy as an influence on the Mothers of Invention’s first LP, Freak Out!, included “The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue” on his 1970 recording, Weasels Ripped My Flesh.
Closer to Dolphy’s aesthetic home, small groups led by saxophonist Oliver Lake offered homages on 1980’s Prophet and 1996’s Dedicated To Dolphy, which includes the Hale Smith composition “Feather.”
In 2014, pianists Aki Takase from Japan and Alexander von Schlippenbach from Germany released So Long, Eric! (Intakt), featuring European interpreters of Dolphy’s music. Among them was drummer Han Bennink, who joined Dolphy in his quartet on Last Date, recorded in concert at a radio studio in Hilversum, the Netherlands, just 27 days before the multi-instrumentalist died.
If he were alive, Dolphy might very well be surprised at all the attention being lavished on him, given the difficulty parts of the jazz establishment had in understanding him during his lifetime. That failure reveals itself in the elementary nature of the questions the late critic Leonard Feather asked of Dolphy in an undated interview, an audio excerpt of which appears at adale.org, a website operated by neuroscientist Alan Saul.
Feather’s questions largely revolve around the move away from improvisation based strictly on harmonic progressions. Feather, with his mellifluous British intonation, asks: “If your foundation is not a chord sequence, which is what the traditional basis of jazz was, then what is the foundation?”
Dolphy, in earthier tones, replies: “Some things you play are not based on chords, they’re based on freedom of sound. You start with one line and you keep inventing as you go along.”
The gap in perspective remains wide throughout the excerpt, with little apparent prospect for a narrowing. Though Dolphy always showed great respect for all jazz traditions — the anthropomorphic cries he wrung from his horns consciously harked back to the early days of jazz in New Orleans — those who knew him said he was too iconoclastic to operate within the straight and narrow strictures of jazz convention.
“He was constantly bending,” Smith said. “That’s what got him into so much difficulty. You upset the natural thing, people get upset.”
These days, when so much of Dolphy’s vocabulary has been absorbed into the jazz lexicon, it seems hard to grasp what the upset was all about. While no one knows how he would have evolved, Davis said that, at the time of his death, Dolphy was working on music for string quartets. He would have been well prepared for such a task: The vivid intimations of Third Stream stylings on Dolphy’s 1960 album Out There, with Ron Carter on cello and George Duvivier on bass, suggest that the string quartet would have become another in the varied box of tools with which he reached out to new groups of listeners in fresh ways.
“He certainly knew how to put the music across,” Davis said. DB