Iconic Angelenos in Black History: Eric Dolphy

In honor of Black History Month, join us each day from February 10th to the 19th as we celebrate Black Angelenos who have influenced culture, social justice, and progress in Los Angeles and, in some instances, the nation.

Today we celebrate Eric Dolphy:


Eric Dolphy, one of several jazz multi-instrumentalists to gain prominence in the 1960s, had one of the most distinctive styles ever recorded. Born in Los Angeles and reared as an only child by West-Indian parents in South Central L.A., Dolphy showed an early interest in music, mastering the harmonica and picking up the clarinet in elementary school. He sang in the Westminster Presbyterian Church choir led by Reverend Dr. Hampton B Hawes, the father of Eric's childhood friend and later legendary Jazz piano player Hampton Hawes. While in middle school Dolphy studied the oboe, and won a scholarship to the U.S.C. School of Music in a city wide competition. He began playing professionally while still a student at Dorsey High, notably with Charles Mingus. What little money he earned as a musician went right back into paying for lessons. His parents subsequently renovated their garage into a rehearsal studio that would host the sounds of Gerald Wilson, Buddy Collette, Max Roach, and Clifford Brown during Dolphy's youth and early twenties. Known to be extremely affable and respectful, he was the first important bass clarinet soloist in jazz, and among the earliest significant flute soloists. Dolphy passed away in 1964 while on tour in Berlin, from a heart attack related to his diabetees. He is buried in Los Angeles.

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His partnership with John Coltrane, notably the "Africa/Brass" sessions, were formerly branded as "anti-jazz" are now considered legendary.

First recorded as a leader with the Prestige label in 1960, spurning 13 albums in one year including Far Cry.

Far Cry represented his first pairing with trumpeter Booker Little, whom he recording five live legendary sets at the Five Spot in New York City.

While in middle school he won a two-year scholarship to the U.S.C. School of Music in a citywide competition.

In July 1963, Dolphy and producer Alan Douglas arranged recording sessions with leading emerging musicians of the day. The results were his Iron Man and Conversations LP's. Around this time Dolphy's pianist was a young Herbie Hancock.

In 1964, Dolphy signed with Blue Note Records and recorded Out to Lunch! with Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Hutcherson, Richard Davis and Tony Williams.

Charles Mingus named one of his sons Eric Dolphy Mingus.

As we continue celebrating Black History Month with daily portraits of iconic Angelenos, check back for more features on other pioneering individuals and make sure to share this history with your friends and family. Click here for more portraits.










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