5 Musicians’ First Impressions of One of the Jazz Greats


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At Seed Artists, we’ve had the privilege of speaking with a wide variety of talented artists about their careers and cultural influences. One musician who has come up as an influence for many is jazz bass clarinetist, saxophonist, and flutist Eric Dolphy. Below are some quotations from a few musicians about their first impressions of Dolphy’s music:

Oliver Lake, saxophonist, flutist, composer, painter, and poet

“I was a teenager and getting into the saxophone, and when I first heard Dolphy, he was such a surprise to me. It was an instant affection that I had for what he was doing because prior to that, I was listening to saxophone players and I felt like I could hum their solo, because you kind of knew they played certain patterns and went to the next pattern, and the next pattern. Then when I heard Eric, he blew all of that out of the water. I had no idea what he was going to play next, and it was so exciting to me.”

James Newton, jazz and classical flutist

“When I was about 16 years old, I’d just started playing the flute, and a friend said, ‘Hey, you’ve got to hear this flute player.’ And I heard Left Alone. Beautiful ballad. It was overwhelming to say the least. I didn’t understand what I’d heard but I was so deeply moved, and there began a pursuit to understand what I was hearing, and maybe even analyze why I was feeling the way I was feeling when I heard Eric Dolphy. It became very quickly an obsession.”

Jerome Harris, jazz guitarist and bass guitarist

“One [recording] in particular that has stuck with me for quite a while since I first heard it is this Charles Mingus Quartet recording. It’s Dolphy, Ted Curson, Charles Mingus, and Dannie Richmond and they do, for me, the most potent version of Fables of Faubus. Obviously, it’s mostly an instrumental tune, but it’s the one where the band sings some of it. ‘Oh Lord, don’t let them shoot us.’ And Eric plays amazingly on that. If I remember correctly, also on that album, there’s a section in another tune where in the middle of the tune, the bass and the bass clarinet essentially speak to each other. It’s a kind of an open improvising section where they’re playing back and forth. But they each get particularly vocal-like on their instruments (mimics the instrument’s sounds, with a similar cadence to speaking). And it’s amazing. It’s a really creative bit of sound art.”

Vernon Reid, guitarist, songwriter, and founder of Living Colour

“It was his rendition of God Bless The Child. I just thought it was so mysterious what he was doing, because at the end, the [radio station] DJ came back on and said, ‘That was Eric Dolphy’s rendition of God Bless The Child,’ and I was like, ‘God Bless The Child’?! He had made it so abstract, the fact that he’s kind of arpeggiating the chords, and he never plays the melody directly. And that’s one of the most dramatic, daring covers. It’s up there with Hendrix’s Star-Spangled Banner. It’s really a radical interpretation of a song that you think you know. And I feel like Dolphy took Charlie Parker’s language, which is already abstract, and abstracted it by an order of magnitude of ten or something. It was so daring, incredibly daring.”

Oran Etkin, jazz clarinetist, bass clarinetist, and saxophonist

“I was a kid when I first heard Dolphy. He was eating the instrument almost. The sound of the bass clarinet and the way he was playing it was so visceral and so, coming from his body. It was like it was part of his body. It just so physical, and that physicality of it really grabbed me when I was a child…You can’t play bass clarinet without being aware of his music and without having that kind of influence you. He definitely took it from being kind of an instrument that’s a novelty into being a real expression.”


Join Seed Artists on June 1st and 2nd as we bring together even more exemplary musicians to celebrate Eric Dolphy at our event Eric Dolphy: Freedom Of Sound at The New School’s John L. Tishman Auditorium.


This story originally appeared on Seed Artists and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

Featured Image Credit: Seed Artists / Peter Bodge.