Has anybody ever said a bad thing about Eric Dolphy? One of the most respected jazz artists, even if he is not exactly a household name to casual jazz fans, any serious jazz head loves him, as well as every single musician that ever came into contact with him. He was known to give his last dollar to struggling musicians in gestures of kindness and compassion. He even gave so much to the groups he worked in that his own career as a leader was woefully brief. He was an amazing composer, improviser, alto saxophonist, flautist and pioneered the use of bass clarinet as a modern jazz instrument. He mastered all three of the instruments and was an early practitioner of unaccompanied solo improvising.
He was born to Panamanian parents and grew up in Los Angeles with Charles Mingus. He was a prodigy and early on he played with Clifford Brown, Roy Porter and Gerald Wilson. He joined Chico Hamilton's group in '58 and then moved to NYC. In the early '60s he was a major member of ensembles led by Mingus and John Coltrane, as well as getting in work with Ornette Coleman, Oliver Nelson, Booker Little, Andrew Hill, Max Roach, Abbey Lincoln, Mal Waldron, Gil Evans, George Russell, Ken McIntyre and others.
He made several classic, forward-thinking albums for Prestige, Blue Note, Douglas and other labels. In '64 he toured as a "solo" in Europe, where he had a diabetic seizure. Being a black jazz musician, the hospital assumed he was a junkie and he was not allowed admission. He died, leaving behind a fiancée. His music covered bop, classical, third stream, avant-garde and ethnic musics, and he is considered a major influence on the free jazz movement.