Friday, September 5, 2014

Eric Dolphy: A Musical Biography And DiscographyEric Dolphy: A Musical Biography And Discography by Vladimir Simosko
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The great musician and composer Eric Dolphy is little known outside of jazz circles. A so-called "average person" might have heard the names of John Coltrane or Miles Davis, but I doubt that more than one or two percent of randomly interviewed people would associate the name Dolphy with jazz. Yet, he was a giant of that genre and one of the most influential musicians/composers of the 1960s, which is the only jazz period that interests me (I do not "get" the pre-Sixties or post-Sixties jazz).

Vladimir Simosko's and Barry Tepperman's "Eric Dolphy: A Musical Biography & Discography" is a very short book about Dolphy's musical trajectory so tragically interrupted by his death from a diabetic condition at the age of 36. The book is a well-researched chronology of Dolphy's engagements and performances, as a sideman and as a band leader. There is precious little in the book about Dolphy's personal life. I would love to know more about him, particularly because he has been frequently described as a deep, gentle, generous, and caring person. John Coltrane, the only musician whom I would put above Dolphy in the pantheon of jazz, says the following about Dolphy: "[...] my life was made much better by knowing him. He was one of the greatest people I've ever known, as a man, a friend, and a musician."

The authors' work has been largely wasted on me as I do not have even the slightest understanding of musical theory; still, I love reading about some of my favorite pieces, such as "God Bless the Child", or some of my favorite albums like "Africa/Brass" by John Coltrane Quintet with Eric Dolphy. Maybe I have not listened to a lot of flute music, but to me no one has ever played this instrument better than Dolphy. He is also widely acknowledged as a virtuoso of bass clarinet.

To my unsophisticated, completely untrained ear, many of Dolphy's works are some of the most brainy, intellectual music I have ever heard. In a certain sense, the joy of listening to it resembles the joy of a viewer of an abstract painting, when suddenly one transcends the jumble of shapes and colors and "gets" the picture.

Eric Dolphy died on July 9, 1964 in Berlin, Germany. There are rumors that doctors ignored his diabetic coma and instead attributed the artist's state to substance abuse, based on stereotyping; after all he was black and a musician (as far as I know, Dolphy did not use drugs). Coltrane was allowed only 41 years of life, Dolphy 36. World music would be very different today if they had a chance to live and create throughout the average human lifespan.

Good book. A pity it is so short and skimpy on biographical details.

Three stars.

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