Jazz at 100 Hour 71: Silenced in Their Prime – Eric Dolphy & Booker Little (1961 – 1964)

Eric Dolphy – Booker Little at the Five Spot

From his first recordings with Chico Hamilton in 1958 until his unnecessary death from misdiagnosed diabetic shock in 1964, Eric Dolphy was limited to only six years in which to record the music that has defined his extraordinary legacy. Previously, in this series, we have heard from Dolphy’s great 1960 recording, Far Cry and his contributions to Charles Mingus’s band. The final three years of this story includes recordings under the leadership of Oliver Nelson, Abbey Lincoln, Ron Carter, Mal Waldron, Max Roach, George Russell, Freddie Hubbard, and Andrew Hill; stints in bands led by John Coltrane and Charles Mingus; and a highly productive association with Booker Little, before the young trumpeter’s premature death at 23 from complications resulting from uremia, in 1961. The last recordings of Eric Dolphy and Booker Little in this hour of Jazz at 100.

Oliver Nelson, The Blues And The Abstract Truth.
In 1961, Dolphy joined an all-star ensemble lead by Oliver Nelson to record The Blues And The Abstract Truth, which Brian Morton and Richard Cook call “one of the classics of the period”. They say further that “if there were one Nelson track to take away to a desert island it would have to be the one that starts the album, the haunting ‘Stolen Moments’ with its mournful [Freddie] Hubbard solo and a lovely statement from Dolphy on flute. The great man left his bass clarinet behind for this session, and it isn’t missed. Nelson tended to arrange for higher voices, and for this record he didn’t stray outside 12-bar blues and the chords of ‘I Got Rhythm’. ‘Stolen Moments’ is a minor blues, opening in C minor, with some fascinating internal divisions.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Stolen Moments. Oliver Nelson Septet
(Freddie Hubbard-tp, Eric Dolphy-as/fl, Oliver Nelson-as/ts, George Barrow-bs, Bill Evans-p, Paul Chambers-b, Roy Haynes-d). From The Blues And The Abstract Truth. 2/23/1961

Booker Little, Out Front.
“Booker [Little]’s penultimate disc as a leader was cut … in two sessions for Candid, poised midway between his studio session with Eric Dolphy on Far Cry in December, 1960, and the Five Spot recordings in July, 1961. The music on Out Front, recorded on 17 March and 4 April with a sextet which featured Dolphy on reeds, trombonist Julian Priester, Don Friedman on piano, Art Davis … on bass, and Max Roach on drums, tympani and vibes, continues to push outward in the progressive fashion evident on the earlier date with Dolphy, but also reflects Little’s contention that while he was interested in freedom, he was equally interested in form. His compositions and arrangements manipulate structure and movement in inventive fashion, as in the subtle harmonic ebb and flow between the more complex ensemble sections and the simpler solo passages on ‘We Speak’…” – Kenny Mathieson

“The opening ‘We Speak’ is a straightforward blowing theme, but the balance of tonalities and the use of abrasive dissonance evokes Ornette’s Free Jazz, recorded a bare four months before.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

We Speak. Booker Little And His Quintet Featuring Max Roach
(Booker Little-tp, Julian Priester-tb, Eric Dolphy-as/bcl/fl, Don Friedman-p, Art Davis-b, Max Roach-d/timp/vib). From Out Front. 3/17/1961

Eric Dolphy & Booker Little Quintet, At the Five Spot.
Out to Lunch, Dolphy’s one album for Blue Note, is beautifully recorded, with wonderful playing and composing; the only mark against it is chilliness. Eric Dolphy at the Five Spot presents him at his most relaxed. Here he sounds like part of a larger aesthetic history, not a marginal figure. His band is the reason why. Booker Little, the trumpeter, had terrific energy, joining bebop harmony to wilder intervallic leaps; Richard Davis, the bassist, played with a deep, rich tone; Mal Waldron was at his insistent, monochromatic, stubborn best; and Ed Blackwell, the great New Orleans drummer who drew on Max Roach’s bebop patterns and West African drumming, wielded such strong rhythmic presence that he didn’t need to add colors or flashy solos.” – Ben Ratliff

“The obvious point of comparison here is with Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry. But while Coleman and Cherry used free tonality as a starting point, with Dolphy and Little it is the opposite: the pieces are tonal and highly structured, with the horn players adopting quarter tones, cries, and dissonance as a way of expanding and stretching the jazz vocabulary from within, rather than reinventing it de novo.” – Ted Gioia

Fire Waltz. Eric Dolphy – Booker Little Quintet
(Booker Little-tp, Eric Dolphy-as/bcl/fl, Mal Waldron-p, Richard Davis-b, Ed Blackwell-d). From At The Five Spot Vol. 1. 7/16/1961

Final Thoughts – Out To Lunch.
“For all his brilliant contributions to records by other leaders, Dolphy still hadn’t created an entirely individual sound of his own… The session of 25 February 1964 was engineered by Rudy Van Gelder. The sound is strong and very centred, and the new band (with [Tony] Williams … and the incendiary [Freddie] Hubbard…) was well suited to Dolphy’s increasingly dissonant and fractured conception. [Bobby] Hutcherson’s vibraphone – … no piano – is mixed in such a way that the most intense attacks have a very distinct, almost physical presence… ‘Straight Up And Down’ and ‘Out To Lunch’ itself, the two alto pieces, are bordering on complete harmonic freedom, but again anchored in a strong rhythmic groove… The radical core of Out To Lunch! lies in the two opening numbers. ‘Hat And Beard’, a tribute to Monk, and ‘Something Sweet, Something Tender’ are both taken on bass clarinet, and the sheer physicality and dynamism of Dolphy’s entry on the first tune impart an excitement that runs through the record. It is ‘angular’, as the cliché runs, but also lyrical and unmistakably thoughtful… There was to be no sequel and Out To Lunch!’s cachet lies as much in promise as in delivery.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Hat And Beard. Eric Dolphy Quintet
(Freddie Hubbard-tp, Eric Dolphy-bcl Bobby Hutcherson-vib, Richard Davis-b, Tony Williams-d). From Out To Lunch. 2/25/1964

Straight Up And Down. Eric Dolphy Quintet
(Freddie Hubbard-tp, Eric Dolphy-as Bobby Hutcherson-vib, Richard Davis-b, Tony Williams-d). From Out To Lunch. 2/25/1964

“His sideman work with Coltrane found him writing arrangements for an enlarged combo in addition to matching up with the leader as a frontline soloist. Taking on Coltrane nightly on the bandstand was a task few saxophonists would have relished at the time, but Dolphy flourished in such charged settings. His sideman work with Charles Mingus was equally productive, as documented on a handful of projects, including the Candid release Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus and a memorable concert recording made at Antibes. Dolphy’s presence also contributed to a number of high-profile sessions with other leaders, including Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz, Andrew Hill’s Point of Departure, Oliver Nelson’s The Blues and the Abstract Truth, and George Russell’s Ezz-thetics—four milestone recordings from the early 1960s, each demanding a different facet of Dolphy’s musical personality.” – Ted Gioia

Booker Little died at 23 in New York on October 5, 1961. Eric Dolphy died at 36 in Berlin on June 29, 1964. Jazz is the poorer for their untimely departures.

Roland Kirk, who began recording in 1956, had been an ideal sideman for Charles Mingus, appearing on the 1961 release Oh Yeah. In the 1960s, he established himself in the first tier of jazz players with a series of well-received records for Mercury and Limelight before settling into a decade-long relationship with Atlantic. Multi-instrumentalist Roland Kirk in the next hour of Jazz at 100.

Oliver Nelson. The Blues and the Abstract Truth. Impulse! A5
Booker Little. Out Front. Candid CJM 8027
Eric Dolphy – Booker Little Quintet. At the Five Spot Vol. 1. New Jazz NJLP 8260
Eric Dolphy/. Out To Lunch. Blue Note BLP 4163

Gioia, Ted. 2011. The History of Jazz. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 7. The Fragmentation of Jazz Styles
Mathieson, Kenny. 2002. Cookin’: Hard Bop and Soul Jazz 1954-65. Canongate Books.
Donald Byrd / Blue Mitchell / Booker Little
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
Oliver Nelson. The Blues and the Abstract Truth
Booker Little. Out Front
Eric Dolphy. Out To Lunch
Ratliff, Ben. 2002. The New York Times Essential Library of Jazz. New York. Times Books.
Chapter 56. Eric Dolphy. Eric Dolphy at the Five Spot (1961)

Annotated playlists and streaming links for all the Jazz at 100 broadcasts: Jazz at 100

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