Eric Dolphy: An Unknown 1963 Audio Interview about Ornette and more
Alan Saul hosts the most extensive site about Eric Dolphy, including listings of all of his recordings and filmed or televised appearances, many audio and video clips, and more. Two recorded interviews are there as well, one with Leonard Feather and one with Dutch journalist Michiel de Ruyter. Both are from 1964. Today you’ll hear one from 1963 that has never before been available.
This is part of our occasional series of audio interviews from the collection of the late Swedish jazz journalist and radio host Claes Dahlgren. If you scroll through my previous posts or search for the word “unknown,” you’ll find his interviews with Chet Baker, Cecil Taylor, Ellington, Rollins, Andrew Hill, and two with Miles Davis. This Dolphy interview has never been heard other than its broadcast in Sweden, and our version includes some material that was never broadcast at all.
Dahlgren wrote scripts for his narrations, and in this case there are two, because he used parts of the interview in two different programs. The scripts are dated August 14 and December 9, 1963. So the interview was most likely conducted around the beginning of August 1963.
This interview is in four parts. Remember that in the old days, when audio tape was edited, it literally had to be cut, usually with a razor, and the unused part was wound on a separate reel. So in addition to what was broadcast, we have two parts, the first and fourth, that, as they say, “wound up on the cutting room floor.”
Part one begins with what sounds like a radio in the background—one hears something about “the campaign is going on…Issues are important..” Perhaps for that reason, this was never broadcast. But Dolphy has a lot to say. He lists musicians he grew up with on the West Coast. “Sweet Pea” (aka “Sweetpea”) was the nickname of alto saxophonist Leroy Robinson, who played and recorded with Eric in drummer Roy Porter’s big band. Gene Cravens, whom he also mentions, never recorded, but had a great reputation. At the end Claes asks him about Ornette Coleman. The very end of this part is some awkward tape splicing. Dolphy’s reply about Coleman is on the next portion, below.
Part two: Here is Eric’s reply about Coleman, as broadcast. He recorded with Ornette on the albums Free Jazz and Jazz Abstractions, and played with him on other occasions. It’s interesting that he describes Ornette’s music as not being totally “free,” but being based on groups of notes and the relationships between notes, “and then you branch out.” In other words, there is an underlying basis, but it’s not a progression of chords:
Part three is the longest segment that was broadcast. Dolphy talks about the benefits of being in N.Y.C. for a jazz musician. He cautiously addresses the question of whether critics are qualified. And he talks about playing differently depending on the character of each instrument. There is an introduction and ending by Dahlgren in Swedish:
Part four, which was never broadcast, begins with a kind of whispered exchange where Dolphy says “I never even thought about that” and something about “less noise.” It seems that they found some location that was quieter, or a better way to place the microphone. Then he says some more about the critics:
Subscriber Michael Leddy asked if Dolphy had any particular critics in mind. There may have been several, but he was definitely thinking of John Tynan, who called Coltrane's music with Dolphy "anti-jazz" and upset them both so much that they requested, and got, a feature article to reply to their critics in the April 1962 issue of Downbeat.
We are able to hear this recording thanks to the generosity of The Claes Dahlgren Collection at The Centre for Swedish Folk Music and Jazz Research (Svenskt visarkiv). I want to personally thank Wictor Johansson, head of the audiovisual collections, and Jörgen Adolfsson, research archivist and musician, for their kind assistance.
Please Note that permission was given for the audio to appear in this newsletter Only —no other copying or publishing of this recording is allowed without prior approval. Let us all please honor this, in which case more interviews will be coming your way. (I promise you that I have some additional amazing ones lined up!) In short, do not post the audio of this interview anywhere else—but please do share the link to this page with everyone you know! (If you see the word “Share” below, just click on that.)
All the best,
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