Celebrating Eric Dolphy Day, Bronze Statue And All

Eric Dolphy i i

hide captionEric Dolphy in 1960.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Eric Dolphy

Eric Dolphy in 1960.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Via Peter Hum, there is now a bronze statue of Eric Dolphy in Syracuse, N.Y.

It was commissioned for the 40th anniversary celebration of Dolphy Day, an annual event at Le Moyne College. As the story goes, one day in 1971, jazz aficionados on campus decided to forego their academic responsibilities to listen to Eric Dolphy's music outside. They were in part inspired by the facts that Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention had recently recorded "The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue," and that the mascot of the College is the Green Dolphin. (Dolphy, Dolphin ...) That, and it was a nice spring day.

Forty years later, Dolphy Day was celebrated in style. According to the Le Moyne Web site, festivities included:

—Unveiling of a life-size Eric Dolphy sculpture in the Dablon quad where this tradition was first held and is still celebrated;

—Announcement of the Eric Dolphy Music Scholarship, which will be given to an outstanding performing arts student at Le Moyne;

—A lecture by legendary music icon Gunther Schuller, who wrote jazz pieces for and conducted several Eric Dolphy performances in the 1950s and early 1960s;

—A performance of "Out to Lunch," Dolphy's most famous album, by the Russ Johnson Quintet.

"Dead Jazz Musician Gets Statue" isn't a terribly unique story, but this is Eric Dolphy, who occupies an eccentric position in the Jazz Canon, and is appreciated precisely for the fact that his style is, well, kinda weird. He played several different instruments, died in his 30s and certainly never broke through to mainstream audiences in the way that Ella or Billie or Duke or Miles or Coltrane did. A local TV station has an image of the statue's unveiling.

Also, a talk from former Dolphy collaborator Gunther Schuller (an NPR profile) is nothing to sneeze at either. His son, George Schuller, is the drummer in the band that presented its take on Out To Lunch. If that group is anything like the one that played this gig, there are for sure some worthy musicians in the mix. (I do think it may be hard to beat the brilliance of this record, though.)

Meanwhile, I'm glad Eric Dolphy maintains some sort of cultural cachet nearly 50 years after his passing. As his music goes, Dolphy's versatile, idiosyncratic, inside-outside approach serves as a model (and a sonic inspiration) for plenty of progressive jazz artists today. But it's nice to see that some people who aren't playing in quintets with vibraphone as a chordal instrument (a la Out To Lunch) also think he's cool too. I've even heard of people using Eric Dolphy's music as a litmus test for dating, as in: if you play your potential romantic partner something from Fire Waltz and she/he doesn't respond positively, perhaps it may not work out. OK, maybe that was just me and my jazz friends in college. /snorts /pushes up glasses on face

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