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Eric Dolphy: It’s All Out There Now

Rediscovered 1963 recordings by the saxophonist deepen the legacy of a jazz visionary

Eric Dolphy
Saxophonist Eric Dolphy (photo: Francis Wolff, Mosaic Images LLC

They were just some cardboard boxes. Eric Dolphy wanted to store them while he went to Europe to tour with Charles Mingus and spend some time with his fiancée, the dancer Joyce Mordecai, in Paris. Dolphy was giving up his apartment, because he didn’t know how long he’d be gone, and his friends Hale and Juanita Smith had room in their house in Freeport, Long Island. Juanita got special permission for Dolphy to drive into the parking garage at the United Nations, where she worked, and transfer the boxes to her car. The next day, Dolphy’s friend John Coltrane drove him to E.B. Marks Publishing, where Hale worked, so Dolphy could say goodbye. Then he was gone. And he never came back.

“We only knew him for six short years,” Juanita Smith remembers, “but he’d often come out to our house in his Volkswagen and spend the day. He just wanted to be with a family; he was an only child who didn’t really know many people in New York. He didn’t hang out in clubs. He was basically a family person. Eric was very easygoing; I never saw him angry. He was very considerate; he once brought my daughter, who was a big Beatles fan, some Beatles cards, and she never forgot it. He was interested in everything, and we’d talk not just about music but also about books and politics.”

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