RICHARD DAVIS on Eric Dolphy
Highlights from Issue 34: Jazz
Photography by FRANCIS WOLFF ? MOSAIC IMAGES
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
A TRIBUTE TO ERIC DOLPHY (1928–1964)
Reflections on the virtuoso reedman, from his formative days in Los Angeles to his last date in Berlin
Also featured in the Jazz Issue, comments on Eric Dolphy from Bobby Hutcherson, Sonny Rollins, Ted Curson, Peter Brotzmann, Gary Giddins, Ira Gitler and more
Bassist, performed on Out to Lunch
and Eric Dolphy at the Five Spot, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2
For more on Richard Davis, visit his website
Stop Smiling: When did you and Eric first meet?
Richard Davis: New York, 1961.
SS: You recorded some duets with Eric, including “Ode to CP” and “Come Sunday.” Can you talk about playing with Eric one-on-one?
RD: It was a delightful experience. Eric had a lot of ideas that I needed to hear — ideas that I was, in a sense, wanting to hear, because my ear was going in that same direction.
Eric had a very even temperament. He was angelic. It’s hard to say much about Eric that isn’t close to him being an angel. He had a way about him — he was just a sweet guy. Most people would say that about him. When I met his mother and father, I could see that they must have raised him that way. They were angelic types, too. I don’t think Eric worried about things that much. He would give money to people who didn’t have any — musicians would come to town and he’d give them money. Eric was an unusual guy. You could take him groceries sometimes. Somebody told me he gave other musicians his gigs. They’d come to town and he’d give them the gig.
Eric was an exceptional human being. We had the same car — he had a Volkswagen, I had a Karmann Ghia — and I said, “I can’t get this tire changed. It’s flat.” He was instructing me with what to do. Within two minutes he said, “I’ll be right there.” He lived 40 minutes from me. He came out there and changed that tire, man. He was that kind of guy — all giving.
SS: When you met his parents, was that in California?
RD: Yeah. I told Eric I was going out there. He gave me his mother’s address and told me to say hello. He called his mother, Sadie. He had a garage out there, which had been converted into a practice studio. I was in that studio and his mother would make me a glass of lemonade from a big lemon tree.
SS: Did Eric speak with you about his interest in birds and how he tried to replicate the sounds of birds in his music?
RD: No, Eric didn’t talk to me much about that. Eric talked to me mostly about encouraging me to use my bow more.
SS: When you would spend time together in New York, what were some of the things Eric enjoyed doing other than playing?
RD: Cooking swordfish steak. It was the first I’d ever heard of a swordfish steak. He went out to the neighborhood fish market, bought it and cooked it.
SS: When you two played together in New York and wanted to go out and celebrate after a great show, what kinds of things would Eric like to do?
RD: I think Eric would probably go hear some other musicians. We used to go hear Cecil Taylor a lot because he was working in the same neighborhood we were in, the Village. Eric was not a partygoer — he would go and hear other musicians.
SS: Did Eric like New York City?
RD: I never heard him say anything against New York City.
SS: How about yourself, did you take to it?
RD: I had no problems. I lived there for 23 years, from 1954 to 1977. I liked it because it was a place where everything could happen in music. One day I’m working in a sawdust, gutbucket place, the next day I’m working with Igor Stravinsky. It all rolled there.
SS: When Eric went to play overseas, did you stay in touch?
RD: I never traveled with Eric. I remember seeing him off when he went on that trip. I was working at Radio City Music Hall, and I went to say goodbye to him. I had no idea that would be the last time I’d see him.
SS: Do you remember what you talked about?
RD: I was a very busy studio musician, and Eric was beginning to get a lot of work recording. He said, “I’m getting like you now. I’ll have to get a date book.” I remember giving him a watch as a going-away present. And that was it. Next thing I know, Charles Lloyd called me. Charles thought I knew Eric had died. He was calling to give me condolences, because he knew how tight Eric and I were. That was the first I’d heard of it. But then I called Eric’s father, because I didn’t want to believe it. I couldn’t say to his father, “Is Eric dead?” I just asked him how he was. He said, “My boy is gone.” Then I knew Eric was gone.
Eric’s girlfriend was with him in New York at some of those gigs. She said he was playing more than she’d ever heard him play, and she heard him a lot. She said he was trying to get it all out.