“Eric Dolphy-Ree Dragonette, Town Hall, New York City, 1963” By DownBeat’s Bill Coss

“Eric Dolphy-Ree Dragonette, Town Hall, New York City”

Bill Coss for DownBeat [30]Eric Dolphy (As a bandleader, Dolphy spent a great deal of time absorbing the text of Miss Dragonette before composing the program)

January 17, 1963

Personnel:

Eric Dolphy (alto sax, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet)

Edward Armour (fluegelhorn)

Herbie Hancock (piano)

Richard Davis (bass)

J.C. Moses (drums)

Poetess Ree Dragonette and the Eric Dolphy Quintet performed singly and in tandem in what I think was the first big-league combination of the two art forms that has had moments of true brilliance. Dolphy is somewhat well known in these pages. He has sometimes been accused of antijazz, and given some chances; he does show the signs of what has been outlined as his crime. However, here, given the chance of matching compositions to poetry, he wrote in a way that for all times must prove his real ability.

Miss Dragonette is from Philadelphia. She is what is known as a metaphysical poet. It is high praise in itself when it comes off. Her poetry most often does, although, God – and the metaphysicians would allow us that – God help us, I trust that no one can hear poetry once and be sure of its worth.

The two performers seems not a bit alike on the surface.

Miss Dragonette was immediately impressed, she said before the concert, because Dolphy’s approach “is original, perhaps radical, but it is so structured, and it goes back into so much jazz that went before. I feel that we are much alike, and his response to my work has been greater and better than I would normally find from some other poet.”

Richard Davis (bass)

“In any case,” she added, “there are very few metaphysical poets around. Eric is working in a new field, and so am I. We’re breaking ground. Here we will do it together.”

Dolphy used fewer words after the concert. His concern, he said, was to find music that would fit meaning, and to do that he spent hours reading thepoetryand then asking specifically about the words and phrases.

“It was,” has he reflected, “the first time I had every done that kind of thing. What was most important to me was what she meant by each of the words. It was tough, but it was a wonderful experience, and I must say that it never would have come off unless all the musician d played marvelously.”

And that may every well be the most accurate critical notice about the evening. My impression of the poetry – and most of them were positive –have little claim for this space. But the music, especially when it was accompanied the poetry was exceptional and the musicians ship was always so.

If there is complaint, it is that in the free-blowing, early part of the program, Dolphy was not as organized as later.

The rhythm section was astounding as well as astute throughout. Hancock was an immensely cohesive factor at all times.

Armour began with a flurry but then seemed all bravura and nothing else, and Dolphy seemed intent at first on playing every note of the scale; but now, in retrospect was not like that. There was a whole concept involved, mostly revolving around the different ways that Dolphy’s reeds could match with Davis’ arco bass. Hancock really was supposed to be the anchorman in the middle of the msucial storms. Armour has a sound and mood that is a good and original reminder of the late Booker Little.

All of this latter feeling was most evident when Dolphy plays bass clarinet but most especially when the normal jazz scene – with its many mostly nonsplendored choruses – was avoided and Dolphy wrote to fit poetry words and time.
Then the playing was nearly always unique; the compositions were tight. Of them all, a particular favorite could have been a musical echo to a poem read first by Miss Dragonette and dedicated to Thelonious Monk. In a sense, the poem had seemed to represent Monk as being through the ages, running through the pages of the Old Testament. So did the music. The bass clarinet-bowed bass portions were strong, fresh, angular – everything that might fit the portrait. It was an unusual success. So I believer, was that whole part of the concert.

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