God Bless the Child

I just came across this amazing performance and thought I’d share it with you. In fact I’ve been meaning to post something by the great Eric Dolphy for some time, and finding this reminded me to do so. I think Eric Dolphy was one of the true geniuses of Jazz, in that his sound and way of playing were completely unique. Like all the other great Jazz musicians you only have to hear a few notes to know that it was him. He was at home in diverse settings, and played with many of the greatest modern musicians – Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman to name but a few – but he always seemed to be able to impose his own musical personality whoever he was playing with. He’s also one of those characters that Jazz historians find difficult to categorize. Although he came to the fore in the late 50s and early 60s he didn’t really sound like anyone else of that period. In particular, his music wasn’t really free jazz, although he did play on many classic records in that idiom, so he doesn’t fit comfortably in the neat evolutionary sequences that historians like to construct.

He also died very young, just after his 36th birthday. He was on tour in Germany in 1964 when he collapsed onstage and was taken to hospital. Since he was a Jazz musician, the doctors thought that he had overdosed on drugs and left him on a saline drip to recover. They had no idea that in fact he was diabetic. He had probably become confused by the concentration and dosage instructions on the insulin he acquired while in Germany with the result that his blood sugar levels had become messed up. Simple treatment would have saved his life, but he died in hospital on June 29th 1964.

Eric Dolphy’s was  a virtuoso on many instruments, including saxophones (especially alto) and flute, but I found this one of him playing the bass clarinet unaccompanied. The tune, God Bless the Child, was co-written by Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzong Junior and is probably best known for Billie’s version which you can find here.  The Eric Dolphy version here was recorded in Germany, possibly during his last tour. I think it’s amazing. 

One Response to “God Bless the Child”

  1. There is a song by Frank Zappa called “The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue”. At the time, I hadn’t heard of Dolphy, and thought that Zappa had invented the name; it sounded like something he would have thought up. Then again, my first encounter with Starbucks Coffee was in a film I saw on a ferry to England (IIRC You’ve Got Mail with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan—not something I would normally watch, but might on a ferry)—and I also thought that it must have been invented for the film (like the ubiquitous “Metro Police”).

    Then again, “Frank Zappa” sounds like a made-up spoof rockstar name, but it is actually his real name.

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