Eric Allan Dolphy was a jazz musician who played alto saxophone, flute and bass clarinet.
Dolphy was one of several groundbreaking jazz alto players to rise to prominence in the 1960s. He was also the first important bass clarinet soloist in jazz, and among the earliest significant flute soloists; he is arguably the greatest jazz improviser on either instrument. On early recordings, he occasionally played traditional B-flat soprano clarinet. His improvisational style was characterized by a near volcanic flow of ideas, utilizing wide intervals based largely on the 12-tone scale, in addition to using an array of animal- like effects which almost made his instruments speak. Although Dolphy's work is sometimes classified as free jazz, his compositions and solos had a logic uncharacteristic of many other free jazz musicians of the day; even as such, he was definitively avant-garde. In the years after his death his music was more aptly described as being too out to be in and too in to be out.
Dolphy was born in Los Angeles and was educated at Los Angeles City College. He performed locally for several years, most notably as a member of the big band led by Roy Porter. Dolphy finally had his big break as a member of Chico Hamilton's quintet, with Hamilton he became known to a wider audience and was able to tour extensively through 1958, when he parted ways with Hamilton and moved to New York City.