Hello, Eric 

Jazz in Flight salutes the music of immortal reed and woodwind player Eric Dolphy at Yoshi's.

Eric Dolphy knocks people out. His alto sax, bass clarinet, and flute solos are transcribed and studied like holy texts. Tentative music students listen to him for the first time, then suddenly decide to give up playing. Composer Charles Mingus called him "a saint, in every way, not just his playing." And now an all-star lineup of musicians is paying tribute to his frantic serenity Monday night at Yoshi's (8 and 10 p.m., $20). All this for a man who died in 1964.

Other landmark jazz figures have their disciples, but the massively influential, inventively cerebral Dolphy inspires what could only be called cult devotion. One such devotee is drummer Anthony Brown. "Eric is best described as a musician's musician," explains Brown, who'll perform Monday with flutist James Newton, saxophonist Oliver Lake, pianist Jon Jang, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, and Dolphy veteran bassist Dr. Art Davis, in a benefit for nonprofit presenters Jazz in Flight. "He's holistic. That's the key to his longevity. That scene -- Dolphy, Ornette Coleman, Mingus, the whole concept of free jazz -- came out of California. Among them Dolphy was respected for his universal, holistic approach to music. He was taken by natural sounds, such as birds, always trying for other sonorities, but he was also influenced by other music: Eastern music, [Arnold] Schoenberg, [Kurt] Weill. Regardless of how abstract he got, you could still trace his influences."

Grammy Award-winner Brown, who teaches jazz at UC Berkeley as well as leading the Asian-American Orchestra, credits Dolphy's "unique and startling voice" with informing his own adventures in creative music and cross-culturalism. Brown is self-releasing his CD Monk's Mood, featuring saxman Steve Lacy (another Dolphy-ite), and is working on an ambitious Asian-style arrangement of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue with Bay Area ensemble Melody of China. But right now, he's thinking about Dolphy's Zen-like attitude. "He'd often buy groceries for other musicians if they needed help," notes Brown. "Eric was an otherworldly character." The assembled will no doubt reach for Dolphy's spirit Monday night. It's out there, in more ways than one.


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