For me, Eric Dolphy is the Louis Armstrong of the bass clarinet. I’ll never forget the first time I both heard and saw him for the first time. I had a John Coltrane videotape I rented from the library in the late 80’s. Trane was reaching down into the molten core of the Earth on Impressions. I didn’t know Eric was on deck to play. The camera switched to someone I had never heard, seen, or knew of. Suddenly- BAM- here was a human being drawing new constellations in the stars. I have never been the same.
Hearing Eric Dolphy for the first time changed my life completely. Louis Armstrong connected Love to music for me with the Back of Town Blues. Miles had shown me that jazz musician’s could be like great painters with his masterpiece of creation, My Funny Valentine live (My Grandfather was a great painter). John Coltrane plugged me into my soul listening to whatever I could find. When Eric hit that solo however, I was chosen. My life path was opened up before me. His solo taught me that doing something nobody had ever done before was a genuine path. Here was someone proving that the impossible was possible.
I have always been hesitant to research his chart, perhaps out of fear of what I might find. I’m not surprised then, that I have discovered the theme of power and transformation defining the narrative of his chart. This is my 5th chart investigation following Bird, Trane, Ornette, and Albert Ayler, and is dedicated to Yuko Otomo.
Eric was born on June 20th, 1928 at 2:45 pm, 8 years after Bird. He was born 2 years after Trane and 2 years before Ornette. His Sun was in Gemini. The Gemini trait of acquiring and sharing knowledge fits. Gemini’s often ask and then answer their own questions. They are naturally curious. What was Eric Dolphy looking for? Like Ornette, he was drawn to what didn’t exist previously. He proved certain things didn’t exist by creating them himself. Eric Dolphy willed the bass clarinet into existence as an individual voice in jazz. The Gemini quality of having more then one personality manifests in his three different voices, alto saxophone, bass clarinet, and flute. While he had a language he spoke on all of them, they could be considered different dialects. He was able to express different aspects of his personality in different ways on each horn. The three sounds are very different. He also satisfied an aspect of harmelodics taught by Ornette Coleman to have voices in the keys of C, B-flat, and E-flat. Ornette told me that on his classic album titled Free Jazz, Eric asked him what horn he wanted him to play, and Ornette told him whatever horn you want! The respect level that Ornette had for Eric was palpable. Eric’s internal world manifested in his external reality. In other words, what you hear Eric processing in his music is just like what he was processing internally, even at the soul level. His music was his inner world. Miles Davis is the ultimate example of this Gemini aspect.
Eric’s Sun and Venus were in the 8th house, the house of transformation. With Eric (the Sun) and Venus (His music) both in this house together, his soul and music were bonded with a singular mission: to transform himself, and then others by way of his own process. People from this house are willing to go to extreme’s in pursuit of their prime directive, and Eric’s was music. With this aspect, even your own health and well-being are secondary. It is an advanced course for a soul. I have written about this prior as dancing with death. Charlie Parker did this by way of substance abuse. Eric Dolphy was doing this at the soul level, though he never became addicted to drugs. He was driven by his own music and it’s transformative qualities. Like his friend Clifford Brown, he had no time to waste. Eric died at 36 years old on June 29th, 1964, 9 days after his birthday.
Looking further into this, Eric’s Ascendant was in Scorpio, the sign of extremes, transformation and indeed, death. Death always has negative connotations and just the word itself brings fear. It is of course along with birth the ultimate act of nature, and a power beyond our control. Dancing with death gives a human being access to spiritual power, and it is here that I believe the power of his music resided. While he may not have had power in his day to day living experience, his music had tremendous power, and still does. Musician’s like me are the evidence. There are so many more musician’s that have yet to hear his music, but when they do, they will be changed. Eric Dolphy, when playing his music, was not unlike an angel in this way. When you hear his music you are listening to true spiritual power manifested.
The way he played with his aggressive use of wide intervals, vocal expression and unusual sounds challenged people. His music contained a transformative quality from the planet Pluto that ran like a deep river. When you hear him you may be challenged on the surface but may also be challenged simultaneously and internally on a far deeper level. Pluto, which rules Scorpio, enforces spiritual change in which you have no choice other then to grow, a concept sometimes known as evolve or die. Eric was self-assertive, playing himself no matter what environment he was in. His music was a natural confrontation for some, and a beacon of light for others. In this way, his music could have scared people and they wouldn’t know why. Even Miles Davis had to defend himself when hearing Eric play. Not everyone was afraid of his music of course. John Coltrane was engaging music on a spiritually extreme level, and he and Dolphy were brothers who clearly understood each other on a deep level. In Eric, Ornette heard the highest level of harmelodics – being yourself no matter the cost or consequence, while challenging whatever everyone else thinks.
Eric’s Moon looms large in his chart in Leo in the 10th house of career. This is the aspect of a hero, of which Eric is to many musicians today. He was drawn towards great achievements. Although he only made it to 36 and undoubtedly had much, much more music to create, Eric’s recorded music is an absolutely incredible achievement. In some ways he completed his mission. Further aspects here include dignity, honor, loyalty and generosity. Eric was not competitive. He was not trying to break anything. He just wanted to be himself and for his music to exist. His music was his destiny, and a living manifestation of a dream that was coming true before he was called to dimensions above and beyond.
Eric had Jupiter in Taurus (expansion and work) and Mars in Aries (action and work) in the 6th house of work and service. I find these aspects extremely significant. At the core of his music is a staggering and stunning level of technique. He created a technique that many may find literally impossible. It shattered multiple boundaries. The aspects here suggest that Eric did the work to be able to play this transformative music. It is believed that his work ethic on his horns was constant and never ending. Perhaps it was even close to the work ethic of Coltrane, which would have been something they could have bonded on as friends. I have no doubt that Eric practiced thousands of hours. The expansion of Jupiter solidifies his mission that Eric seemed to have understood since he was young: to gather and create his music, and then activate and practice the use of it’s power.
Eric’s Mercury in Cancer in the 9th house manifested in the creative use of imagination in his music. Every time he played he was leaping and diving into the unknown within himself, where he always found something that wasn’t there before. It wasn’t just that he was looking where nobody else was, Eric himself was and still is the unknown.
Uranus in Aries in the 5th house was freedom and revolution meeting new ideas and action. This is creatively initiating innovative and radical ideas that create change. Eric was unfazed that he was doing something that wasn’t done before. What he did for the bass clarinet is what I have been trying to do for the alto clarinet for 15 years now. I have given thousands of hours to this based on Eric Dolphy’s example!
Sun square Venus was Eric’s ability to do so much collaboration. Besides doing it for work and as part of the work, Eric was able to take his very distinctive music and make it a part of someone else’s. His legacy in being part of the music of John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, Oliver Nelson, Chico Hamilton, and so many more speaks to this. I’ve read that he had planned a collaboration with Albert Ayler. He was able to and willing to give his music to others. Eric was of course also a leader recording and playing his own music extensively. What kind of incredible music would he have made if he had lived?
Looking at extended aspects, Jupiter opposite Uranus meant Eric only answered to himself, and could be hurt by attempts to label or criticize him. Jupiter opposite his Ascendant showed how he was open to all people who shared music as his prime directive. Uranus square Venus was how he had a different way of playing. Uranus square his sun showed openness and flexibility, and the ability to do things your own way, no matter how different your process may be. Finally, Uranus square Mercury shows how Eric could break from the pack with a different approach to music. The evidence is in.
Eric’s chart was mostly Fire and Water with only 9% Earth. Thus he lived almost entirely in his heart and mind, with material concerns only reaching 9%. He was 50% fixed. This translates to learning, accepting, and playing music his own way. Can anyone imagine him playing in any other way than the way he did? As he learned and evolved Eric found his own music, which was literally written into a soul stone. In the typical astrological paradox, Fixed people shy away from risk. It’s quite possible Eric didn’t perceive his music to be as radical as some others perceived. He was simply being himself, the natural and only path.
Eric Dolphy remains the benchmark for the courage to be yourself, no matter the cost or consequence. Trane, Ornette, and Albert Ayler all shared this with him. His life was a true manifestation of Cosmic Power. Not just in a general sense, Eric Dolphy and his music represent power and transformation taking form and shape in this world.
His music is still here with us, changing lives every day
today, tomorrow, and for centuries yet to come…
“Eric Dolphy was a saint-in every way, not just in his playing.” -Charles Mingus
“Whatever I’d say would be an understatement. I can only say my life was made much better by knowing him. He was one of the greatest people I’ve ever known, as a man, a friend, and a musician.” – John Coltrane