Though jazz has its fair share of premature deaths, few were as tragic as that of Eric Dolphy, both because it was avoidable and that it cut off a monumental player in his prime. The DVD issue of Last Date, a loving documentary from 1991, is an opportunity to celebrate Dolphy's significant, if sadly too short, legacy.
Centered around his last month alive and the titular record done in Holland with Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink, the documentary traces his LA roots up through the last Charles Mingus tour that led Dolphy to stay in Europe in 1964. The interviews are with a host of contemporaries like Richard Davis, Ted Curson, Nathan Davis and those involved in the Last Date recording. He is spoken of in the highest terms by all and all equally lament his passing, a blow to those who knew him and those just beginning to be influenced by his music.
The rare archival footage of Dolphy is riveting. Anyone who appreciates Dolphy's music will get another perspective seeing it in motion. The pictures provided by friends and family also show an intense young man whose future success was assured. Of particular interest to some is how the Europeans interviewed spoke of the effect on them that would become obvious shortly thereafter.
Eric Dolphy represents both jazz's triumphs and its tragedies. To think what he could have played and who he could have played it with had he not died at the heartbreaking age of 36 makes Last Date even sadder.
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