Dolphin Stories

Thursday, April 07, 2011

The Eric Dolphy Project: Le Moyne Celebrates the Namesake of Dolphy Day

8:43 AM :: 17312 Views

On April 7, Le Moyne College will recognize the 40th anniversary of the first celebration of Dolphy Day. The traditional spontaneous student event will still be celebrated later in April, but this year the College community will mark the 40th anniversary milestone in a much different way -- one that will focus on the namesake for this Le Moyne tradition: legendary jazz musician Eric Dolphy.

Just Who Was Eric Dolphy?

  • Born in Los Angeles  on June 20, 1928, to Sadie and Eric Dolphy Sr. 
  • Became interested in music as a young boy, taking private lessons throughout high school, playing small gigs, and eventually enrolling at Los Angeles City College to study music
  • Enlisted in the Army in 1950, later attending the Naval School of Music in Washington,  D.C.   
  • Discharged in 1953, he returned to Los Angeles to begin his professional career
  • Played alto saxophone, flute and bass clarinet 
  • Spent the next decade playing and recording nationally and internationally, eventually taking his place among the most influential names in jazz 
  • “Out to Lunch” – generally considered his signature album – is released in February 1964. 
  • While performing in Berlin, Germany, he fell ill, lapsing into a diabetic coma and eventually succumbing to a heart attack on June 29, 1964. He was 36 years old.


Why is it called "Dolphy Day"?

From “Against the Sky,” Le Moyne’s 50-year history book written by History Professor Dr. John Langdon.

"The Dolphy Day tradition began in the spring of 1971 as a spontaneous celebration of the first truly warm day after the vernal equinox. Legend proclaims that a supernatural being known as the "Grand Wizard" came to earth on the eve of that day and made his wishes known to a humble Le Moyne student. That student arranged to have the trees on campus decorated with toilet paper as a sign that everyone should feel free to cut classes, recline on the grass, and "groove." There were three prerequisites: the sun should be shining brightly (not a condition to be taken for granted in   Syracuse  ), the temperature should be warm, and the ground should be dry enough to retain its firmness throughout the day's festivities… Eric Dolphy, after whom Dolphy Day was named, was at first glance a relatively unlikely candidate for the honor. Born in   Los Angeles   in 1928, he was one of the most versatile and innovative jazz musicians of the 20th century….  Dolphy was selected as the namesake of Le Moyne's spring celebration for three reasons. First, he was well known among jazz aficionados on campus despite his death at age 36 seven years earlier. Second, a rock group known as the Mothers of Invention had acknowledged its musical debt to Dolphy by holding what it called "The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue" in   Los Angeles   one week before the Grand Wizard appeared at Le Moyne. Dolphy's name had therefore gained recent media exposure. Finally, the name "Dolphy" bears a distinct although not absolute resemblance to the name of the Le Moyne College mascot, the Green Dolphin…. for most of the revelers each spring, Eric Dolphy Day retains at least some of the magic it once possessed. In the words of the Wizard: "Strive as Eric Dolphy did for those realms of spirituality never before attained. Live in the eternal moment, heeding not the bells of artificial time and knowledge. Don't let it pass you by. It's like shakin' hands with an angel!"

comment By Joe MacDonough @ Thursday, March 29, 2012 8:32 PM
There will be ongoing controversy over Erc Dolphy and his connection to Dolphy Day Not in my mind. We could ask Dan Heindl who spoke with me about Eric Dolphy in December 1970. We could talk to Ed Grant who has not yet shared any of his recollections or experience of the first 4 Dolphy Days. We could talk to Jon "Sunny" Raes on his extensive musical history and his on campus achievements. And Bill King has some things to share. The point is the idea for Dolphy Day was more than has been made of it. And in that light I'm proud to have carried the Eric Dolphy part of Dolphy Day to its present place at LeMoyne.

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