Saturday, January 2, 2010

Dwayne Dolphin

Dwayne Dolphin

Dwayne Dolphin, 49, grew up in the Oakland/Hill District neighborhood of Schenley Heights, and graduated from Schenley in 1981.

DD started off banging the drums as a kid. When he was ten, his big bro gifted him with a $10 bass guitar; it ended up being one heck of a smart investment.

By the time he entered Schenley, he had caught the eye of Pitt's Dr. Nathan Davis, who took him out of school for a week to go to Guadeloupe as a member of Davis' Tomorrow Band. The pianist was Geri Allen, who was doing her graduate work at Pitt.

He was also taken under the wing of Spartan band teacher Ken Cook, who introduced him to the music of Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley. Dolphin spent his high school years playing with local jazz artists like Roger Humphries, Pete Henderson, and Carl Arter. All in all, a pretty good foundation for a teen with music in his blood.

After graduating from Schenley, Dolphin planned to attend Boston's Berklee School of Music. Fate intervened. He got a yell from Wynton Marsalis to come to work in New York - Dolphin claimed to not even know who Marsalis was at the time; the call was set up by a mutual bud - but hey, a gig's a gig. He accepted.

In 1982, at the age of 18, he joined Marsalis' band in the Big Apple, which also featured Branford Marsalis, Kenny Kirkland and North Versailles native, drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts. They toured the country, spreading jazz in their wake. Hey, they even scored a gig on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show.

After a couple of years, Dolphin joined sax master Hank Crawford. He considered Marsalis to be a mentor, but his time with Crawford was his boot camp in the regimen of jazz, where he truly began to learn his craft and explore its blues' roots.

After his time with Crawford, Dolphin went on to work with Hank Jones, Abbey Lincoln, Kenny Burrell, Clark Terry, Stanley Turrentine (he's on "T-Time"), John Hicks, Geri Allen (he toured the US, Europe, and Japan with her), Fred Wesley (Funkadelic trumpet man), Pee Wee Ellis, Maceo Parker, Wallace Roney, Don Byron, Oliver Lake, Nancy Wilson (he plays on her Grammy Award winnner "R.S.V.P"), Melba Moore, and Pharaoh Sander.

Dolphin is a master player; he plucks the upright, acoustic, electric, and piccolo basses. The piccolo bass is his own creation; it merges the sound of a lead guitar with a bass. In fact, his band has a separate bass man. Dolphin uses his piccolo bass as the lead instrument.

He's been based out of Pittsburgh since after his Marsalis days, first moving to North Side and now living in Franklin Park with his wife Robin and family. Dolphin likes the region's jazz scene, and he's leading his own group, the Piccolo Bass Band.

The PBB members are veteran sax man Lou Stellute, pianist Howard Alexander III, bass player Brian Sanders, and drummer Loren Mann II. Dolphin's also been in the studio, and his piccolo bass can be heard on “4 Robin” (2004 - dedicated to his better half) “Ming” (2006 - dedicated to his pooch Mingus) and "Pretty Girl" (2008 - dedicated to his mom).

He's performed with The Pittsburgh Ballet Theater's production of "Indigo In Motion," and can be heard all over the area performing at venues like the Backstage Bar and other jazz venues.

Dolphin plays at schools, festivals, and jazz-community events, too, befitting his day job as Adjunct Professor of Jazz Guitar at the Mary Pappert School of Music at Duquesne University.

Ya know, it's not odd that Pittsburgh loses its great jazz players to bigger cities; despite the town's tradition, the clubs and crowds are dwindling. What's odd is how many come back home to roost. Must be the water, hey?

But Pittsburgh's jazz flame will never flicker as long as guys like Dwayne Dolphin keep the torch lit.

Dwayne Dolphin and the Piccolo Bass Band

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