b. Earl Theodore Dunbar, 17 January 1937, Port Arthur, Texas, USA, d. 29 May 1998, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA. Teaching himself to play guitar and trumpet, Dunbar played in the Lincoln High School band, continuing to play music while studying pharmacy at Texas Southern University. After graduating and receiving a license to practice pharmacy he combined working at both careers. He also extended his music studies, this time with David Nathaniel Baker who introduced Dunbar to George Russell’s Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization that influenced his subsequent work. Concentrating on guitar, Dunbar was also influenced by the playing of Wes Montgomery, for whom he sometimes subbed in Indianapolis while maintaining a day job at a pharmacy across the street from the Ebony Missile Room, a club at which Montgomery was appearing.
During the 60s Dunbar continued to live this double life, for a time working with his brother, also a qualified pharmacist, in their parents’ drugstore and also for the Skillern drugstore chain. This job took him to Dallas where he heard and played with David ‘Fathead’ Newman and Red Garland. He then moved to New York together with saxophonist Billy Harper and it was here that Dunbar was eventually able to concentrate on making music rather than making out prescriptions. In 1970 he followed John McLaughlin in Tony Williams’ Lifetime. The year after this he became a faculty member at Livingston College, Rutgers, and he also wrote books on music theory and several tutors concerned with guitar technique. From time to time he played on motion picture soundtracks and also played in Broadway show pit bands. Mostly, however, he played jazz, working and frequently recording with an impressive range of top-flight musicians, including Sonny Rollins, McCoy Tyner, Gil Evans (1973’s Svengali), Kenny Barron (1974’s Peruvian Blue and the following year’s duo set, In Tandem) and Charles Mingus. Dunbar’s remarkable technical gifts and his fluency as soloist and improviser were never used at the expense of the form and content of his music making. He remained faithful to the core of his concept of jazz, and through his work as a teacher helped pass on to a new generation his enthusiasm and knowledge.