Eric Dolphy and John Coltrane knew each other long before they formally played together, having met when Coltrane was in Los Angeles with Miles Davis. They would often exchange ideas and learn from each other, and eventually, after many nights sitting in with Coltrane's band, Dolphy was asked to become a full member. Coltrane had gained an audience and critical notice with Miles Davis's quintet, but alienated some jazz critics when he began to move away from hard bop. Although Coltrane's quintets with Dolphy (including the Village Vanguard and Africa/Brass sessions) are now well regarded, they originally provoked Down Beat magazine to brand Coltrane and Dolphy's music as 'anti-jazz'. Coltrane later said of this criticism: "they made it appear that we didn't even know the first thing about music (...) it hurt me to see [Dolphy] get hurt in this thing."
The initial release of Coltrane's stay at the Vanguard selected three tracks, only one of which featured Dolphy. After being issued haphazardly over the next 30 years, a comprehensive box set featuring all of the recorded music from the Vanguard was released by Impulse! in 1997, called The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings. The set features Dolphy heavily on both alto saxophone and bass clarinet, with Eric the featured soloist on their renditions of "Naima". A later Pablo box set from Coltrane's European tours of the early 1960s collected more recordings which feature tunes not played at the Village Vanguard, such as "My Favorite Things", which Dolphy performs on flute.