Monday, July 14, 2014

In Memory of Albert Ayler, 1936-1970: Legendary Saxophonist, Composer, and Musical Visionary On His 78th Birthday--A Tribute to His Life And Work

(b. JULY 13, 1936--d.  November 25, 1970)


(Director: Kaspar Collin; 2007)
NOVEMBER 12, 2007

Kaspar Collin’s documentary portrait of the great saxophonist, who died in 1970, evinces a remarkable sympathy with its subject and his art. Born in Cleveland, Ayler first made a name for himself in Stockholm in 1962; Collin, who is Swedish, does terrific legwork to find the musician’s former girlfriend and sidemen, including one who recalls how the unheralded outsider dared to compare his importance to Picasso’s. The ne plus ultra of free jazz, Ayler performed the musical equivalent of speaking in tongues: he left chord changes and swinging rhythms far behind and emitted great spiritual wails and shrieks from his horn. Collin expertly evokes the revolutionary impact of Ayler’s arrival in New York in 1963, when an astonished John Coltrane yielded the bandstand to him. (At Coltrane’s request, Ayler played at his funeral, in 1967, and the film includes an archival recording of that harrowing performance.) The stirring presence and fascinating anecdotes of such bandmates as the drummer Sunny Murray, the judicious, evocative use of archival footage of New York in the mid-sixties, and a generous helping of the music itself combine to offer magical moments of a madeleine-like power, summoning up a vanished world that the music both thrived on and exemplified. Though the end of the film seems rushed—its seventy-nine minutes could have gone on for hours—it is nonetheless a cause for rejoicing. In English and Swedish.
SEPTEMBER 23, 2010

The mysterious death, in 1970, of Albert Ayler, the most visionary of jazz musicians—or, rather, the one who, definitively, broke jazz out of the bounds of staffs and scales and chords and bar lines toward the realms of sound and spirit as such—is the subject of a recently-published French book that I’d very much like to read: “Albert Ayler: Témoignages sur un Holy Ghost” (Albert Ayler: Testimony on a Holy Ghost), an oral history by the critic Franck Médioni. The filmed portrait of the musician, “My Name Is Albert Ayler,” by the Swedish director Kasper Collin makes for poignant and exhilarating viewing, and I’m eager to see what Médioni has come up with.

I was pointed in the book’s direction by yesterday’s blog post on Libération’s Web site from Bruno Pfeiffer, their jazz critic. There, he interviews one of Ayler’s great contemporaries, Archie Shepp (who lives in France), who explains that he met Ayler by chance on the streets of Greenwich Village in 1963.

We introduced ourselves. We agreed to meet again soon. You know, I come from the blues, I grew up with my father’s banjo. Free jazz didn’t knock me out, didn’t turn my head. I never thought of myself as a free-jazzman. But I had recently recorded with Cecil Taylor. The pianist had opened me up to new aspects of jazz. Without the doors opened by Cecil, I’d have wondered, when I heard him, what this guy was trying to do. The first time I heard Ayler, at the Jazz Gallery, I thought that the room was exploding in every direction. Nobody had ever heard a saxophonist play with such freedom, take such risks…. I understood that this guy was in the process of replacing one school with another.

Interesting that Shepp—one of the principal free-jazz musicians of the sixties (listen to him on the opening track of the 1966 studio recording “Mama Too Tight,” or “Three for a Quarter, One for a Dime,” from the 1966 recording “Live in San Francisco” or the fierce 1967 recording “Life at the Donaueschingen Music Festival”)—distances himself from it. But, even in the mid-sixties, while Ayler and Taylor were breaking away from the familiar jazz repertory, Shepp brought a bluff Ellingtonian romanticism to some of his recordings (also in evidence on “Mama Too Tight”). It’s also noteworthy that he mentions his father’s banjo—I’ve always thought that there’s something guitar-like in his playing. (I wrote about it several months ago.) Shepp, in recent decades, has been working more squarely within the jazz traditions that predate the musical revolutions of the sixties; it is tragic not to know what Ayler would have gone on to do.

'SPIRITUAL UNITY' (Recorded in 1964; all compositions by Albert Ayler)
"Trane was the Father, Pharoah [Sanders] was the Son, I am the Holy Ghost."
--Albert Ayler

Spiritual Unity is an album by the American jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler, with bassist Gary Peacock and percussionist Sunny Murray.
It was recorded for the ESP-Disk label and was a key free jazz recording which brought Ayler to international attention. It features two versions of Ayler's most famous composition, "Ghosts".

FROM JULY 10, 1964:


Albert Ayler - Lörrach / Paris 1966  (hatMUSICS)



Albert Ayler (tenor sax); Don Ayler (trumpet); Michael Samson (violin); William Folwell (bass); Beaver Harris (drums)

Recorded live by South Western Radio Network (SWF-Jazz-Session) in Lörrach, Germany, on November 7, 1966

Composed by Albert Ayler  


Faruq Z. Bey and the Magic Poetry Band - "Albert Ayler"

(Poem and Music by Faruq Z. Bey, 1942-2012)

Saxophonist Faruq Z. Bey passed away at the age of 70 on June 1, 2012 after a long fight with emphysema. This song, performed by Faruq as a tribute to legendary sax player Albert Ayler, was featured on the 2007 Magic Poetry Band album "The Kurl of the Butterfly's Tongue":

ALBERT AYLER: 1936-1970

they did not need you, Albert
they did not need and
we could not bear
the awful weight of
your song Albert
of Ancient Dynasties
of occult stellar
communities, of Ausars
insistant transmigration
& cosmic parody they
prefer to stare blank-eyed
into the god-damned maw
of instransigence, we
could not hold nor protect
you, Albert
we who are raw &
debauched would not
suffer for your
brutally olympian sweetness,
the invocation of power
ghosts, your untimely
candor, the burden of your
and so they come
loudspeakers in the nite
with jarring angular
voices comes red mists
& sulphiric yellow rains
so we sweat pus &
languid oils from the east
comes prophets unacquainted
with sin
comes the anti-cristo
comes in halting
arhythmic steps, & we're
to assume them dancers
they come with stones
& equations they claim
to love the brilliant imago

if you are the dali lama
then your light is dispursed
among raggedy-assed
saxophonists under the
evasive streetlights of

As for Me I must forage


SOLID GROUND: A New World Journal
Fall 1981
Volume 1 Number 1
Page 39
Editor: Kofi Natambu

Reprinted in Nostalgia For The Present: An Anthology of Writings (From Detroit)
April 1985
Editor: Kofi Natambu

Articles by Albert Ayler

“Untitled” International Times (UK), No. 10, March 13-26, 1967, p. 9.

“To Mr. Jones - I Had A Vision” The Cricket (US), 1969, p. 27-30.

Articles about Ayler

Francois Postif: "Albert Ayler, le Magicien." Jazz Hot (France), No. 213, October, 1965, p. 20-22.

Frank Smith: "His Name is Albert Ayler." Jazz (US), 11 November 1965, p. 11-14.

John Norris: "Three Notes with Albert Ayler." Coda (Canada), April./May 1966, p. 9-11.

Erik Raben: “I Dischi Di Albert Ayler.” Musica Jazz (Italy), August/September 1966, p. 36-39. (Revised version in Orkester Journalen (Sweden) May/June 1967.)

Michel Le Bris: "l'artiste volé par son art." Jazz Hot (France), No. 229, March 1967, p. 16-19.

P. Charles & J. L. Comolli: "Les secrets d'Albert le Grand." Jazz Magazine (France), No. 142, May 1967, p. 34-39.

W. A. Baldwin: “Albert Ayler—Conservative Revolution?” Jazz Monthly (UK), No. 151, September, 1967, p. 15-19, No. 152, October, 1967, p. 15-16, 31, No. 153, November, 1967, p. 9-13, No. 155, January, 1968, p. 10-13, No. 156, February, 1968, p.12-17.

Peter Smids: “A.A.” Gandalf (Netherlands), No. 24, December/January 1967-68.

Martin Schouten: “Albert Ayler En De Tranen Van Stan Laurel” Algemeen Handelsblad (Netherlands) 11 January 1969

Rudy Koopmans: “Albert Ayler: New Grass.” Jazz Wereld (Netherlands), No. 24, June/July 1969, p. 12-18.

Philippe Carles: “La Bataille d’Ayler n’est pas finie.” Jazz Magazine (France), No. 185, January 1971.

John Litweiler: "The Legacy of Albert Ayler." Down Beat (US) 1 April, 1971, p. 14-15, 29.

Ted Joans: "Spiritual Unity—Albert Ayler—Mister AA of Grade Double A Sounds." Coda (Canada), August, 1971,
p. 2-4

Philippe Carles, Patrice Blanc-Francard, Steve Lacy, Yasmina Khassani, Jean-Louis Comolli, Pierre Lattès, Daniel Caux, Delfeil de Ton, Jacques Réda: “Un Soir Autour d’Ayler.” Jazz Magazine (France), No. 192, September 1971, p. 26-31, 48-50.

Alain Tercinet, Chris Flicker & Gerard Noel: “Albert Ayler.” Jazz Hot (France), 1971, p. 22-25.

Han Schulte: “De Schreeuw Van Albert Ayler.” Jazz Nu (Netherlands), November 1980, p. 56-73.

Mike Hames: "The Death of Albert Ayler." The Wire (UK), No. 6, Spring 1984, p. 27-28.

Richard Williams: “Blowing In The Wind.” The Guardian (UK), 24 November 2000.

Jedediah Sklower: “Rebel with the wrong cause. Albert Ayler et la signification du free jazz en France (1959-1971.” Volume! La revue des musiques populaires (France), No. 6 (1&2), 2008, p. 193-219. (offsite)

John Fordham: “50 great moments in jazz: The shortlived cry of Albert Ayler.”The Guardian (UK), 27 September 2010. (offsite)

Albert Ayler - The Truth Is Marching In
By Nat Hentoff
Down Beat
17 November, 1966

IN A RESTAURANT-BAR IN Greenwich Village, tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler was ruminating on the disparity between renown and income. In his case, anyway. Covers of his albums are prominent in the windows of more and more jazz record stores; references to him are increasingly frequent in jazz magazines, here and abroad; a growing number of players are trying to sound like him. 

“I’m a new star, according to a magazine in England,” Ayler said, “and I don’t even have fare to England. Record royalties? I never see any. Oh, maybe I'll get $50 this year. One of my albums, Ghosts, won an award in Europe. And the company didn’t even tell me about that. I had to find out another way.”
All this is said in a soft voice and with a smile but not without controlled exasperation. Bitterness would be too strong a term for the Ayler speaking style. He is concerned with inner peace and tries to avoid letting the economic frustrations of the jazz life corrode him emotionally. It’s not easy to remain calm, but Ayler so far appears to be. 

In manner, he is reminiscent of John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet—a gentle exterior with a will of steel, a shy laugh, and a constant measuring of who you are and what you want. Ayler’s younger brother, trumpeter Don, is taller, equally serious, and somewhat less given to smiling.
“I went for a long time without work,” Albert said. “Then George Wein asked me to come to Europe with a group of other people for 11 days starting Nov. 3. I hope to be able to add five or six days on my own after I’m there. Henry Grimes and Sunny Murray will be with Don and me. But before I heard from Wein, I’d stopped practicing for three weeks. I was going through a thing. Here I am in Time, in Vogue, in other places. But no work. My spirits were very low.” 

“That’s what they call the testing period,” Don volunteered. “First you get exploited while the music is being examined to see if it has any value. Then when they find there's an ideology behind it, that there’s substance to it, they’ll accept it as a new form.”
“What is its ideology?” I asked. 

“To begin with,” Albert answered, “we are the music we play. And our commitment is to peace, to understanding of life. And we keep trying to purify our music, to purify ourselves, so that we can move ourselves—and those who hear us—to higher levels of peace and understanding. You have to purify and crystallize your sound in order to hypnotize. I’m convinced, you see, that through music, life can be given more meaning. And every kind of music has an influence— either direct or indirect—on the world around it so that after a while the sounds of different types of music go around and bring about psychological changes. And we’re trying to bring about peace. In his way, for example, that’s what Coltrane, too, is trying to do. 

“To accomplish this, I must have spiritual men playing with me. Since we are the music we play, our way of life has to be clean or else the music can’t be kept pure.”

This meant, he continued, that he couldn’t work with someone addicted to narcotics or who otherwise is emotionally unstable. 

“I couldn’t use a man hung up with drugs, because he’d draw from the energy we need to concentrate on the music,” Ayler said. “Fortunately, I’ve never had that problem. I need people who are clear in their minds as well as in their music, people whose thought waves are positive. You must know peace to give peace.”

“You can hear what we’re talking about,” Don emphasized, “in the sound of the musicians we’ve worked with. It’s a pure sound, like crystal.”

“Like Gary Peacock,” Albert said.
“That is,” he said, smiling thinly, “if you can hear it on the kind of recordings we make. Except maybe for Ghosts, we have yet to be recorded right. So far, they’ve just run us into a studio and out again with never time to get a real balance. That’s the worst way to exploit an artist. When I hear how well Coltrane is recorded on Impulse, I feel all the more keenly what is lost of us when we record.”
“We’re still in the position,” Don added, “of the guy blowing a harp on a corner years ago, and some record man comes up to him and says, “We’ll give you something to drink while you play into this tape recorder, and we’ll see what you can do!”
The image of the harmonica player on the corner stirred Albert to a reminiscent smile, and he said, “I used to blow footstool when I was 2. My mother told me how I’d hold it up to my mouth and blow, as if it were a horn.”

THE ELDER AYLER brother was born in Cleveland, Ohio, July 13, 1936.
“My father played violin, and he also played tenor somewhat like Dexter Gordon,” he said. “He played locally and traveled, but he never was where he wanted to be musically. He thought I might get to where he wanted to be; so when I was young, he insisted I practice, sometimes beating me to play when I’d rather be out on the street with the other kids.
“On Sundays I’d play duets with him at church. I started on alto, and gradually I began to work with various rhythm-and- blues combos, including Little Walter’s. As for training, my father taught me until I was 10, and from 10 to 18, I studied at the Academy of Music with Benny Miller, who had played in Cleveland with Bird and Diz and who had also spent about four years in Africa. My technique grew to the point that in high school, I always played first chair.”

For three years, Albert was in the Army. “It was at that time,” he said, “that I switched to tenor. It seemed to me that on the tenor you could get out all the feelings of the ghetto. On that horn you can shout and really tell the truth. After all, this music comes from the heart of America, the soul of the ghetto.”

“Do you feel, then, that only black men can play this kind of music?” I asked.

Ayler laughed and said, “There are ghettos everywhere, including in everybody’s head.”

“What this music is,” Don added, “is one individual’s suffering—through his imagination—to find peace.”

“In the Army,” Albert said, returning to autobiography, “we’d have to play concert music six and seven hours a day. But after that, we’d always practice to find new forms. The C.O. in the band would say about my playing during those times, ‘He’s insane. Don’t talk to him. Stay away from him.’ But all the guys—and Lewis Worrell was one of them—were just as interested as I was in getting deeper into ourselves musically.”

Two years of that Army service were spent in France, and in off-base hours, Ayler played at the Blue Note and other Paris clubs. On being discharged in 1961, he stayed in Europe for a time. There were eight months in Sweden during which he traveled through the country in a commercial unit that included a singer.

“I remember one night in Stockholm,” he said, “I started to play what was in my soul. The promoter pulled me off the stage. SO I went to play for little Swedish kids in the subway. They heard my cry. That was in 1962. Two years later I was back with my own group—Don Cherry, Sonny MJurray, Gary Peacock. The promoter woke up. He didn’t pull me off the stage that time.”

By 1963 Ayler was back in the United States. He was heard in New York with Pianist Cecil Taylor, and the word began to spread that whatever was going to happen in the music in the years ahead, Albert Ayler would be an important force. But lack of work at the time sent him back to Cleveland.

“Our parents are very understanding,” he said. “When the economics get to be too much, we’ve always been able to go back home, work out new tunes, and keep the music going.”

In 1964 Albert was back in Europe with bassist Peacock and drummer Murray, picking up trumpeter Cherry who was already there. Their tour included Sweden and Holland. Since then, records Ayler made in Europe and albums he recorded here for ESP have strengthened his reputation and have intensified curiosity about his work. But club and concert work remains exceedingly rare.

DON AYLER, born in Cleveland Oct. 5, 1942, was taught alto saxophone by his father. While studying at the Cleveland Settlement, he switched to trumpet when he was about 13.
“I enjoyed the trumpet more,” Don explained, “because for me, it was possible to deliver a more personal feeling and explore a greater range on that instrument.”

In 1963 the younger Ayler went to Sweden. “I wanted to free my mind from America,” he said, “and I wanted to find my own form—not only in music but in thought and in the way I used my imagination. After four months in Stockholm, I felt my imagination wasn’t being stimulated any more. And I wanted to be a free body, moving. So I went up to the North Pole. I hitchhiked three or four thousand miles to a place called Jokkmockk.”

“With a big pack on his back,” Albert added admiringly.
“In 1964,” Don continued, “I came back home to Cleveland, and for three months, I just stayed in the house, practicing nine and 10 hours a day.”

I asked the brothers about the primary influence on their music.
“Lester Young,” Albert answered. “The way he connected his phrases. The freedom with which he flowed. And his warm tone. When he and Billie Holiday got together, there was so much beauty. These are the kind of people who produce a spiritual truth beyond this civilization. And Bird, of course. I met him in 1955 in Cleveland, where they were calling me ‘Little Bird.’ I saw the spiritual quality in the man. He looked at me, smiled, and shook my hand. It was a warm feeling. I was impressed by the way he—and later, Trane—played the changes. 

“There was also Sidney Bechet. I was crazy about him. His tone was unbelievable. It helped me a lot to learn that a man could get that kind of tone. It was hypnotizing—the strength of it, the strength of the vibrato. For me, he represented the true spirit, the full force of life, that many of the older musicians had—like in New Orleans jazz—and which many musicians today don’t have. I hope to bring that spirit back into the music we’re playing.” 

“The thing about New Orleans jazz,” Don broke in, “is the feeling it communicated that something was about to happen, and it was going to be good.”
“Yes,” Albert said, “and we’re trying to do for now what people like Louis Armstrong did at the beginning. Their music was a rejoicing. And it was beauty that was going to happen. As it was at the beginning, so will it be at the end.”
As for Don’s influences, they were John Coltrane, Parker, Eric Dolphy, and, later, Clifford Brown and Booker Little.
“Also Freddie Webster,” he emphasized. “One of the best trumpet players there ever was.”
I asked the brothers how they would advise people to listen to their music.
“One way not to,” Don said, “is to focus on the notes and stuff like that. Instead, try to move your imagination toward the sound. It’s a matter of following the sound.”
“You have to relate sound to sound inside the music,” Albert said. “I mean you have to try to listen to everything together.”
“Follow the sound,” Don repeated, “the pitches, the colors. You have to watch them move.”
“This music is good for the mind,” Albert continued. “It frees the mind. If you just listen, you find out more about yourself.”
“It will educate people,” Don said, “to another level of peace.”
“It’s really free, spiritual music, not just free music,” Albert said. “And as for playing it, other musicians worry about what they’re playing. But we’re listening to each other. Many of the others are not playing together, and so they produce noise. It’s screaming, it’s neo-avant-garde music. But we are trying to rejuvenate that old New Orleans feeling that music can be played collectively and with free form. Each person finds his own form. Like Cecil Taylor has beautiful form. And listen to Ornette Coleman—rhythmic form.
“When I say free form, I don’t mean everybody does what he wants to. You have to listen to each other, you have to improvise collectively.”
“You have to hear the relationship of a free sound when it happens,” Don said, “and know it’s right and then know what the next one will be.”
“I’m using modes now,” Albert said, “because I’m trying to get more form in the free form. Furthermore, I’d like to play something—like the beginning of Ghosts—that people can hum. And I want to play songs like I used to sing when I was real small. Folk melodies that all the people would understand. I’d use those melodies as a start and have different simple melodies going in and out of a piece. From simple melody to complicated textures to simplicity again and then back to the more dense, the more complex sounds. I’m trying to communicate to as many people as I can. It’s late now for the world. And if I can help raise people to new plateaus of peace and understanding, I’ll feel my life has been worth living as a spiritual artist, that’s what counts.”
“Why,” I asked, “did bop seem too constricting to you?”
“For me,” Albert said, “it was like humming along with Mitch Miller. It was too simple. I’m an artist. I’ve lived more than I can express in bop terms. Why should I hold back the feeling of my life, of being raised in the ghetto of America? It’s a new truth now. And there have to be new ways of expressing that truth. And as I said, I believe music can change people. When bop came, people acted differently than they had before. Our music should be able to remove frustration, to enable people to act more freely, to think more freely.
“You see, everyone is screaming ‘Freedom,’ but mentally, everyone is under a great strain. But now the truth is marching in, as it once marched back in New Orleans. And that truth is that there must be peace and joy on earth. Music really is the universal language, and that’s why it can be such a force. Words, after all, are only music.”
“Sure,” Don said. “Music is everybody’s middle name, but people don’t know this. They don’t know they live by music all the time. Their thoughts are dancing; their words are music. People don’t realize that they are continually producing and reacting to sound vibrations. When you’re connecting—in work, in talk, in thought—you’re making music.”
I still wasn’t clear as to how music could bring peace.
“People talk about love,” Albert explained, “but they don’t believe in each other. They don’t realize they can get strength from each other’s lives. They don’t extend their imaginations. And once a man’s imagination dies, he dies.”
“Everybody,” Don said, “is afraid to find out the ultimate capacities of his imagination.”
“And our music, we think, helps people do just that,” Albert said firmly. “This music is our imagination put to sound to stimulate other people’s imaginations. And if we affect somebody, he may in turn affect somebody else who never heard our music.”
In an article on the new music by Robert Ostermann in The National Observer (June 7, 1965), Don Ayler had rejected jazz as a name for their music because, he said, “Jazz is Jim Crow. It belongs to another era, another time, another place. We’re playing free music.” But he had also said that their music was not exclusively an expression of their personal problems or those of the American black man. “We aren’t selfish enough to limit it to that,” Don had been quoted in the piece.
I asked him if he still felt that way.
“Yes,” said Don, “people have to get beyond color.”
“True,” Albert added, “but I think it’s a very good thing that black people in this country are becoming conscious of the strengths of being black. They are beginning to see who they are. They are acquiring so much respect for themselves. And that’s a beautiful development for me because I’m playing their suffering, whether they know it or not. I’ve lived that suffering. Beyond that, it all goes back to God. Nobody’s superior, and nobody’s inferior. “All we’re guilty of anyway,” said Don, “is breathing.”
“I’m encouraged about the music to come,” Albert said. “There are musicians all over the States who are ready to play free spiritual music. You’ve got to get ready for the truth, because it’s going to happen. And listen to Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders. They’re playing free now. We need all the help we can get. That Ascension is beautiful! Consider Coltrane. There’s one of the older guys who was playing bebop but who can feel the spirit of what’s happening now. He’s trying to reach another peace level. This is a beautiful person, a highly spiritual brother. Imagine being able in one lifetime to move from the kind of peace he found in bebop to a new peace.”
“The most important thing,” Don said, “is to produce your sound and have no psychic frustrations. And that involves
having enough to eat.”
“Yes,” Albert said. “Music has been a gift to me. All I expect is a chance to create without worrying about such basics as food.”
“To give peace,” Don said, “you have to have peace.”
Selected Bibliography of critical/literary texts and musical recordings by and about Albert Ayler in the United States and Europe:


As Serious As Your Life by Val Wilmer
London: Allison & Busby, 1977, 296 pages.

(current edition - London: Serpent’s Tail, 1999, 304 pages,   ISBN 1852427302)

Journalist and photographer, Val Wilmer chronicled the Free Jazz scene as it was happening. Her book, As Serious As Your Life is an acknowledged classic and the chapter on Albert Ayler is the source for much of the Jeff Schwartz biography.

Albert Ayler: His Life and Music by Jeff Schwartz
Unpublished, 1993. Available online.

Jeff Schwartz credits Val WIlmer as the source for much of his own book, however he also draws on a number of other sources to compile an oral history of Albert Ayler. All recording sessions are listed and the author adds his own critical evaluation.


‘Now and Then’ by Leroi Jones
First published in Tales
New York: Grove Press, 1968, 132 pages.
(currently available in:
The Fiction of Leroi Jones /Amiri Baraka
Lawrence Hill Books, 2000, 462 pages,
ISBN 155652353X)

‘Now and Then’, a short story by Leroi Jones, begins:
“This musician and his brother always talked about spirits. They were good musicians, talking about spirits, and they had them, the spirits, and soared with them, when they played. The music would climb, and bombard everything, destroying whole civilizations, it seemed.”

The name ‘Ayler’ never appears, but the connection is obvious.

Leroi Jones, later known as Amiri Baraka, was one of the most important writers of his generation. A respected poet, playwright, essayist and political activist, he was heavily involved in the 'free jazz' scene of the 1960s and was responsible for the recording session which resulted in Sonny’s Time Now. The LP was originally released on his own Jihad label and his performance of his poem Black Art with the group gave rise to a great debate (in England at least, in the pages of Jazz Monthly) about whether Albert Ayler’s music was politically motivated, or even, given the extreme imagery of Black Art, racist. Ayler's strange 'essay', ‘To Mr. Jones - I Had a Vision' was published in Baraka's magazine, The Cricket in 1969 and Baraka also recorded an album by Don Ayler for Jihad which has never been released. Baraka's relationship with the Ayler brothers raises a number of questions, none of which are answered in his contribution to the Holy Ghost book (see above). It would have been nice if he'd removed his poet's hat for a while and followed the advice of Joe Friday, but it was not to be.

Spirits Rejoice: Albert Ayler und seine Botschaft
(Spirits Rejoice: Albert Ayler and His Message)
by Peter Niklas Wilson
Hofheim, Germany: Wolke Verlag, 1996, 190 pages,

ISBN 3-923997-71-X

The only published full-length biography of Albert Ayler (unfortunately unavailable in an English translation) was written by Peter Niklas Wilson. Wilson, who sadly died in October 2003, was a German musician, writer, broadcaster and academic who wrote a series of books about jazz musicians, including Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, Charlie Parker, Anthony Braxton and Albert Ayler. The Ayler book contains an extensive biography, an analysis of Ayler's style and an annotated discography. Wilson met with Edward and Donald Ayler and also interviewed many musicians associated with Albert Ayler, including Sunny Murray, Michel Samson, Milford Graves, Steve Tintweiss, Bobby Few and Gary Peacock.

In June 2013 an Italian translation was published:

Albert Ayler. Lo spirito e la rivolta
Translated and edited by Francesco Martinelli and Antonio Pellicori
Italy: Edizioni ETS, 2013, 274 pages

ISBN: 9788846735720

Albert Ayler Holy Ghost by various
U.S.: Revenant Records, 2004, 208 pages.
Included in the Holy Ghost box set.

Although it cannot be purchased separately and two sections of the book relate directly to the 9 CDs of music in the Holy Ghost box set, there is enough other material to make this qualify as the first ‘proper’ book about Albert Ayler published in the English language. The contents are as follows:

1. ‘Spiritual Unity’ by Val Wilmer
(An updated version of the chapter in As Serious As Your Life)

2. ‘You Think This Is About You?’ by Amiri Baraka
(Amiri Baraka’s memories of Ayler in his own inimitable style)

3. ‘Whence’ by Ben Young
(Ayler’s influences)

4. ‘Albert Ayler in Europe: 1959-62’ by Marc Chaloin
(A meticulously researched essay about Ayler’s first visits to Europe.)

5. ‘Apparitions of Albert the Great in Paris and Saint-Paul-de-Vence’
by Daniel Caux
(Ayler at the Fondation Maeght)

6. ‘Witnesses’ compiled by Ben Young
(Reminiscences of Ayler)

7. ‘Tracks’ by Ben Young
(The sleevenotes to the 9 CDs in the box)

8. ‘Sidemen’ by Ben Young, Tom Greenwood and Matti Konttinen
(Brief biographies of all the other musicians on the CDs)

9. ‘Appendix’
A. ‘Close Encounter with Holy Ghost (and Horn) by Carl Woideck
(A short article about Ayler’s saxophones)

B. ‘Sightings’ by Ben Young and Carlos Kase
(An extensive Ayler sessionography)

Essays, etc.

Albert Ayler, Sunny Murray, Cecil Taylor, Byard Lancaster, Kenneth Terroade : on disc & tape
by Mike Hames
M. Hames, 1983, 63 pages - out of print.
‘Privately printed by the author with the financial assistance of the Arts Council of Great Britain.’

La Marseillaise by Marc-Edouard Nabe
France: La Dilettante, 1989, 38 pages - out of print.

An essay on the French national anthem (no English translation), published in a limited edition (666 copies) on the bicentenary of the French Revolution. According to Paul Jimenes (who first let me know about the book):
“The author says that the Marseillaise he prefers is that of Ayler, and that the official french national hymn bothers him. He says why he loves Ayler. It's not a historical book. I have the impression that Nabe made variations on a theme, that he tries to write as Ayler played ... and I reckon that the author reached his aim (we can feel the beginning of the songs, with Ayler and his brother calling people on a slow rhythm, then the frantic choruses, we can feel the rage of the drums, and then the sort of decreasing of the tension...). I think this book is a good description of Ayler's sound and music.”

(Click image to enlarge.)

Improvisation analysis of selected works of Albert Ayler, Roscoe Mitchell and Cecil Taylor
by Jane Martha Reynolds
PhD thesis (unpublished) University of Wisconsin - Madison, 1993.

David Sanders has provided the following description:

“The main discussion of Albert Ayler in this thesis fills the first chapter, summarized again later in the conclusion. It outlines Ayler’s unconventional improvisation and his composition styles and techniques, including his use of wide vibrato, motivic riffing, overblown notes, and folk themes. The main focus of the chapter is an analysis of Ayler’s improvisation on the version of Ghosts from Prophecy. Reynolds claims that Ayler’s improvisation progressively becomes more and more timbrally based (she means further away from the theme and traditionally sounded notes in general) until tonal references are the only structural device linking his improvisation to the composition.”

Tous les blues d'Albert Ayler by Simon Guibert
E-Dite, France, 2005, 133 pages.

ISBN 2846081638

Based on the radio documentary by Simon Guibert and Yvon Croizier broadcast on France Musique in February 2005.
Albert Ayler : Holy Ghost

by Scott Hreha & Matthew Sumera
November 2004

According to Amiri Baraka, Albert Ayler's favorite rhetorical barb was, "You think it's about you?"—a tactic that at once challenged and disarmed its recipient, especially after Ayler confessed that it wasn't about him either. So who (or what) was it about then? No analysis of Ayler's music will ever trivialize the importance of religion as a primary influence on both his philosophy and compositional/improvisational devices; at certain points in his career, interviews with and published writings by Ayler directly assert that he was little more than a mortal conduit for the voice of God, to an oftentimes troubling extent. But if there is any question as to whether or not it was indeed all about a higher power in the extemporaneous moments in which Ayler so often musically lived, Revenant's new addition to the saxophonist's legacy does little to dispel the myths surrounding Ayler's life. Billed as "the first comprehensive attempt to construct a monument in sound to Albert Ayler", what is perhaps most interesting about the Revenant set is the construction itself. For presumably by now, Ayler's music is strong enough to stand alone.

If the name chosen for the package—a play on Ayler's famous permutation of the Christian trinity that cast Coltrane as the Father, Pharoah Sanders as the Son, and himself as the Holy Ghost—isn't the most obvious tip-off that Ayler's mystique is of principal importance in this (re)telling of the story, then the presentation itself closes the deal. There's good reason why Revenant has won awards for similarly extravagant undertakings; without getting too far into a table of contents, let it suffice to say that this set is no exception to their established standard of both aesthetic and partisan detail. But beyond the gig poster reproductions and 200-page hardbound book, there is a sort of contrived shamanism at work in the pressed dogwood flower and plastic-molded "spirit box" that reflects a materialistic iconography entirely disconnected from the presumed sanctity of Ayler's musical message.

As Ben Ratliff, writing in the New York Times, has already commented, the book's essays are little more than pat retellings of the now mythic Ayler story—a life spent as a misunderstood, precocious, and later anarchistic/visionary artist. Val Wilmer's piece is simply an updated version of her As Serious As Your Life chapter; Amiri Baraka's solipsistic essay is a rehashing of his Black Music-era writings, lacking a bit of the vitriol but also, unfortunately, most of the poetics; and Marc Chaloin's meticulously researched reconstruction of Ayler's post-Army, pre-Spiritual Unity time boasts another handful of primary sources to reinforce the tale. While there is some merit in having these materials compiled, there is little new here and even less that helps clear up the polemics and pseudo-religiosity continuously surrounding Ayler. Project Supervisor Ben Young's annotations, on the other hand, contribute invaluable insight to the existing musicological analysis regarding Ayler and it's appropriate and compelling that his contributions comprise roughly half of the book's content. In many ways, Young is the unsung hero of this entire endeavor.

The audio interviews with Ayler himself—found on discs eight and nine of the set—make up for some of the book's obfuscations by providing glimpses both brief and exhaustive into Ayler's disposition and worldview at different points in his career. The 1964 and 1966 interviews in Copenhagen present flip sides of Ayler's state of mind, practically bookending the period of his most fertile musical development. In 1964, Ayler sounds upbeat and optimistic on the eve of returning to the US, confident that he will reconvene his group with Peacock and Murray and insistent that his music will soon be accepted as a legitimate progression of jazz. 1966 finds him more resigned and vague in tone, wanting to clarify the fact that his music is not about protest but rather a message of peace.

A July 27, 1970 interview with Daniel Caux is conducted with a calmer, more reflective Ayler who largely dwells on autobiography; Val Wilmer's essay in his own words, so to speak. He does add some fuel to the long-debated fire surrounding his "commercial" turn with New Grass and signing with Impulse! Records by stating that producer Bob Thiele "told" him he had to sing. He doesn't seem all that bitter about it, however, rather sounding pleased to finally be able to make significant money as an artist (of course, this being Free Jazz we're talking about, significant is certainly a relative term.) Ayler is revealing through his reticence to a question about the connections between his music and the Black Power/Black Arts movement, distancing himself from Baraka and coolly dismissing Larry Neal's scathing review of New Grass in The Cricket—in light of the man's own words, then, it's interesting that Baraka would be included at all in Holy Ghost, much less as a featured contributor. The box's fundamentally Afrocentric design elements also seem suspect.

The interview with Kiyoshi Koyama, conducted two days earlier in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, is easily the set's most priceless non-musical treasure. More conversational than Q&A in tone, Ayler speaks in depth on some issues very close at hand during that late stage of his life: His settling down with companion Mary Maria in Brooklyn and the growing infrequency of his trips to the East Village, and his allusion to the fact that his brother Donald had been staying in Cleveland to take care of their ailing mother are just two examples of the conversation's loose vibe. The candid setting even lets Ayler reveal a rare sense of artistic conceit, whether implying that Sonny Rollins would be jealous of the strength of Ayler's tenor tone (and presumably, few wouldn't be), or telling an interrupting Allen Blairman that he had better keep the intensity level high at that evening's concert because Ayler was "gonna be vibratin' that plastic ceiling off".

Koyama's interview also provides greater insight into the Impulse! era than has previously been available; as Ben Young outlines in his discussion of the New Grass outtakes, the interviews and the music work in tandem to give a palpable sense of closure to that unresolved aspect of Ayler's career.

As to the music presented, for the Ayler fan it is what one would expect: A series of striking performances (bootleg quality, mostly) ranging from the European days through the early trio with Peacock and Murray (still the most compelling music of his career), to the quartet with Cherry, through to the Michel Sampson era, and ending in Saint-Paul-de-Vence. Notable side-performances include a track with Cecil Taylor (a nice companion to Revenant's masterpiece release of Taylor's Café Monmartre recordings), a rather unfocused reading of "Upper and Lower Egypt" with the Pharoah Sanders Ensemble, and an absolutely paint-peeling Don Ayler Sextet, which turns out to be the real revelation of the entire box, sounding like a cross between a bullfight and a bloody insurrection. As a box set devoted to a central figure of the jazz avant-garde, it is certainly a valuable document to have. As a "monument in sound" to Ayler, it is suspect for both what it presents as well as what it lacks.

On the presentation side, anyone coming to Ayler cold would unfortunately come away with a rather skewed version of the man's music. What one hears throughout the box are performances attended seemingly by three people in the audience, all clapping uncomfortably, and recorded by a gentleman in the back with a microphone hidden in his coat pocket. Hard to make an argument about the centrality of Ayler without evidence to support those statements—and make no mistake, this is a document fundamentally about canon formation. Based upon the evidence that Revenant presents, one might come away with the impression that Ayler was a profoundly powerful saxophonist who was never heard and never recorded. While he certainly was under-heard and under-recorded, Ayler was also well known—enough at least according to Revenant to be "THE catalytic force in defining the sound of the tenor in Free Jazz." (It is this kind of hyperbole that unfortunately undermines the set as a whole.) Compared to Beauty is a Rare Thing, Berlin '88, or the recent Ayler Records set devoted to a similarly overlooked genius, Jimmy Lyons, Holy Ghost somehow feels like it is underselling the man. While all of the essential songs and tunes are here, for better and for worse, Ayler's recorded output is inextricably linked to the solvency of the ESP label. Due to, no doubt, contractual reasons, those items are not in the set and it is consequently why Holy Ghost can never be the definitive Ayler collection.

Luckily, Ayler's other recordings (including those on Impulse!) are available, and the Revenant set helps immeasurably to flesh out the story, as opposed to being the sole documentation. But it is the Revenant argument that remains troubling: "Albert Ayler. Heard ABOUT more than heard. But that's all about to change." This sort of overzealousness cannot help Revenant's (or the Ayler estate's) cause and undoubtedly will not sell any more copies of the set. While they managed to treat Cecil Taylor with understated elegance, there is a sense that Ayler somehow needs to be built up more than necessary. It is an odd feeling that pervades the entire box and ultimately cannot help but mar Holy Ghost. But perhaps it's only fitting that, even 35 years beyond his time on the planet, Albert Ayler's music continues to have to burn through both hype and hysteria, depending upon one's proclivities. It is his sound, after all, that ushers forth from the discs as powerful as ever, regardless of what constructs we might wish to place upon it.

2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000

Albert Ayler
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Background information
Birth name Albert Ayler
Born July 13, 1936
Cleveland Heights, Ohio, United States
Died November 25, 1970 (aged 34)
East River, New York, United States
Genres Jazz, free jazz, avant-garde jazz
Occupations Saxophonist, bandleader, composer
Instruments Tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, soprano saxophone
Years active 1952–1970
Labels Bird Notes, ESP-Disk, Impulse!, Ayler Records
Associated acts Gary Peacock, Don Cherry, Sunny Murray, Roswell Rudd, Alan Silva, Donald Ayler, Henry Vestine

Albert Ayler (July 13, 1936 – November 25, 1970) was an American avant-garde jazz saxophonist, singer and composer.

Ayler began recording music during the free jazz era of the 1960s, but some critics claim that, although his style is undeniably original and unorthodox, it does not adhere to the generally accepted critical understanding of free jazz.[1] In fact, Ayler’s style is difficult to categorize in any way, and while some critics and fans are convinced of his genius, others insist that his attempts at rethinking jazz music were largely unsuccessful. Avant-garde jazz seeks to elicit a reaction from its listeners, and Ayler, maybe more than any other avant-garde musician of his time, evoked incredibly strong and disparate reactions from critics and fans alike.[2] However, the risks Ayler took as a saxophonist and as a composer, whether successful or unsuccessful, have certainly inspired subsequent jazz musicians and continue to stretch both fans’ and critics’ understanding of the limits of jazz music.[3]

His trio and quartet records of 1964, such as Spiritual Unity and The Hilversum Session, show him advancing the improvisational notions of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman into abstract realms where whole timbre, and not just mainly harmony with melody, is the music's backbone. His ecstatic music of 1965 and 1966, such as "Spirits Rejoice" and "Truth Is Marching In", has been compared by critics to the sound of a brass band, and involved simple, march-like themes which alternated with wild group improvisations and were regarded as retrieving jazz's pre-Louis Armstrong roots.[4]

Contents [hide]
1 Ayler's Sound
2 Biography
2.1 Early life and career
2.2 Early Recording Career
2.3 Final years
3 Influence and legacy
4 Discography
5 Notes
6 References
7 External links

Ayler's Sound

Ayler routinely showcased his highly untraditional personal saxophone style in very conventional musical contexts, including children’s songs, march melodies, and gospel hymns.[5] However, Ayler’s wild energy and intense improvisations transformed them into something nearly unrecognizable. Ayler took a deconstructive approach to his music, which was characteristic of the free jazz era. Phil Hardy says that Ayler “dismantled” melody and harmony in order to more deeply explore “the physical properties” of his saxophone.[6] Ayler’s music attempts to strip jazz of all its former precepts. Ayler wished to free himself and his band mates to improvise, relate to one another, and relate to their instruments on a more raw, “primal” level.[7] This intensity, the extremes to which Ayler took his tenor saxophone, is the most defining aspect of his sound. His style is characterized by timbre variations, including squeaks, honks, and improvisation in very high and very low registers.[8] He possessed a deep blistering tone—achieved by using the stiff plastic Fibrecane no. 4 reeds[9] on his tenor saxophone—and used a broad, pathos-filled vibrato.[10]

Ayler experimented with microtonality in his improvisations, seeking to explore the sounds that fall between the notes in a traditional scale.[11] This technique was best showcased when he played, as he often did, without a piano, backed only by bass and drums. Ayler also resisted the standard swing beat, and instead built momentum through the frenetic speed of his improvisatory lines, which he forcefully overblew from his saxophone.[12] Jazz historian Ted Gioia describes Ayler as a “virtuoso of the coarse and anomalous,” and claims that Ayler aimed to break away from the constraints of playing notes and instead to “enter into a new realm in which the saxophone created ‘’’sound’’’.”[13] Ayler undeniably succeeded in doing this; he produced sounds that were unlike any made by jazz saxophonists before him. However, while some found a powerful artistic voice, even musical genius, in these sounds, others found only noise.


Early life and career[

Born in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, Ayler was first taught alto saxophone by his father Edward, who was a semiprofessional saxophonist and violinist. Edward and Albert played alto saxophone duets in church and often listened to jazz records together, including swing era jazz and then-new bop albums.[14] Ayler’s upbringing in the church had a great impact on his life and music, and much of his music can be understood as an attempt to express his spirituality, including the aptly titled Spiritual Unity, and his album of spirituals, Goin’ Home, which features “meandering” solos that are meant to be treated as meditations on sacred texts, and at some points as “speaking in tongues” with his saxophone.[15]

This aspect of Ayler’s music was clearly aligned with the beliefs of jazz saxophonist John Coltrane, who was profoundly affected by the “otherworldly” sounds of Ayler’s music. This effect is especially evident in Coltrane’s albums Meditations and Stellar Regions.[16] Coltrane served as a mentor throughout Ayler’s life, providing financial and professional support.[17] Ayler’s experience in the church and exposure to swing jazz artists also impacted his sound: his wide vibrato was similar to that of gospel saxophonists, who sought a more vocal-like sound with their instruments, and to that of brass players in New Orleans swing bands.[18]

Ayler attended John Adams High School on Cleveland's East Side, and graduated in 1954 at the age of 18. He later studied at the Academy of Music in Cleveland with jazz saxophonist Benny Miller. Ayler also played the oboe in high school. As a teenager, Ayler’s understanding of bebop style and mastery of standard repertoire earned him the nickname of “Little Bird", after Charlie “Bird” Parker, in the small Cleveland jazz scene.[19]

In 1952, at the age of 16, Ayler began playing bar-walking, honking, R&B-style tenor with blues singer and harmonica player Little Walter, spending two summer vacations with Walter's band.[20] In 1958, after graduating from high school, Ayler joined the United States Army, where switched from alto to tenor sax and jammed with other enlisted musicians, including tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine. Ayler also played in the regiment band. In 1959 he was stationed in France, where he was further exposed to the martial music that would be a core influence on his later work. After his discharge from the army, Ayler tried to find work in Los Angeles and Cleveland, but his increasingly iconoclastic playing, which had moved away from traditional harmony, was not welcomed by traditionalists.[21]

Ayler relocated to Sweden in 1962, where his recording career began, leading Swedish and Danish groups on radio sessions, and jamming as an unpaid member of Cecil Taylor's band in the winter of 1962-1963. (Long-rumored tapes of Ayler performing with Taylor's group were released by Revenant Records in 2004, as part of a ten-CD set.[22]) The album My Name Is Albert Ayler is a session of standards recorded for a Copenhagen radio station with local musicians including Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen and drummer Ronnie Gardiner, with Ayler playing tenor and soprano on tracks like "Summertime".

Early Recording Career

In 1963, Ayler returned to the US and settled in New York City, where he continued to develop his personal style and occasionally played alongside free jazz pianist Cecil Taylor.[23] 1964 was the most well-documented year of Ayler’s career, during which he recorded many albums, the first of which was Witches and Devils in March of that year.[24] Ayler also began his rich relationship with ESP-Disk Records in 1964, recording his breakthrough album (and ESP’s very first jazz album) Spiritual Unity for the then-fledgling record label. ESP-Disk came to play an integral role in recording and disseminating free jazz. Spiritual Unity featured the trio that Ayler had just assembled that summer, including bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Sunny Murray. The liner notes of Spiritual Unity include a brief description of the musicians on that day, July 10, 1964, in the Variety Arts Recording Studio.[25]

Just before 1 PM, Sunny Murray arrived, a large, genial walrus…Gary Peacock was next, tall, thin, ascetic looking, and soft spoken…Albert Ayler was last, small, wary, and laconic.[26]
Ayler produced three other albums for ESP in 1964: Spirits Rejoice, Bells, and New York Eye and Ear Control.[27]

On July 17, 1964 the members of this trio, along with trumpet player Don Cherry, alto saxophonist John Tchicai, and trombonist Roswell Rudd collaborated in recording New York Ear and Eye Control, a freely improvised soundtrack to filmmaker Michael Snow’s film of the same name.[28] During this time, Ayler began to garner some attention from critics, although he was not able to foster much of a fan following. However, later in 1964, Ayler, Peacock, Murray, and Cherry were invited to travel to Europe for a brief Scandinavian tour, which too yielded some new recordings, including The Copenhagen Tapes, Vibrations, and The Hilversum Session.

Ayler recorded Bells on May 1, 1965. It is a ferociously-paced twenty minute improvisation featuring his signature military-march influenced melodies. Spirits Rejoice was recorded on September 23, 1965 at Judson Hall in New York City, and features a much larger band than the sparse trio of his earlier album Spiritual Unity. The Encyclopedia of Popular Music describes Spirits Rejoice as a “riotous, hugely emotional and astonishingly creative celebration of the urge to make noise.” [29] Both albums feature Albert’s brother, trumpet player Donald Ayler, who translated his brother’s expansive approach to improvisation to the trumpet. Donald played with Albert until he experienced a debilitating nervous breakdown in 1967.[30]

In 1966 Ayler was signed to Impulse Records at the urging of Coltrane, the label's star attraction at that time.[31] But even on Impulse, Ayler's radically different music never found a sizable audience. Ayler’s first set for Impulse was recorded a few weeks before Christmas in 1966, titled Albert Ayler in Greenwich Village. Ayler performed with his brother, Edgar Sampson, Beaver Harris, Henry Grimes, and Bill Folwell, and his Coltrane was in attendance. For a tune titled “For John Coltrane,” Ayler returned to the alto saxophone for the first time in years.[32]

Ayler first sang on a recording in a version of “Ghosts” performed in Paris in 1966, in which his vocal style was similar that of his saxophone, with an eerie disregard for pitch.[33] Ayler continued to experiment with vocals for the rest of his career. In 1967, John Coltrane died of liver cancer, and Ayler was asked to perform at his iconic funeral.[34] It is said that during his performance, Ayler ripped his saxophone from his mouth at two points: once, to emit a cry of anguish, the other a cry of joy to symbolize his friend and mentor’s ascension into heaven.[35]

Final years

For the next two and half years Ayler began to move from a mostly improvisatory style to one that focused more closely on compositions.[36] This was largely a result of pressures from Impulse who, unlike ESP-Disk, placed heavier emphasis on accessibility than artistic expression.[37] In 1967 and 1968, Ayler recorded three LPs that featured the lyrics and vocals of his girlfriend Mary Maria Parks and introduced regular chord changes, funky beats, and electronic instruments.[38]

Ayler himself sang on his album New Grass, which hearkened back to his roots in R&B as a teenager. However, this album was remarkably unsuccessful, scorned by Ayler fans and critics alike.[39] Ayler staunchly asserted that he wanted to move in this R&B and rock-and-roll direction, and that he was not simply succumbing to the pressures of Impulse and the popular music of that day, and it is true that Ayler heavily emphasizes the spirituality that seems to define the bulk of his work.[40] New Grass begins with the track “Message from Albert,” in which Ayler speaks directly to his listener, explaining that this album was nothing like his ones before it, that was of “a different dimension in [his] life.” He claims that, “through meditation, dreams, and visions, [he has] been made a Universal Man, through the power of the Creator…”

In 1968, Ayler submitted an impassioned, rambling open letter to Cricket magazine entitled “To Mr. Jones—I Had a Vision,” in which he describes startling apocalyptic and largely nonsensical spiritual visions.[41] He “saw in a vision the new Earth built by God coming out of Heaven,” and implores the readers to share the message of Revelations, insisting that “This is very important. The time is now.”[42]

His final album, Music Is the Healing Force of the Universe, featured rock musicians such as Henry Vestine of Canned Heat alongside jazz musicians like pianist Bobby Few. This was a return to his blues-roots with very heavy rock influences, but did feature more of Ayler’s signature timbre variations and energetic solos than the unsuccessful New Grass.

In July 1970 Ayler returned to the free jazz idiom for a group of shows in France (including at the Fondation Maeght), but the band he was able to assemble (Call Cobb, bassist Steve Tintweiss and drummer Allen Blairman) was not regarded as being of the caliber of his earlier groups.[43]

Ayler disappeared on November 5, 1970, and he was found dead in New York City's East River on November 25, a presumed suicide.[44] For some time afterwards, rumors circulated that Ayler had been murdered. Later, however, Parks would say that Ayler had been depressed and feeling guilty, blaming himself for his brother's problems. She stated that, just before his death, he had several times threatened to kill himself, smashed one of his saxophones over their television set after she tried to dissuade him, then took the Statue of Liberty ferry and jumped off as it neared Liberty Island.[45] He is buried in Cleveland, Ohio.

Influence and legacy

At no point in his career was Ayler allowed the comfort of a steady audience. Despite largely positive critical reception, he remained poor for his entire life and often sought financial support from his family and fellow musicians, including John Coltrane.[46] However, he never attempted to make his music more accessible to a wider audience, even discouraging musical interpretations of his work in favor of social and spiritual issues, which were obscured by seemingly nonsensical titles.[47]

However, Ayler’s influence is still felt, and not only amongst jazz musicians. His wild sound foreshadowed contemporary hardcore, noise, and experimental rock styles.[48] In a review for Pitchfork, Mark Richardson likens Ayler to Jeff Mangum of the indie rock group Neutral Milk Hotel, claiming that both musicians produce music which feels remarkably “too big for its container, music that seems to wobble and burst into pieces because it’s so dense with affect.”[49]

The Swedish filmmaker Kasper Collin was so inspired by Ayler’s music and life that he produced a documentary by the name of My Name is Albert Ayler, which includes interviews with ESP-Disk founder Bernard Stollman, along with interviews with Ayler’s family and band mates.[50]

On his 1969 album Folkjokeopus, English guitarist/singer-songwriter Roy Harper, dedicated the song "One for All" ("One for Al") to Albert Ayler, "who I knew and loved during my time in Copenhagen".[51][52] Harper considered Ayler to be "one of the leading jazzmen of the age".[53] In the Folkejokeopus liner notes, Harper states, "In many ways he [Ayler] was the king".


Year Album Original Issue
1962 The First Recordings Vols. 1 & 2 Bird Notes Records
1963 My Name is Albert Ayler Black Lion Records
1964 Witches & Devils Freedom Records
1964 Goin' Home Black Lion
1964 Prophecy [Live] ESP
1964 Albert Smiles With Sunny [Live] Inrespect Records
1964 Spiritual Unity ESP
1964 New York Eye And Ear Control ESP
1964 Albert Ayler [Live] Philology Jazz Records
1964 The Copenhagen Tapes Ayler Records
1964 Vibrations Freedom
1964 The Hilversum Session Osmosis Records
1965 Bells [Live] ESP
1965 Spirits Rejoice ESP
1965 Sonny's Time Now Jihad Records
1966 At Slug's Saloon, Vol. 1 & 2 [Live] ESP
1966 Lörrach / Paris 1966 [Live] Hathut Records
1966 In Greenwich Village [Live] Impulse! Records
1967 Love Cry Impulse!
1968 New Grass Impulse!
1969 Music Is the Healing Force of the Universe Impulse!
1969 The Last Album Impulse!
1970 Nuits de la Fondation Maeght Vol. 1 Shandar
1970 Live on the Riviera [Live] ESP
2004 Holy Ghost: Rare & Unissued Recordings (1962–70) Revenant Records
2006 The Complete ESP-Disk Recordings ESP
Jump up ^ Mandel, NPR, 2008
Jump up ^ Claghorn, 1982
Jump up ^ Mandel, NPR, 2008
Jump up ^ Wilmer, Val (1977). As Serious as Your Life. Quartet. pp. 95–96. ISBN 0-7043-3164-0.
Jump up ^ Mandel, NPR, 2008
Jump up ^ Hardy, 2001
Jump up ^ Litweiler, 1984, p. 151
Jump up ^ Shipton, 2001, p. 795
Jump up ^ Wilmer, Val (1977). As Serious as Your Life. Quartet. p. 94. ISBN 0-7043-3164-0.
Jump up ^ Litweiler, 1984, p. 151
Jump up ^ Shipton, 2001, p. 795
Jump up ^ Litweiler, 1984, p. 152
Jump up ^ Gioia, 2011, p. 323
Jump up ^ Claghorn, 1982
Jump up ^ Whitehead, NPR, 2001
Jump up ^ Whitehead, NPR, 2001
Jump up ^ Woideck, 1998, p. 221
Jump up ^ Whitehead, NPR, 2011
Jump up ^ Litweiler, 1984, p. 153
Jump up ^ Litweiler, 1984, p. 152
Jump up ^ Litweiler, 1984, p. 152
Jump up ^ "Revenant Records: Albert Ayler Holy Ghost". 2011-07-16. Archived from the original on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 2012-06-25.
Jump up ^ Claghorn, 1982
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Jump up ^ Weiss, 2012, p. 50
Jump up ^ ESP-Disk’ Discography
Jump up ^ Encyclopedia of Popular Music, 2006
Jump up ^ Wilmer, ‘’’The Guardian’’’, 2001
Jump up ^ Jenkins, 2004, p. 26
Jump up ^ Jenkins, 2004, p. 26
Jump up ^ Jost, 1975, p.121
Jump up ^ Lewis, The Guardian, 2011
Jump up ^ Jenkins, 2004, p. 26
Jump up ^ Kernfeld, Grove Music Online
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Jump up ^ Schwartz, American Music
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Jump up ^ Jenkins, 2004, p. 27
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Jump up ^ Ayler, Cricket
Jump up ^ Wilmer, Val (2004). Albert Ayler: Holy Ghost (Spiritual Unity). Revenant. p. 27.
Jump up ^ Mandel, Howard (Jun 7, 2008). "Albert Ayler's Fiery Sax, Now on Film". National Public Radio. Retrieved August 30, 2009.
Jump up ^ ""Albert Ayler" by Jeff Schwarz, Chapter 6". Archived from the original on 2009-10-25.
Jump up ^ Kernfeld, '’Grove Music Online
Jump up ^ Kernfeld, Grove Music Online
Jump up ^ Mandel, NPR, 2008
Jump up ^ Richardson, Pitchfork, 2010
Jump up ^ Brody, The New Yorker, 2007
Jump up ^ "Roy Harper dedicates track to Albert Ayler". Rough Trade. 2014-07-03-. Retrieved 2014-03-07.
Jump up ^ "Roy Harper dedicates track to Albert Ayler". Roy Harper. 2014-07-03-. Retrieved 2014-03-07.
Jump up ^ "Roy Harper site". 2009-02-17. Archived from the original on 2009-02-17. Retrieved 2012-06-25.
“Ayler, Albert—Spirits Rejoice” Encyclopedia of Popular Music. Oxford University Press, November 17, 2006. Web.
Ayler, Albert. “To Mr. Jones—I Had a Vision. The Cricket 4.
Brody, Richard. “My Name is Albert Ayler.” The New Yorker, November 12, 2007.
Claghorn, Charles Eugene. The Biographical Dictionary of Jazz. Prentice-Hall, 1982.
ESP-Disk’ Discography. Esp-Disk.
Gioia, Ted. The History of Jazz. Oxford University Press, 2011.
Hardy, Phil. “Albert Ayler.” The Faber Companion to 20th Century Popular Music, 2001. Web.
Jenkins, Todd S. Free Jazz and Free Improvisation: An Encyclopedia, Volume 1. Greenwood Press, 2004.
Jost, Ekkehard. Free Jazz. Da Capo Press, 1975.
Kernfeld, Barry. “Albert Ayler.” Grove Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web.
Lewis, John. “John Coltrane’s Funeral.” The Guardian, June 16, 2011.
Litweiler, John. The Freedom Principle: Jazz After 1958. William Morrow and Company, Inc, 1984.
Mandel, Howard. “Albert Ayler’s Fiery Sax, Now on Film.” NPR, June 7, 2008.
Richardson, Mark. “Funerals and Ghosts and Enjoying the Push.” Pitchfork. August 13, 2010.
Schwartz, Jeff. “Review: Healing Force: The Songs of Albert Ayler.” American Music, Vol. 27. JSTOR.
Shipton, Alyn. A New History of Jazz. Continuum, 2001.
Weiss, Jason. Always in Trouble: An Oral History of ESP-Disk: The Most Outrageous Record Label in America. Wesleyan University Press, 2012.
Whitehad, Kevin. “Albert Ayler: Testifying the Breaking Point.” NPR, May 8, 2001.
Wilmer, Valerie. ‘’As Serious As Your Life: John Coltrane and Beyond,’’ London, Serpent’s Tail, 1993
Wilmer, Valerie. “Obituary: Donald Ayler.” The Guardian, November 15, 2001.
Woideck, Carl. The John Coltrane Companion: Five Decades of Commentary. Schirmer Books, 1998.
External links[edit]
Albert Ayler: His Life and Music (e-book by Jeff Schwartz, 1992)
Albert Ayler
Albert Ayler at the Wayback Machine (archived July 18, 2011), in German language.
Albert Ayler Discography Project
Albert Ayler at NPR Music