13.07. – Happy Birthday !!! Tenor saxophonist Albert Ayler was born on 1936 in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. He learned to play the alto sax at a young age. His father, Edward, encouraged his musical interests and was his first teacher.
Albert Ayler continued his musical education at John Adams High School, where he played oboe, and at the local music academy. His first gig was with Lloyd Pearson and his Counts of Rhythm when has was 15 in 1951. This led to a job with Little Walter Jacobs’ R&B band with whom he spent the following two summer vacations traveling. After graduating from high school in 1954 he went to a local college but financial difficulties forced him to leave college in 1956 and join the army. He continued to play in the military band and regularly practiced with other musicians. He spent his last two years of service in France and then in 1961 he left the army and moved to California for a brief period before returning to Cleveland.
His music was moving into the free jazz genre but with his own unique style. He was not able to find work though in the US and moved to Sweden in 1962 where he made his first recordings, which were not released until some years later. Later that year he recorded four albums with Don Cherry. In December he joined the Cecil Taylor group in Stockholm after seeing them play at a local venue. He went to Denmark with Taylor and made his official debut recording, My Name Is Albert Ayler in January of 1963 with a group of local musicians. He continued to tour with the Taylor group and returned with them to New York but again financial difficulties forced him to return to Cleveland where he received economic support from his parents before moving back to New York and for a while shared musical ideas with likes of Ornette Coleman in impromptu jam sessions. Through out his life he periodically depended on financial help initially from his parents and later from his friend and mentor John Coltrane.
He married Arlene Benton on January 14th, 1964.
The Danish Debut Records label organized the recording of Witches and Devils in New York around February of 1964. A second set of more traditional material was also recorded at the same time that was later posthumously released. In July of 1964 Albert Ayler recorded his masterpiece for the ESP label with his newly formed trio of Gary Peacock on bass and Sunny Murray on drums. The LP Spiritual Unityremains a classic 43 years after its recording.
Later on that year a larger group recording that included Don Cherry resulted in the ESP LP New York Eye And Ear Control. Albert Ayler accepted and invitation from The Cafe Montmartre in Copenhagen and returned to Europe in the fall of 1964 where together with his regular trio and Don Cherry her recorded Ghosts. Don Cherry remained in Europe so Donald Ayler, Albert Ayler’s brother replaced him in the group upon their return to New York.
Albert Ayler started incorporating unusual elements in the music of his new quartet; making it sound occasionally like a New Orleans marching band. His notoriety reached its peak when his record Bellswas released on a one-sided, transparent disc in 1965. The mid-sixties were the pinnacle of both the Free Jazz movement and Albert Ayler’s popularity. Despite this, however, this genre was never a commercially viable and popular form of music and despite abundant work Ayler had to still rely on his parents and John Coltrane for financial support. In beginning of 1966, he left his wife for Mary Parks.
In November 1966 he went on a European tour again and on November 15th he played at the London School of Economics. BBC2 recorded this concert as part of its “Jazz Goes To College” series, but never broadcast it and later destroyed it with other tapes.
After his return from Europe, Ayler landed a recording contract, thanks to John Coltrane, at Impulse Record. Ayler recorded four sessions for Impulse. These sessions started off with the Greenwich Village classic live recordings in December 1966 and February 1967.
John Coltrane died on July 17th 1967.
Shortly after the death of Coltrane, Ayler recorded Love Cry which, although not as raw as his earlier recordings, remained firmly planted in the free jazz genre.
In the summer of 1968 Ayler fired his brother from the group on the suggestion of the record label. Donald Ayler was having emotional problems and was later institutionalized for a while due to a nervous breakdown.
The last two records for Impulse were an attempt to commercialize his music but they ended up producing the disastrous New Grass and Music Is The Healing Force Of The Universe. Both records were derided by critics and failed as commercial ventures. In July 1970, after having his contract terminated by Impulse, Albert played his last concerts in France.
On November 25, 1970, in Brooklyn, Albert Ayler’s body was found floating in the East River, at the foot of Congress Street Pier.