Albert Ayler expanded the expressive possibilities of jazz saxophone and helped to develop the free jazz of the 1960s. Born in Cleveland, he carried his music first to Europe and then to New York City bringing the ecstasy of gospel music into jazz. He worked with Cecil Taylor, Don Cherry, and Sonny Rollins; his own groups included his brother Donald, Gary Peacock, Sunny Murray, Charles Tyler, and Ronald Shannon Jackson. He influenced his contemporaries like Rollins, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, and Pharoah Sanders, and is an influence today on younger players including David Murray, Peter Brotzmann, Ken Vandermark, and Mats Gustafsson.
Born in Cleveland on July 13, 1936 Albert Ayler studied with his father Edward, and Cleveland saxophonist Benny Miller. In his teens he played with rhythm & blues bands touring with Little Walter. Joining the army in 1956 he ended up in Europe where he played in Paris from 1959 to 1961 playing jam sessions with Don Byas, Dexter Gordon and in Stockholm and Copenhagen in 1962 working with the Cecil Taylor Trio. In 1963 he moved to New York City releasing his first free-jazz album Spirits in 1964 followed by Spiritual Unity with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Sunny Murray. Others followed in a similar style.
Ayler's music used the extreme register of the tenor saxophone to play improvisations based on folk-like melodies with strong spiritual overtones. His unique music was controversial and difficult for some. He often said he was more interested in the "sounds" than other musical elements. In the later 1960s he turned to a more rhythm and blues style, but his last recordings in Europe in 1970 returned to the free-jazz style. His body was found in the East River in NYC in November 1970.
Revenant Records released the CD box set Holy Ghost in 2004 to great critical acclaim. In 2005 the film My Name Is Albert Ayler, made in Sweden by Kasper Collin, was released. It was shown at the Cleveland Cinematheque in 2007.
Spiritual Unity. ESP DISK: 1002, 1964, c1999.
The Hilversum Session. ESP DISK: 1964, c2007.
Bells. ESP DISK: 5003 (1010), 1965, c2006.
Spirits Rejoice. ESP DISK: 1020, 1965, c2000.
Live in Greenwich Village: The Complete Impulse Recordings. Impulse!: IMPD2-273, 1965-67, c1998.
Albert Ayler: The Impulse Story. Impulse!: B0006560-02, 1965-69, c2006.
Nuits de la Fondation Maeght 1970. Water: 103 (Shandar), 1970, c2002.
Holy Ghost: Rare and Unissued Recordings. Revenant: 213, 10CD set, 1960-70, c2004.
My Name Is Albert Ayler. (forthcoming on DVD)
Ayler, Albert. Holy Ghost: Rare and Unissued Recordings. Revenant, 2004. [Ref ML419.A98 H65 2004]
Jost, Ekkehard. Free Jazz. Da Capo, 1974, 1981. [ML3506 .J67 1981]
Kahn, Ashley. The House That Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records. Norton, 2006. [ML3792 .K34 2006]
Litweiler, John. The Freedom Principle: Jazz after 1958. Da Capo, 1984, 1990. [ML3506 .L57 1990]
Wilmer, Valerie. As Serious as Your Life: John Coltrane and Beyond. rev. ed. Serpent's Tail, 1977, 1992. [ML3508 .W55 1992]
Grove Music Online: available to CPL cardholders (home access available)