Albert Ayler

From Academic Kids

Albert Ayler (July 13, 1936–November 1970) was a jazz saxophonist, singer and composer.



Albert Ayler was the most primal of the free jazz musicians of the 1960s. He possessed a deep blistering tone—achieved by using the stiffest plastic reeds he could find on his tenor saxophone—and a broad, pathos-filled vibrato that came right out of church music. His trio and quartet records of 1964, like Spiritual Unity and The Hilversum Sessions, show him advancing the improvisational notions of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman into abstract realms where timbre, not harmony and melody, are the music's backbone. His ecstatic music of 1965 and 1966, like "Spirits Rejoice" and "Truth is Marching In" adopted the sound of a Salvation Army brass band, and involved simple, march-like themes which alternated with wild group improvisations and took jazz back to its pre-Louis Armstrong roots.


Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Ayler was first taught alto saxophone by his father Edward with whom he played duets in church. He later studied at the Academy of Music in Cleveland with jazz saxophonist Benny Miller. As a teen Ayler become such a proficient jazz player that he was known around Cleveland as "Little Bird," after virtososo saxophonist Charlie Parker, who was nicknamed "Bird".

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. After graduating from high school, Ayler joined the United States Army, where he jammed with other enlisted musicians including tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine and where he also played in the regiment band. In 1959 he was stationed in France where he was exposed to the martial music that would be a core influence on his later work.

After his discharge from the army, Ayler kicked around Los Angeles and Cleveland trying to find work, but his increasingly iconoclastic playing, which had moved away from traditional harmony, was not welcome among bop traditionalists, so he relocated to Sweden in 1962 where his recording career began, leading Scandinavian groups on radio sessions and jamming as an unpaid member of Cecil Taylor's band in the winter of 1962-63. (Long-rumored tapes of Ayler performing with Taylor's group have finally surfaced as part of a ten-CD set released in late 2004, by Revenant Records. [1] (

Ayler returned to the US and settled in New York assembling an influential trio with double bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Sunny Murray, recording his breakthrough album Spiritual Unity, for ESP Disk Records. He toured Europe, with the trio augmented with trumpeter Don Cherry.

Ayler's trio was innovative. Murray rarely if ever laid down a steady, rhythmic pulse, and Ayler's solos were downright pentecostal. But the trio was still recognizably in the jazz tradition. Ayler's next series of groups, with trumpeter brother Donald, were a radical departure. Beginning with the album Spirits Rejoice and continuing with records like Bells and The Village Concerts, Ayler turned to performances that were chains of marching band-style themes alternating with overblowing and multiphonic freely improvised group solos, a wild and unique sound that took jazz back to its pre-Louis Armstrong roots of collective improvisation.

During this period Ayler was signed to Impulse Records at the urging of John Coltrane who was the label's star attraction. But even on Impulse Ayler's radically different music never found a sizable audience.

But something happened in 1967 that remains unclear. Donald Ayler had what he termed a nervous breakdown, and in a letter to a black, East Village literary magazine, Albert reported that he had seen a strange object in the sky and come to believe that he and his brother "had the right seal of God almighty in our forehead."

Also in 1967, Coltrane died. Ayler was one of several musicians to perform at Coltrane's funeral. An amateur recording of this performance exists, but is of very low fidelity.

For the next two and half years Ayler turned to recording rock music, often with utopian, hippie lyrics provided by his live-in girlfriend Mary Maria Parks. Ayler drew on his very early career, incorporting doses of R&B, with funky, electric rhythm sections and extra horns on some songs. The late records for Impulse, like Music Is The Healing Force of the World and New Grass, remain reviled by many Ayler fans.

In July of 1970 Ayler did return to the free jazz idiom for a group of shows in France but the band he was able to assemble was amateurish and not nearly of the caliber of his earlier groups.

Ayler disappeared on November 5, 1970, and he was found dead in New York City's East River on November 25, a presumed suicide. Rumors circulated, however, that Ayler had been murdered, possibly due to his involvement in the black power movement. Later, Parks would say that Albert has been depressed and guilty, blaming himself for his brother's problems.


Ayler remains something of a cult artist. "Ghosts"—with its bouncy, sing-song melody (rather reminiscent of a nursery rhyme)—is probably his best known tune, and is something of a free jazz standard, having been covered by Lester Bowie, Gary Windo, Eugene Chadbourne, Joe McPhee, John Tchicai and Ken Vandermark, among others.

Saxophonist Mars Williams led a group called Witches and Devils, which was not only named after an Ayler song, but which covered several of his songs.

Peter Brotzmann's "Die Like A Dog Quartet" is a group loosely dedicated to Ayler. Several of their records have been in a series called "Little Birds Have Fast Hearts", a reference to Ayler's youthful nickname.

In 2005, guitarist Marc Ribot released an album dedicated to the ethic of collective improvisation, entitled Spiritual Unity in honor of Ayler's 1964 album of the same name.

External links

fr:Albert Ayler no:Albert Ayler


Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools