The Free Jazz Maestro Albert Ayler: Saxophonist Singer and Composer

Written By Sonny Akbar Sembada

Hi, my name is Sonny Akbar Sembada and I welcome you to my blog, The Uncle Jazz. The main topic of my blog is everything related to jazz music.. 

The Free Jazz Maestro Albert Ayler

Early Days and Musical Whiz

The free jazz maestro Albert Ayler, born on July 13, 1936, in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, was basically a musical prodigy. He started jamming on the alto sax at a tender age of 11, guided by his dad, Edward, who was also his first music teacher. Albert even spiced things up at John Adams High School by picking up the oboe for kicks.

Diving into Free Jazz

So, after toying around with R&B and bebop, Ayler took the plunge into recording during the free jazz vibes of the ’60s. Now, some critics thought his style was a bit out there for the standard free jazz scene, but hey, that’s what made him stand out. His music was like a mixed bag of reactions, but you know what they say – haters gonna hate. And guess what? The free jazz maestro Ayler’s vibes ended up inspiring the next gen of jazz cats.

Musical Evolution Euro-Trip

Ayler’s sound morphed into this cool free jazz genre with its own twist. But back home, finding gigs was a struggle, so he jetted off to Sweden in 1962. There, he dropped his first album, although it took a hot minute to hit the shelves. During the same Euro-trip, he cut four albums with Don Cherry.

Jams and the US Return

Late ’62, Ayler joined Cecil Taylor’s crew in Stockholm after catching their gig. Then it was off to Denmark with Taylor, dropping his official debut, “My Name Is Albert Ayler,” in Jan ’63. Now, despite some cash flow hiccups, the free jazz maestro Ayler kept experimenting with his music. Sometimes, he’d hit up his folks or his buddy John Coltrane for some financial backup.

Jams and the US Return
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Improv Explorations

His trio and quartet recordings in ’64, like “Spiritual Unity” and “The Hilversum Session,” were like a musical playground. They took John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman’s jam ideas to abstract places where the whole vibe, not just the melody, was the heart of the music.

Wild Music and Life’s Rollercoaster

The wild tunes in ’65 and ’66, with albums like “Spirits Rejoice” and “Truth Is Marching In,” sounded like a brass band on a jazz rollercoaster. Simple themes mixed with crazy group improv – it was like a jazz revival before Louis Armstrong.

Personal Stuff and the End

The free jazz maestro Albert Ayler tied the knot with Arlene Benton on Jan 14, ’64. Denmark’s Debut Records set up the recording for “Witches and Devils” in NYC around Feb ’64. Another set with more traditional stuff dropped later. July ’64, Ayler laid down his masterpiece with the ESP label, “Spiritual Unity.” It’s still a classic 43 years later.

Read also Larry Fuller Mainstream Jazz Pianist

In Nov ’66, the free jazz maestro Ayler rocked another Euro tour. On Nov 15, he hit up the London School of Economics. BBC2 recorded it, but they never aired it. Post-Euro life, Ayler got a deal with Impulse Records, thanks to John Coltrane. He laid down four sessions for Impulse.

Trying to Go Mainstream and the Downturn

Summer ’68, the free jazz maestro Ayler booted his bro from the crew, on the label’s advice. His bro, Donald Ayler, had some emotional stuff going on and ended up in a loony bin for a bit.

Trying to Go Mainstream and the Downturn
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His last two Impulse recordings tried to pop up his tunes but ended up flopping. The albums “New Grass” and “Music Is The Healing Force Of The Universe” got some serious shade from critics. Come July ’70, after Impulse ditched him, Ayler hit up his last concert in France.

The Sad End

Nov 25, ’70, in Brooklyn, they found Albert Ayler’s lifeless body floating in the East River, near the Congress Street Pier.

And that’s the tale of Albert Ayler – a jazz rebel who pushed boundaries, left a mark, and brought his own flavor to the music scene.

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