Ayler was among the most primal of the free jazz musicians of the 1960s; critic John Litweiler wrote that "never before or since has there been such naked aggression in jazz" He possessed a deep blistering tone—achieved by using the stiff plastic Fibrecane no. 4 reeds on his tenor saxophone—and used a broad, pathos-filled vibrato.
His trio and quartet records of 1964, like Spiritual Unity and The Hilversum Session, show him advancing the improvisational notions of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman into abstract realms where timbre, not harmony and melody, is the music's backbone. His ecstatic music of 1965 and 1966, like "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.
Born in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, Ayler was first taught alto saxophone by his father Edward with whom he played duets in church. He attended John Adams High School on Cleveland's East Side, graduating in 1954 at the age of 18. He later studied at the Academy of Music in Cleveland with jazz saxophonist Benny Miller. He also played the oboe in high school. As a teen Ayler played with such skill that he was known around Cleveland as "Little Bird," after virtuoso 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. He 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 kicked around Los Angeles and Cleveland trying to find work, but his increasingly iconoclastic playing, which had moved away from traditional harmony, was not welcomed by traditionalists.
He 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 have finally surfaced as part of a ten-CD set released in late 2004 by Revenant Records.) 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".
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, 30 minutes of intense free improvisation. Embraced by New York jazz leaders like Eric Dolphy, who reportedly called him the best player he'd ever seen, Ayler found respect and an audience. He influenced the gestating new generation of jazz players, as well as veterans like John Coltrane. In 1964 he toured Europe, with the trio augmented with trumpeter Don Cherry, recorded and released as The Hilversum Session.
Ayler's trio created a definitive free jazz sound. 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 Bells, a live concert at New York Town Hall with Donald Ayler, Charles Tyler, Lewis Worrell and Sunny Murray, Ayler turned to performances that were chains of marching band- or mariachi-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.
The new sound was consolidated in the studio album Spirits Rejoice recorded by the same group at Judson Hall in New York. Ayler, in a 1970 interview, calls his later styles "energy music," contrasting with the "space bebop" played by Coltrane and initially by Ayler himself. This approach continued with The Village Concerts and with Ayler on the books ESP had established itself as a leading label for free jazz.
In 1966 Ayler was signed to Impulse Records at the urging of John Coltrane, the label's star attraction at that time. But even on Impulse Ayler's radically different music never found a sizable audience. Coltrane died in 1967 and Ayler was one of several musicians to perform at his funeral. An amateur recording of this performance exists. Later in 1967, Albert's brother Donald Ayler had what he termed a nervous breakdown. In a letter to The Cricket, a Newark, New Jersey music magazine edited by Amiri Baraka and Larry Neal, 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." Although it is reasonable to assume the Aylers had explored or were exploring psychedelic drugs like LSD, there is no evidence this significantly influenced their mental stability.
For the next two and half years Ayler turned to recording music not too far removed from rock and roll, often with utopian, hippie lyrics provided by his live-in girlfriend Mary Maria Parks. Ayler drew on his very early career, incorporating doses of R&B, with funky, electric rhythm sections and extra horns (including Scottish highland bagpipe) on some songs. 1967's Love Cry was a step in this direction, studio recordings of Ayler concert staples such as "Ghosts" and "Bells" with less free-improv and more time spent on the themes.
Next came the R&B album New Grass, which was generally reviled by his fans, who considered it to be the worst of his work. Following its commercial failure, Ayler attempted to bridge his earlier "space bebop" recordings and the sound of New Grass on his last studio album Music Is the Healing Force of the Universe, featuring rock musicians such as Henry Vestine of Canned Heat alongside jazz musicians like pianist Bobby Few.
In July 1970 Ayler returned to the free jazz idiom for a group of shows in France 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.
Ayler disappeared on November 5, 1970, and he was found dead in New York City's East River on November 25, a presumed suicide. 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. He is buried in Cleveland, Ohio.
Albert Ayler (13 de julio de 1936 – noviembre de 1970), nació en EEUU. Fue un músico de jazz avantgarde, destacando como saxofonista, cantante y compositor.
Nacido en Cleveland Heights, Ohio, Ayler recibió sus primeras lecciones de saxo alto de su padre Edward, con quien tocó duetos en la iglesia de su ciudad. Fue al Instituto de Juan Adams, en el lado este de Cleveland, graduándose en 1954 a la edad de dieciocho años. Más adelante, estudió en la academia de música en Cleveland con Benny Molinero, saxofonista de jazz. También tocó el oboe mientras estaba en el instituto. Siendo adolescente tocaba ya con tanta habilidad que lo conocían en los alrededores de Cleveland con el sobrenombre de "pequeño pájaro," rememorando al virtuoso saxofonista Charlie Parker, que fue apodado "bird" (pájaro).
En 1952, a la edad de 16, Ayler comenzó a tocar en bares con el músico de blues, cantante y especializado en harmónica, Little Walter, pasando dos vacaciones de verano con la banda de Walter. Después de graduarse en el instituto, Ayler se unió al ejército de Estados Unidos, donde conoció y tocó junto a otros músicos alistados, incluyendo el saxofonista Stanley Turrentine. También tocó en la banda del regimiento. En 1959 lo destinaron a Francia, donde estuvo expuesto más a fondo en la música marcial, que sería una influencia base en su trabajo posterior. Después de su marcha del ejército, Ayler recae alrededor Los Ángeles y Cleveland intentando encontrar trabajo, pero su estilo, cada vez más iconoclasta, que se había movido lejos de armonía tradicional, no fue bienvenido por los más tradicionalistas.
Marchó a Suecia en 1962, donde comenzaría a grabar discos, liderando grupos suecos y daneses en sesiones para radio y uniéndose a la banda de Cecil Taylor en el invierno de 1962-1963. El álbum My Name is Albert Ayler es una sesión estándar grabada por una radio de Copenhagen con músicos locales, entre los cuales estaban Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen y el batería Ronnie Gardiner, y con Ayler playing como saxo tenor y soprano en canciones como "Summertime".
Ayler volvió a los EEUU y se instaló en Nueva York, formando un trío influyente con el contrabajista Gary Peacock y el baterista Sunny Murray, y grabando el disco Spiritual Unity, 30 minutos de improvisación de intenso free-jazz. Arropado por varios líderes del jazz neoyorquino (como Eric Dolphy que, según se dice, lo calificó como el mejor interprete que había visto en su vida), Ayler empezó a encontrar respeto y audiencia. También comenzó a influir en la nueva generación de músicos de jazz que se estaba gestando, así como en veteranos músicos, como John Coltrane. En 1964, dio una gira de conciertos por Europa, con su trío habitual, pero ampliándolo con el trompetista Don Cherry. De la gira, se grabaría el disco The Hilversum Session.
El trío de Ayler creó un sonido definitivo de free-jazz. Sin embargo, el trío todavía era reconocible en la tradición del jazz. Las series de grupos siguientes de Ayler, con el trompetista Donald Brother, erían una salida radical. Comenzando con el álbum "Bells", un concierto en vivo en Nueva York con Donald Ayler, Charles Tyler, Lewis Worrell y Sunny Murray, Ayler dio una vuelta a los funcionamientos del jazz con un sonido salvaje y único.
El nuevo sonido fue consolidado con la grabación en estudio del álbum Spirits Rejoice, e interpretado por el mismo grupo en Judson Hall, Nueva York. Ayler, en una entrevista en 1970, llama a su último estilo musical "música de la energía," poniéndolo en contraste con el bebop interpretado por Coltrane e inicialmente por Ayler mismo. Este posicionamiento continuó con The Village Concerts y también con Ayler en los libros temáticos. Para entonces, Ayler se había establecido como una etiqueta e icono del free-jazz.