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Albert Ayler, an African American jazz musician, was born on this date in 1936.
He was born in Cleveland, OH, and raised in a musical home. His father, Edward Ayler, was a saxophonist, violinist, and singer, and his brother, Donald, was a trumpeter who worked with him after young Albert became a professional. After starting with alto sax at age seven, Ayler studied at the Academy of Music in Cleveland for seven years, working with R&B bands. A stint in the U.S. Army (1958-'61) took him to Europe, where he returned in 1962, taking residence in Sweden.
Ayler made his first recordings in late 1962 in Sweden, then taped ”My Name Is Albert Ayler” in Denmark in early 1963. He returned to the United States and participated in the Jazz Composers' Guild, then recorded such iconoclastic 1964-'65 albums as “Spiritual Unity,” “Bells and Spirits Rejoice for ESP,” and the rare and long-out-of-print classic “Ghosts for Danish Debut” with trumpeter Don Cherry, bassist Gary Peacock, and drummer Sunny Murray. He occasionally worked in pianist Cecil Taylor's combo. His high-energy playing, rooted in black gospel music, folk songs, and marches, was marked by wide and wild interval leaps, shrieks, and foghorn effects.
His later recordings on Impulse!, a career that rarely held much commercial success, began as cutting-edge examples of the avant-garde but declined over a few years and were considered a sell-out by early fans. Ayler (tenor, alto, soprano, bagpipes, and vocals) was either a genius or an impostor, depending on the listener's musical sensibilities. A man in the advanced era of the 1960s avant-garde movement, Ayler remains an influential force in the revival of a style that seeks to stretch or shatter the tonal and rhythmic barriers of the music.
Albert Ayler died Nov. 25, 1970, shrouded in mystery. He had been missing for 20 days when his body was found floating in New York City's East River.
A Century of Jazz by Roy Carr
Da Capo Press, New York