Albert Ayler Birthday Broadcast

Saturday, July 13, 2024 - 12:00am to 11:59pm

WKCR is elated to announce a 24-hour broadcast in honor of the great saxophonist Albert Ayler. With a distinct sound and style revered by John Coltrane, Ayler was an icon of avant-garde jazz.

Albert Ayler was born in the Cleveland suburbs on July 13, 1936. His first exposure to the saxophone was through his father, Edward, who gave lessons on the alto sax to Albert and his younger brother, Donald. Albert’s very first gigs were with his father at the local church. As a young teenager, Ayler snuck into jazz nightclubs with his friend Lloyd. Lloyd led the first band in which Ayler played, Lloyd Pearson and the Counts of Rhythm. In this group, Albert attracted the attention of blues harmonica giant Little Walter Jacobs.

Albert spent two summers playing with Little Walter. Later, he joined the United States Army, where he continued his musical education. He switched from alto to tenor; jammed with musicians like Stanley Turrentine; listened to the records of John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and Sonny Rollins; and joined the Paris jazz scene. During this period, he amalgamated his musical influences––spirituals, blues, jazz, and military music––into one, distinct Ayler sound.

In 1962, after his discharge from the army, Ayler settled in Sweden. He played a few sessions with the Herbert Katz Quintet and made his first record, Something Different!!!!!. He played with Cecil Taylor in 1962 and ‘63––those sets survive in the 2004 Revenant Records release, Holy Ghost: Rare & Unissued Recordings (1962–70). He released his official debut record, My Name is Albert Ayler, in January 1963. During his time in Sweden and Denmark, he met Don Cherry.

When he returned to the United States, Ayler played alongside Cecil Taylor and had a jam session with Ornette Coleman. He also met John Coltrane, who would be his mentor. Founder of the label ESP-Disk, Bernard Stollman, said of Coltrane’s respect for Ayler: “From the first moment Coltrane heard Albert play, he acknowledged that Albert was the new force, that Albert had succeeded him in terms of generations of music.”

1964 was a prolific year for Ayler. In March, he recorded Spirits (later re-released as Witches and Devils). In July, he recorded Spiritual Unity with Gary Peacock (b) and Sunny Murray (d). Spiritual Unity is considered Ayler’s breakthrough album; it was also a breakthrough for ESP-Disk. In fact, Spiritual Unity was the first album ever recorded for ESP and helped cement the label’s central role in the dissemination of avant-garde jazz. Ayler’s second record for ESP, New York Eye and Ear Control, was likewise influential. Recorded as a soundtrack for the film of the same name, New York Eye and Ear Control was a group improvisation by Ayler (ts), Don Cherry (t), John Tchicai (as), Roswell Rudd (tb), Gary Peacock (b), and Sunny Murray (d).

In September, Ayler returned to Europe with Cherry, Peacock, and Murray to play in Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands. Their engagements yielded The Copenhagen Tapes, Ghosts (later re-released as Vibrations), and The Hilversum Session. When Ayler returned to the U.S., Cherry stayed in Europe, so Donald Ayler joined the group on trumpet.

Ayler and Coltrane first played together in 1966. Coltrane took Ayler and Cherry along with him at the Titans of Tenor concert at Lincoln Center in NYC on February 19. The concert had a mixed reception: half the audience was transfixed; the other half walked out. Later that year, Coltrane had Ayler signed to Impulse Records. On his first album for the label, Albert Ayler in Greenwich Village, Ayler brought out his alto sax for one number: “For John Coltrane.”

John Coltrane passed away in 1967. He had requested that two groups play at his funeral at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in NYC: Ornette Coleman’s and Albert Ayler’s. Both played in deference to the jazz giant.

Ayler’s recording for Impulse coincided with a change in his style. There was also a change in the group: Ayler stopped recording with his brother Donald in September 1968. Ayler traveled again to Europe. Upon his return to the U.S., he discovered that his Impulse contract had been canceled.

On November 25, 1970, Ayler’s body was discovered in the East River. He was only 34. We are honored to celebrate the legacy of Albert Ayler here on WKCR with a 24-hour birthday broadcast. Listeners can tune in on 89.9FM or stream the birthday broadcast live on our website, Follow WKCR on Instagram (@wkcr) and Twitter (@WKCRFM) for updates about this special broadcast and future events. As always, online listening is available 24/7 at via our web stream.