Ayler, Albert

Ayler, Albert, 1936-1970, free-jazz saxophonist, b. Cleveland, OH. Ayler was taught to play saxophone by his father, a semiprofessional musician, and the two often performed together in church when Albert was young. While still in high school, he toured two summers with blues harmonica player Little Walter, while continuing his jazz saxophone studies with Benny Miller. After graduating high school, he served in the Army, playing in regimental bands (1958-60). In 1962, he moved to Sweden, where he made his first recordings and a year later moved to New York City, befriending saxophonists John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, and pianist Cecil Taylor. He recorded a series of influential albums in a free-jazz style including Spiritual Unity (1964) and Spirits Rejoice (1965). Coltrane’s later work was influenced by Ayler’s raw, energetic approach to improvisation, freed from melodic or harmonic restraints. Ayler’s later recordings were in a more popular jazz-funk style, focused on his more formal compositions, and often featured his idiosyncratic vocals. On November 5, 1970, Ayler disappeared and his body was not found until 20 days later, floating in the East River, presumably a victim of suicide.

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