Albert Ayler

. . . just watched My Name is Albert Ayler, a Swedish documentary by Kasper Collin.

I saw Ayler just one time, in 1964, at Leroi Jones’ Cooper Square loft. Jones (now Amiri Baraka) organized the performance as a fundraiser for Ayler who had recently returned from a long residence in Sweden. Until that day I had not heard of Albert Ayler. His brother, Donald Ayler played trumpet that night and Sonny Murray was on drums. Writing this, so many years after the fact, I can’t remember if there was a bassist involved bass on that occasion but if there was it most likely would have been Lewis Worrell.  I climbed the stairs to the loft, handed my five bucks or whatever it was to Jones, and bought myself a beer. There were few chairs and I sat on the floor against the wall near the back. I nursed the beer all night and partook of whatever joint passed my way but none of it had any effect compared to what I heard over the course of three or four hours.

There are occasions when you hear music that stops time and changes everything from that point on. Experiences like that are rare and beautiful and it’s only happened to me, at most, five or six hundred times in my life. From the first note that trio played I was absolutely transfixed. I’d never heard anything like it. It’s too late now, forty-two years later, to know for certain whether they played Ghosts, or Spiritual Unity, but whatever it was they played the same tune two or three times each set, every set.I had never imagined before this that it was possible to produce music of such primal beauty, intensity, and spiritual brilliance.

I spoke to Ayler for about two minutes during the break, basically just thanking him. I said something along the lines of his music being amazing and beautiful and he seemed grateful for my comment and I couldn’t think of anything else to say so shook his hand and thanked him again, went out for air and came back and listened to two more sets, a complete convert to the gospel according to Ayler.

Ayler disappeared on November 5, 1970, and was found floating in New York City’s East River on November 25 aged 34.

In 1976 I was driving my white VW bus in from the Vancouver airport with members of Cecil Taylor’s band whom I’d picked up as a favour to Al Shimokura, who ran Oil Can Harry’s which, in spite of the unfortunate name it inherited from its previous, pre-jazz incarnation, was one of the great jazz clubs of the world. In the course of conversation Albert Ayler’s name came up. When I mentioned hearing Ayler in 1965 an awed hush fell over my passengers. Not sure who whispered, finally, “you saw Albert Ayler?” as though I’d seen God.

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