100 Jazz Profiles
1936 - 1970
Saxophonist. Ayler was the most extreme and radical of the 'New Thing' movement of the 1960s. His playing style included honks, wails and long, complex phrases that the critic Ekkehard Jost described as 'sound-spans'. He arrived at this by a fairly conventional musical training. As a boy he had lessons from his father, and grew up alongside his trumpeter brother Donald.
He became a rhythm and blues player with singer Little Walter , before being inducted into an army band with which he toured Europe. He worked there after leaving the army, playing with avant garde pianist Cecil Taylor in Denmark. Then in 1963, he returned to America, and led a series of groups that played his unusual, very personal style of free jazz. With his most sympathetic partners, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Sunny Murray, he made a number of very influential discs in the mid-1960s.
These explore texture and timbre - finding new areas for group improvisation, and the several versions of Ghosts that Ayler recorded show how his band could deconstruct the melody in a variety of ways. At its best, his music has a passionate intensity, and rhythmic complexity. In his final years he worked on march themes and on rhythm and blues ideas, but these lacked the distinctive originality of his best trio or quartet recordings. His death is mysterious - and his body was found floating in New York's East River almost three weeks after he was reported as a missing person.
Valerie Wilmer: As Serious As Your Life: The Story of the New Jazz (London, Quartet) 1977
Spiritual Unity (ESP Disc 1002)
Suggested track: Ghosts
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