[JPL] Ayler, Master of Jazz Sax, Is Feted in U.S. Film

Dr. Jazz drjazz at drjazz.com
Tue Oct 30 07:52:52 EDT 2007

Ayler, Master of Jazz Sax, Is Feted in U.S. Film: Mike Zwerin

By Mike Zwerin

Oct. 29 (Bloomberg) -- One day in November 1970, after he told a friend, 
``my blood has got to be shed to save my mother and my brother,'' Albert 
Ayler smashed his saxophone on his television set and stormed out of the 
apartment. His body was later found floating in the East River in New 
York. He was 34.

Ayler's recordings have titles like ``Music Is the Healing Force of the 
Universe,'' ``Spirits Rejoice,'' ``Love Cry,'' ``Jesus,'' ``Swing Low 
Sweet Spiritual,'' ``Spiritual Unity,'' ``Truth Is Marching In,'' and 

Ayler was a prophet. That is what you see above all watching ``My Name 
Is Albert Ayler,'' a Swedish documentary film by Kasper Collin about to 
be shown in New York. His faith in the power of music was limitless.

The police called it a suicide. There have been a variety of theories 
about his death, which was comparable to the mysterious death of 
tenorman Wardell Gray, who played with Benny Goodman and Count Basie, 
and whose body was discovered in the Nevada desert.

It was also variously said that he was shot by the police or the FBI in 
a plot to suppress black culture, or that the Mafia tied his body to a 
juke box and threw him in the river because of mounting drug debts.

None of these scenarios were deemed likely, but he frightened people. It 
was like he was out of control. There was obviously something dangerous 
-- he was not like you and me -- about somebody who could say, ``One 
day, everything will be as it should be.'' And: ``If people don't like 
my music now, they will.''

He was wrong, of course. I mean, I like it, and maybe you will, but 
``they'' aren't going to like Ayler's music. Ever. If you get my 
meaning. The music may be important, even overwhelming, but it is not 
music that ``people'' are going to ``like.''

American Chance

He moved to Stockholm from Cleveland because Americans didn't like his 
music. He shows no anger about that. ``I think I'll give them another 
chance,'' he says. ``Americans deserve another chance with my music.''

A disarming number of Swedish women speak out in praise of Ayler. There 
are interviews with friends, family and colleagues, and the film 
includes a long and moving audio interview with Ayler himself at the 
Fondation Maeght, in Vence, the south of France, where he recorded and 
concertized. Rarely do you hear musicians talk so lucidly about themselves.

There's no question about it, nothing to do about it. He was just 
different from you and me. Just the way things are. He was born in 
America, but he's obviously not American. He's not even Terranean. It is 
rare and shaking to witness such extreme and up- front alienation.

No Love Lost

The alienation is particularly evident during a sequence when Ayler and 
his brother, the trumpeter Donald, played during John Coltrane's funeral 
service. You can see that most of the other musicians in the gallery are 
not being touched by Ayler's music. They keep their distance. They don't 
hiss or boo or throw things or anything, but there is not a whole lot of 
love either.

African-American musicians did not really relate to Ayler's music, which 
was sort of inflicted on them by white liberals.

Coltrane was his patron, sent him $50 or so from time to time, and he 
had told Bob Thiele of Impulse Records that Ayler was a very important 
force in music, hence Ayler's recording contract with that company. 
Thiele had passed on the word to festival producer George Wein, and so 
Ayler worked the major festivals. This made some African-American 
musicians jealous.

Jazz Preacher

Ayler was like some sort of fire-and-brimstone preacher who was going to 
burn you alive if you did not accept his message. Maybe be didn't mean 
it to be that way, but that's the way it came off. Free jazz is not an 
accurate description of his music, although that's the way it was 
described. It is not free at all. It is biblical in intensity and 
structure. Ayler said that people are on the moon now, music can no 
longer go on being the same. His spirituality could be intimidating.

He was obviously a preacher first, a musician second. His music was 
totally about feeling, rather than notes or tempos. There is no 
structure to it other than human emotion. ``We must be as pure as our 
music,'' he said. It is surprising that Ayler was ever a part of the 
show-business structure in the first place. How did he ever get booked? 
Recorded? The fact that this movie was made and is being shown in the 
U.S. 37 years after his death is a small miracle.

``My Name Is Albert Ayler'' will be screened from Nov. 8-14 at 7 p.m. 
and 9 p.m. at the Anthology Film Archives at 32 Second Avenue (2nd 
Street) in New York City. For information: +1-212- 505-5181, or click 
http://www.mynameisalbertayler.com and 
http://www.anthologyfilmarchives.org . The film will later be shown in 
other U.S. cities with details to be confirmed.

(Mike Zwerin is a critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are 
his own.)

Dr. Jazz
Dr. Jazz Operations
24270 Eastwood
Oak Park, MI  48237
(248) 542-7888
SKYPE:  drjazz99

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