Albert Ayler: His Life and Music

by Jeff Schwartz

This book is my attempt, as of 1992, to assemble the information available on the life of Albert Ayler. Since then, I have added a few things and attempted to correct errors. There have not been major updates. For example, relevant material from recent books on Paul Bley, Sun Ra, Perry Robinson, and Bill Dixon, has not been worked in.

My dissertation: New Black Music: Amiri Baraka and Jazz in the 1960s, incorporates this new information and contextualizes Ayler's music much more thoroughly than this biography and appreciation. I have also been consulting with someone writing a new biography with the cooperation of the Ayler family. He wishes to be anonymous until the book appears. The drafts I have seen are amazing and I look forward to my own book's obsolescence. In the meantime, there is an excellent Ayler site at

Note that the footnote links in Chapters 2, 3, and 4 do not work. I will soon be redoing these chapters in the parenthetical citation format of the others. In the internim, feel free to use the link above to e-mail me for citiations. My apologies to those cited for this disarray; it is the product of sloth alone, I certainly do not wish to obscure your deserved credit.

My main sourse for this material is the chapter on Albert Ayler in Valerie Wilmer's As Serious As Your Life (London, 1977). This essay, based on original interviews with Albert and Donald Ayler, their parents, and others in their circle, is a pioneering work to which all Ayler students are indebted; it has provided the basis for biographical and other information used in Peter Niklas Wilson's Spirits Rejoice! (1996) as well as several articles on the tenor saxophonist.


I would like to thank the following for their contributions to this project: John and Kitty Case, Tosiyuki Nomato, John Gray of the Black Arts Research Center, Jeff Keith, Erik Raben, Ron L. Anderson, Ray Whitehouse, David B. Robinson, Andrew Leachman, Myles Boisen, Dr. William O. McLarney, Tony Gustafson, Cadence, Downbeat, Charlotte Delaforce at The Wire, Kimako's Blues People, Logos, Retrospect Records, and Beat City in Santa Cruz, A-1 Record Finders, Musician's Record Store, Record Surplus, and Rhino Records in L.A., The libraries of UCLA, UCB, UCSC and BGSU, Sonet Records, Amiri Baraka, Paul Rinzler, Elaine Barkin, my brother Jay, Tom Schnaidt, Wendell Reck, Airion Chantal, Le'a Kent, Paul Haines, Lee Santa, and Val Wilmer.


The format of this book was inspired largely by a number of oral histories, especially Nat Shapiro and Nat Hentoff's Hear Me Talkin' to Ya. Like Hentoff and Shapiro, I have used interview excerpts whenever possible to let my subjects speak for themselves.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: 1936-1963

Chapter 2: 1963-1964

Chapter 3: 1965-1966

Chapter 4: 1966-1967

Chapter 5: 1968-1970

Chapter 6: 1970

Appendix: Critical Responses to Albert Ayler's work in Downbeat Magazine