Monday, November 15, 2010


(Above: The cover of the program for John Coltrane's funeral.)
When John Coltrane (who is a saint, by the way) died of liver cancer on July 17, 1967 Albert Ayler was asked to play at his funeral, which was held four days later at St Peters Lutheran Church in New York City. Ayler's work had a profound influence on Coltrane's and Coltrane would emerge as the leading proponent of Ayler. He regularly spoke of Ayler as an otherworldly sort of musician, often relented to him on stage, and was responsible for Ayler's signing to Impulse! Records, the leading jazz label of the 1960s. He also reportedly supported Ayler and members of Ayler's band financially at times.
There is no video of The Albert Ayler Quartet performing at Coltrane's funeral (Ayler opened the proceedings and Ornette Coleman closed them), but audio did sufrace in the Holy Ghost set released by Revenant Records. The audio is imperfect, but the recording has an aura that is strangely appropriate.

(Below: The program from Coltrane's funeral.)
Since we're on the subject of death, I suppose I may as well get this out of the way. In the previous post about Ayler I made this comment about his death: "It was probably a suicide but more probably the mafia killed him or even more probably the FBI did it". A reader asked the question "What?", a question that is either in reference to my sentence structure or to the various theories surrounding Ayler's death. If it is in reference to my sentence I'm sorry - I drink a lot of adult beverages.
As I said in the previous post, Ayler's death remains a mystery (as does Coltrane's to many). Suicide seems likely. Ayler was broke, he never made any money off of his music. Also, his brother and band mate Don Ayler suffered a nervous breakdown in 1967 for which Ayler blamed himself. The story goes that he left his apartment on November 5, 1967 talking about avenging his brother and mother with blood and that he had often threatened suicide. And, of course, there was experimentation with illicit substances. But in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s rumors surrounding Ayler's death circulated. One of those was that Ayler and other prominent African American figures were assassinated by the FBI or CIA or whatever in a program designed to dishearten black communities across the United States.
The other idea, the Mafia one, is a bit more fantastic. Supposedly the mob had provided some sort of funding for Ayler's work at some point and when his output proved to be less than financially rewarding they killed him. As the story goes, when Ayler was pulled from the East River he was found chained to a jukebox, symbolizing his inability to appeal to a wider audience.
I should point out that some Ayler fans tend to get very upset at the very discussion of these alternate theories of Ayler's death and vehemently insist that they have been discredited.


Roger Camden said...

I have no beef with your writing skills.
Here's how it went for me:
[biographic sketch of Ayler]
[relationship with Coltrane]
[brief mention that his death has wild speculation attached]
[summary of biographic sketch]
It was like that gag where someone is describing things in a room– typical things– then glosses over an out-of-place object or feature before shuffling off to another room.
"Here's the linen, the towels, the hamper, the mirror, the brush, and where we rest the sheep heads on pikes. Anyway, in the next bedroom..."

Thank you for elaborating. Wikipedia goes with the suicide angle exclusively.
'Chained to a jukebox' is a chilling image.

Anonymous said...

that tribute to coltrane is AMAZING!!!