If Albert Ayler were alive today—which is to say if he hadn’t died mysteriously in 1970 at the age of 34 (the same tragically short life as Charlie Parker, incidentally)—it’s not clear that he would be a Jazz Master. Other major jazz avant-gardists born in 1936 include Don Cherry, Sunny Murray, and Billy Higgins, and, inexplicably, only Higgins, the least significant of that trio in the history of free jazz, is a Jazz Master. At any rate, here is the late poet/musician/artist and jazz-surrealist Ted Joans on his experience of Ayler in 1964 in Copenhagen, via a 1966 piece in the U.K. underground paper International Times, in which he quotes the Aylerian reaction of the apparently very open-minded New Orleans clarinetist Albert Nicholas. Nicholas was born in 1900—only a year later than the moldy fig Mezz Mezzrow, whose inveterate marijuana consumption does not seem to have expanded his musical horizons beyond Dixieland, and who, in his memoir Really the Blues, jumped on the “symphonic music as slavery” bandwagon (see Ka-ching for more on this, which is part of a larger section on the false binary of democracy/totalitarianism re jazz/classical music and improvisation/composition):
“You know when I came into the Jazzclub it was packed, kinda quiet, you know how quiet the Danes can be, but anyway I went to the bar to order a bottle of beer, was served and got ready to pour a glass. Then they started. It was so loud, jubilant and different. I was actually scared. My hand started a-shaking. I had to stop trying to pour my beer. I just turned around and listened. I’d never heard anything like what they were doing before in my life.”
Mr. Nicholas’ experience has been shared by many. The music of Albert Ayler mentally shakes one up.
Leaving the listener shaken and stirred, I might add, not to be confused with shaken, not stirred, which was—in what may be a truly meaningless coincidence, though it has a certain cosmically significant ring to it—first uttered by Sean Connery in Goldfinger, 1964.