Albert Ayler: Age 34 | Cause Of Death: MYSTERIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES
(b. 13 July 1936, Cleveland, Ohio, d. November 1970, NYC)
His first few albums were taped either in Europe or for European labels, but his reputation was made with the recordings for the New York label ESP, which was established by Bernard Stollman particularly to promote Ayler’s music. Until the late ’50s the tendency in the development of jazz had been one of increasing harmonic complexity and sophistication. Ornette Coleman and Ayler created styles which, though neither atonal nor entirely free, re-established the primacy of melody. On 25 November 1970 his body was recovered from New York City’s East River. One bizarre rumor claimed that there was a bullet hole in the back of the neck. Ayler had not been seen for some 20 days before his body was discovered, and the circumstances of his death remain unclear. The theory that he had been killed by the police has been given much currency. However, he had been very depressed about the breakdown suffered by his brother, Donald Ayler, and close friends have confirmed that he had talked about taking his own life.
But, Gary Peacock is quoted in January 1998 Hot House: “Someone had shot him in the back of the head. Some said it was drugs. But my experience was that he wasn’t a druggie. My own suspicion is probably female-related in a way.”
Mary Parks told her version of the death of Albert Ayler to English discographer Mike Hames in 1983. She said, “The strains of surviving as a musician in New York seriously affected the mind of Albert’s brother, Donald. Their mother (Myrtle Ayler) blamed Albert for introducing Donald to the musician’s life and continually pressed Albert to look after Donald.” The night he disappeared, Ayler again told his lover, “My blood has got to be shed to save my mother and my brother.” He smashed one of his saxophones over their television set and stormed out of the house. Mary called the police to report Albert missing….
According to Hames, she said Albert took the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and jumped off as the boat neared Liberty Island — committing suicide.
~a jazz history by Joe Mosbrook