It’s not about notes any more” declared Albert Ayler famously. Or melody, harmony or rhythm either. Some people love it, some people hate it. Music consisting of simultaneous improvisation in the total absence of structure. But does it swing? you ask (gallows humour).  LJC hands over the microphone to freedom-loving Dottorjazz, to show off his marvelous collection of rare Ayler records. The records are unquestionably a thing of remarkable beauty. For some, the music is too.
If I have  added any of the pictures in the “wong place”, think of it as “free blogging”.  Why should musicians be the only ones allowed to rewrite the rules? All photos courtesy of  Dottorjazz, – photo retouching, montage  and any errors are my own   LJC
This is a review of rare records of Albert Ayler: my focus is rarity rather than artistic quality.
In 1962, aged 26, being unable to find a job in music, Ayler flew to Europe and settled in Sweden, playing with local musicians. He was a completely unknown young tenorman from Cleveland. Promoter Nils Edstrom heard him and offered the chance of recording his first session.
On October 25 the trio recorded 8 tracks, seven standards and an original entitled Free.
Four tracks were published in a very limited quantity and sold at local gigs.
A couple of hundreds are supposed to have been printed.
birsdnotes-1Due to the limited success in sales, the remaining four tracks were not published but a maximum of 8-10 copies were printed, with no cover, no title and no labels.
In 1964 Ayler recorded in Denmark what has been one of my collector’s nightmares for years: to own all the following three Debut.
Being Debut a very small and independent label, the original cover was printed in Holland by Fontana and a sticker was pasted on logos, front and back.
This issue had the cover printed in Holland too but on the right Debut label.
For this issue, Debut printed the cover itself but had to correct wrong infos and typo on the back superimposing  two typed stickers to the already printed cover.
Back in the USA: Bernard Stollman, a lawyer, founded ESP, a label with this motto:
The artists alone decide what you will hear on their ESP-Disk, a nice program!
I think that no other label has ever raised so many problems on originals as ESP
The first issue has a hard cardboard cover with burgundy print, front, back and labels.
A 12 pages booklet by Paul Haines makes the issue complete.
This is a very strange one. Hard cardboard cover, looks as the front has been hand painted (maybe serigraphed) in orange with black titles and design. The back says:
This pressing is a special pre-release edition numbering 200 copies. This signed by the artist and bears serial number…..Alas, mine has no number and no sign. Still searching….
The most controversial of all Ayler records and the one with maximum difficulties in identifying the original.
One sided live recording, issued in many vinyl colors with different sleeves.
After decades of discussions experts have stated that the original should be:
black serigraphed front with yellow design, blank back, transparent vinyl, just a little bit yellowish, red design. Please note that mine is a stereo copy in mono sleeve!
Another of my collector’s nightmares, for many years the only one record to get me crazy.
Hard, corrugated cover, a big round sticker pasted on front, silver, gold and white; blank back. Vinyl is milk, almost not transparent, with hot pink design.Please note that mine is a mono copy in stereo sleeve!
(Not the best choice of name for a record label! – LJC)
Lastly, a non Ayler record, in which he plays. On LeRoy Jones own private label, a Sunny Murray recording. A typed two page insert is included
A Japan reissue of this one has a 7″ not for sale 33 rpm with the same design, as bonus.
While I spent years in finding the three Debut’s and decades in putting my hands on THAT Bells, I realize I found the rarest Bird Notes in a very short time, less than two months, between May and July 2001.
Why this Ayler obsession? Actually I don’t know. I love Free Jazz and I love Hard Bop, my collection is mostly 50’s and 60’s. I consider Free the last true original expression in Jazz. No one has gone further, maybe it’s not possible. Not everything Free is good, true the contrary. But if you’d like to have a complete view on original USA classical music, you gotta put your interest in here.
Giorgio Sarchi – Dottorjazz, and three debuts
Many thanks to our Editor, LJC, for hosting me here: I learn and amuse everyday reading him.
You are very welcome, Dottorjazz. Thank you for sharing your rare Ayler collection. Now, about this rash, if wouldn’t mind taking a quick look.. LJC
If you have an idea for a guest post, in the context of my mission, LJC is up for it, drop me a note, no promises.


  1. I am a bit late – but very interesting article Dottorjazz!
    I’ve got the 1964 Spiritual Unity on Fontana UK (SFJL 933), with the blue labels. It does sound really good, a bit of background noise but high dynamic range and clear on high frequencies. It is announced as stereo, but listening to it… It is actually mono!
    Anyone has experienced the same? I know that there is another Fontana version with green labels, not sure what the difference is.

    The blue labels on Discogs are from my copy:


  2. Bought an Albert Ayler album from Doug Dobell around 1968/69. Loved it but didn’t have it long as I had to dispose of my collection to raise some cash. Fairly certain it was Spiritual Unity as the plum-white label above looks familiar. However I’m pretty certain my copy was in white vinyl. Can anyone confirm this edition ?

  3. Also there are two different versions of Spiritual Unity :
    Version ONE with the real SPIRITS piece on the first track of B side ( ESP 1002 MONAURAL) . This theme is also quoted Vibrations on Ghosts on Debut Fontana or on the Copehagen Tapes.
    Version TWO : all subsequent issues on ESP 1002 Stereo ( it seems) , on Fontana UK , BASE lp’s, and ZYX , Base, ESP Calibre and ESP Disk Cd’s . The Spirits piece on these issues is actually the Saints piece with the same melody that the track Saints on the Spirits Debut album . The label Venus has issued a version with both Spirits pieces being Spirits/ Vibrations and Saints.
    I have made myself the comparison between one issue ESP 1002 Mono (cardboard white cover black “walking man”) and the Fontana UK …….. and also the C’ds . Even the Saints of both the Fontana and ESP Calibre CD are different .
    About collecting LP’s : the very best sound ever from that era are the FONTANA NL GHOSTS and SPIRITS albums because Philipps did a great job (!) and the SPIRITUAL UNITY ESP 1002 MONO because the sessions of Spiritual Unity was recorded in MONO !!!
    Now it seems that ESP will issue a new SPIRITUAL UNITY cd with both different Spirits tracks….
    best wishes

  4. dear Sirs , the writer of this post is describing that it was nightmarish to find out the three Debut’s original vinyles …. what I find shameful is that the three Debut recordings , My Name is Albert Ayler, Spirits ( aka Witches and Devils) , Ghosts (a/k/a Vibrations) and the Sweet Chariot / Goin’ Home recordings are actually unavailable for years… Alan Bates / Black Lion sold the rights to DA Music and the music went issued once and now deleted from the Black Lion / DA Music catalog. When you think that the Cellar Café concert of 14th june 1964 ( Prophecy ESP 3030 a rare album as well ) has its remaining tracks in the middle of the Holy Ghost box instead to be issued with the tracks of the Prophecy lp as a double CD . Because it is the truest example of Albert Ayler playing live at the peak of his powers with no one else sharing / blowing a wind instrument… just mind boggling …….. we don’t care about original vinyls only ORIGINAL MUSIC and clever recording issue projects …….

    • Right, my recollection is that Sunny Murray had those issued on a 2CD set as “Albert Smiles with Sunny” through InRespect. That was in the 1990s and Stollman of course tried to legally put a stop to it a few years later (as he would do with the Revenant box, putting Revenant out of business).

  5. thank you dottore for you ayler post. These records are utterly rare: I have only the Spiritual unity with booklet as an original issue (and a fine transatlantic reissue of “Spirits”).Please more of you rare gems. giovanni

  6. Fascinating stuff. But blimey! Ghosts, Bells 1 & 2, Witches, Devils, Spirits etc it’s all very confusing but this has gone someway to clearing things up a little from a collector’s standpoint. Ayler doesn’t seem to have been particularly concerned about song titles or songs for that matter which doesn’t help.
    His influence is huge though from the spiritual yearning of David S Ware to the hardcore aggression of Peter Brotzman. I often think his music is quite sad at its heart – and he was very much a tragic figure. I have a battered old copy of the Hilversum Session – think I’ll give it a spin in the morning when I’m quite sure the neighbours are all out.

  7. Thank you for a super interesting bit of reading, Dottore. Stories about extremely rare records always read like books in my opinion, even if you’re not that much into the music. But still: thanks to earlier comments you’ve made here in LJC, I have tried more and more to listen to free jazz and although it’s still growing on me, I already appreciate a bit more of it each time I listen.

    From Albert Ayler I have two vinyls on Impulse: Albert Ayler in Greenwich Village (A-9155) and Love Cry (A-9165). Other vinyls that I have (and that I file under free jazz) are Sun Ra with on the a-side The Sound Mirror and on the b-side Sun Ra and his Arkestra with Jazzisticology and Of Other Tomorrows Never Known. Last but not least is the Clifford Thornton Quartet with The Panther and the Lash.

    On CD I have an album that until about a year ago I could not listen to: Alice Coltrane’s Universal Consciousness. I forced myself to listen to it over and over again and slowly but surely the music opens up, I have to admit it. The two Albert Ayler Impulses that I have are going through the same process for me, ’cause I may not be a fan, but I want to be able to listen to his music and enjoy it at some point. Maybe I just have to get a bit older, too 🙂

  8. I’m not a fan of free jazz and Albert Ayler myself, but I’m always amazed with the story about how his career started, with Bengt Nordström recording him almost by accident and than releasing it on his own ‘label’. I also must admit that a lot of those free jazz records are beautifully released, like the hand-made sleeves, booklets and fantastic design.

  9. A very interesting post on Aylers rarest records.I bought the ESP’s in the sixties and kept only “Spirits Rejoyce”.Now I regret having sold the other ones.As Rudolf I still have the “Ghosts” album on Dutch Fontana,with excellent sound quality.For me Ayler is the end of the line in jazz development and in that way important and interesting.On the Utrecht Record Fair there was a dealer with the original Debut’s for prices beyond my reach.Thank you for this very interesting presentation!

  10. Thanks, dottorejazz, and LJC too for an excellent post showcasing some real Ayler rarities. I only really know Spiritual Unity, and the marvellous thing about is — the surprising thing for many — is how quiet a record it is. This isn’t free-breathing free jazz that scorches all who stand before it. It is relatively quiet, thoughtfully, intensively listening music from an intensely listening band.

    The great thing about not just UNITY but the other ESP releases is the story behind them — you’d think a tiny label documenting the wilder flights of the downtown avant-garde in NYC would be a quixotic, marginal venture. How much more so when one realises that eSP began life as an Esperanto label, releasing Esperanto readings and folk music… Until Bernard Stollman became obsessed with the emerging free jazz scene.

    More, please.

  11. Giorgio/dottore: I have three or four Albert Ayler recordings and I enjoy them very much. It is as far as Free could reasonably go. As you rightly state, it is not possible to go any further.
    I was not aware of a booklet coming with ESP 1002, but am digging this record anyway since I bought it in the early sixties. My Dutch Debut-Fontana albums have the most perfect sound one could imagine, even if the Danish ones are the originals.
    Thank you for this very interesting presentation.

  12. I’m not a fan of Ayler, but those records are beautiful and real. Thanks for sharing! Very enlightening.

  13. Every few years I make a concerted effort to get into free jazz. It usually ends with me running back to the mellifluous tones of Mingus and Miles and Mulligan. At the moment I’m listening to Cecil Taylor, and I must admit, his Conquistador album is slowly making an impression not entirely unassociated with pleasure. Who knows, I may yet make it to the summits of Mr Ayler during the next period of time.

  14. Good to see Albert Ayler here. I love his work. I know many who cannot stomach him, and that is fine. His music isn’t for everyone.

    LJC: With respect to the Sonny’s Time Now being on Jihad Records and that not being a “good” name for a record label. That statement lacks the proper context. Amiri Baraka (then known as Leroi Jones) was a militant in his thinking, and most of these guys were. How could they not be? America wasn’t kind to them. They grew up in a country with deep racial divides, complete with the bigotry hurled squarely at them, both legally and socially. When Baraka started his activism, black people did not even have civil rights. Legally, he wasn’t a full human being. His ideology synced more with Malcolm X, than with Martin Luther King Jr., hence the militancy.

    Baraka’s militancy and use of the word jihad was not in the sense of Al-Qaeda and their version of jihad (i.e. terrorism). Rather, it was rebellion via art. The name of the label was apropos. For him, it was a war over the dominant culture and its hegemony and control over black communities. Baraka created the “Black Arts Movement” to counteract this and the entire point was to empower black communities. The type of person offended by it was who he wanted no part of, and that included the black bourgeoisie. His fiery (and controversial) Black Art poem on this record was a screed read by a young man who was very angry, backed by other young men who were just as angry and frustrated. You hear Ayler’s tone get sharper on his sax coinciding with Baraka’s angry words. The angrier the words, the sharper his tone. That was their “jihad”. They weren’t interested in commercial viability, a marketable or appealing label name or selling records for mass consumption. This was protest music for the disenfranchised, frustrated and angry. They were angry about a lot of things and it comes out on this record.

    2 years after the Sonny’ Time Now record, Baraka was severely beaten by the police in the Newark Race Riots that killed 26 people. Retrospective video on the riots with personal accounts including Baraka’s –


    • Respect to your insights, Atane. I haven’t oppressed anyone recently, personally a far as I know, but I recognise the burden carried by black musicians in these years. The Jihad reference was a little tongue in cheek, no slight intended on their hardship.

  15. Thank you Dottorjazz and LJC for this most informative post. ESP is a most convoluted label and those Debuts, whew. doubt if they’ll ever come into my hands, and have been hunting them for some decades now.
    Great to have an article on Free in your posts LJC. I’m for more. Like perhaps journey to Saturn (Sun Ra)?

    • Yeah, if anyone wants to do a post on a collection from the El Saturn record label, that would be fascinating, wouldn’t it?

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