Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Free-Jazz Trumpeter Donald Ayler Dies at 65

Donald Ayler, a jazz trumpeter often lauded by critics and cognoscenti of free jazz, died of a heart attack in Northfield, Ohio, on Oct. 21. He was 65.

Ayler, who was usually known as Don and was the younger brother of the late, legendary tenor and alto saxophonist Albert Ayler, never received the recognition enjoyed by his sibling-in fact, Donald left behind very few recordings as a leader-but his role in Albert’s story is significant and he certainly had a following of own, albeit a relatively tiny one. He appeared with Albert on the saxist’s essential recordings, including Bells (Calibre), Spirits Rejoice (ESP-Disk), In Greenwich Village (Impulse!) and Love Cry (Impulse!). Donald’s composition “Our Prayer,” which appears on both the Slug’s recordings as well as the Greenwich Village sides, is considered one of the Albert Ayler Quintet’s classic march-style pieces.

Donald Ayler was born in Cleveland on Oct. 5, 1942 and first played the alto sax. But he eventually switched to trumpet, studying at the Cleveland Institute, and then performed in a band with his cousin, baritone saxist Charles Tyler. That led to a position with Albert’s band between the years of 1965 and ’68. Albert’s mysterious drowning death in 1970 devastated Donald, who faded from public view without ever having attained a fraction of the renown enjoyed by Albert, who has long been recognized as a leading free-jazz pioneer. Donald recorded a three-record set live in Italy in 1981 but it has long been out of print (Volume 2 of those recordings is pictured). Two leader tracks, “Prophet John” and “Judge Ye Not,” surfaced in 2004 on the matchless Albert Ayler box set Holy Ghost: Rare & Unissued Recordings, 1962-70 (Revenant).

Originally Published