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Baker's Dozen

Jazz Is My Religion: Idris Ackamoor’s Baker’s Dozen
Siobhan Kane , September 6th, 2023 09:49

In a sprawling Baker’s Dozen, longstanding jazz legend Idris Ackamoor tells Siobhán Kane about the way Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler, Bob Marley and more have inspired his life and work


Albert Ayler – Bells

In the winter of 1971, I had just finished studying with my primary sax teacher Clifford King who had played with Jelly Roll Morton and Jimmie Lunceford, but now I was turned loose to find my own place in the musical universe, and I went to LA. In a complete chance meeting while checking out the musical underground, I met another divine messenger, my friends Charles Tyler. He is one of the unsung heroes, an alto baritone saxophonist from Cleveland. I did not know who he represented in the pantheon of avant-garde music, but he took me under his wing, and was my major influence before I met Cecil. He would say, “Hey Idris, play every note with one finger,” as sometimes you play side keys, but that was one bit of advice I will never forget. Years later, I found out that Charles was famous and revered through playing with the trilogy of the saxophone gods, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and Albert Ayler. Ayler had one of the most recognisable voices and approaches to the tenor saxophone of any musician that has ever lived. Everyone listened to him as he was so unique, using folk melodies and nursery rhymes like anthems and marches, and out of your body cathartic playing. It was unbelievable. Live At Town Hall was basically from another omniverse. One hundred years from now when aliens arrive on planet earth this album will be an example of earthly communications needing to be deciphered. It is an album that, if you have a room of uninvited guests, if you put this album on, all the guests you don’t want to entertain will exit the room, only to leave devotees of the present. You put that thing on you chase people out of the room! But I love it and always listen to it.

Charles [Tyler], my mentor and teacher, was on this record. He was Ayler’s alto player, they were both from Cleveland, they may have even been cousins, I feel like I have a connection with Albert from my playing with Charles. Albert died a tragic death, he was found floating dead in New York City’s East River in 1970. Such a tragic ending to this man’s life, he had also started to be besieged to be more commercial, and those are the albums least desirable for me in many ways, but this is… well, there will never be another like it.