Holy Ghost
The Life & Death Of Free Jazz Pioneer Albert Ayler
Richard Koloda

Published November 2022
ISBN 9781911036937
312pp with 8pp photo insert
6 x 8.5 in (150 x 215mm)
£14.95 UK / $24.95 US / $32.95 CAN


Ayler synthesized children’s songs, La Marseillaise, American march music, and gospel hymns, turning them into powerful, rambunctious, squalling free-jazz improvisations. Some critics considered him a charlatan, others a heretic for unhinging the traditions of jazz. Some simply considered him insane. However, like most geniuses, Ayler was misunderstood in his time. His divine messages of peace and love, apocalyptic visions of flying saucers, and the strange account of the days leading up to his being found floating in New York’s East River are central to his mystique, but, as Koloda points out, they are a distraction, overshadowing his profound impact on the direction of jazz as one of the most visible avant-garde players of the 1960s and a major influence on others, including John Coltrane.

A musicologist and friend of Donald Ayler, Albert’s troubled trumpet- playing brother, Richard Koloda has spent over two decades researching this book. He follows Albert from his beginnings in his native Cleveland to France, where he received his greatest acclaim, to his untimely death on November 25, 1970, at age thirty-four, and puts to rest speculation concerning his mysterious death.

A feat of biography and a significant work of jazz scholarship, Holy Ghost offers a new appreciation of one of the most important and controversial figures in twentieth-century music.

RICHARD KOLODA has a master’s degree in Musicology from Cleveland State University, having written a thesis on the piano music of Frederic Rzewski. He was a contributor to the critically acclaimed documentary My Name Is Albert Ayler by Swedish filmmaker Kasper Collin and a consultant on Revenant Records’ ten-CD retrospective of Ayler, Holy Ghost: Rare And Unissued Recordings (1962–70), which has been called ‘the Sistine Chapel of box sets.’ Richard lives in Wayland, Ohio, where he practices law. When he is not in court, he is working on his second book (not about music).

‘Reading like an action-packed novel, Koloda’s biography is definitive, colorful, and a major addition to the literature of American music and jazz.’ SCOTT YANOW, AUTHOR OF JAZZ ON RECORD 1917–1976

‘Albert Ayler’s music was so startling that some called it a scandal, the last scandal in a music that had begun in scandal. Others, like Anthony Braxton, said that Albert had pushed the vocabulary of John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders as far as they could be pushed, and that everything after him would be post-Ayler. Ayler’s brother and band member Donald said that all they were guilty of was breathing. Today, Albert’s music and his vision might be called an early form of Afrofuturism, a return to the past to create a new future. The facts of Ayler’s life have for years been hard to come by, and stories told about him are mythological, some even ghostly. Koloda’s book remarkably reconstructs Ayler’s life story and explores the controversy he created.’ JOHN SZWED, AUTHOR OF SO WHAT: THE LIFE OF MILES DAVIS

‘Albert Ayler remains one of the great visionaries of American music. He arrived by way of jazz and the Sorrow Songs, entering public awareness through a movement inspired by calls for Black Liberation, and playing music that frequently found its deepest resonance with listeners whose tastes were more down-to-earth than bebop. Anyone who has gone to the crossroads with Robert Johnson or thrilled to the Wicked Pickett’s cross-grained scream can recognise and identify the vernacular voices inhabiting Ayler’s vision. Richard Koloda draws on archive material and fresh oral history to document aspects of an American family and the passage of an uncompromising artist who took no prisoners.’ VAL WILMER, AUTHOR OF AS SERIOUS AS YOUR LIFE: BLACK MUSIC AND THE FREE JAZZ REVOLUTION, 1957–1977