I ended up in Ohio a year ago for too many reasons to explain here. But, until recently, I have been focused on a variety of personal projects that have consumed my time. Among others, I am about to start a PhD program in another state, after recently completing the very involved application process. Now I can finally begin the research and studies that captured my attention so long ago and finally write the book I have been hinting at for so long.
Two creative artists have interested me for a while. Both are from Ohio. My journey into the works of one began at the age of sixteen when I discovered the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar as I wandered through my local library. To this day he is still my favorite poet, though he isn’t the only poet that I love. His most famous poem is “Sympathy,” popularly referenced in the title of Maya Angelou’s second autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” My favorite poem of his is the hilarious, “The Rivals.”
I believe I ought to add a sample of Dunbar’s poetry, for you to appreciate as I have. This example was recommended by a sweet older lady as I was leaving the tour. I hope you enjoy it.
The other artist is credited with influencing John Coltrane when Coltrane was the elder statesman of Jazz. Even so, his enthusiasm and spiritual fervor captivated Coltrane enough to influence Coltrane’s later works. This man was Albert Ayler. He was, unfortunately, mostly viewed as unimportant and irritating to audiences in the United States at the time, though some in this country did sincerely appreciate his genius during his lifetime. Coltrane even convinced his label, Impulse!, to sign him, but after a few releases, the label lost enthusiasm in his output, in spite of the appreciation that mainland Europe expressed during his live appearances. I discovered him about three years ago and dove deep into the Bells and Prophesy albums after a particularly rough day of teaching. That listening experience was instantly reviving and I went looking for more. He has since become more popular after his passing than he ever was in his lifetime, fortunately or unfortunately, depending on one’s perspective.
To give you an idea of how powerful Ayler’s music is, here is one of better-known tracks, “Bells,” the only side to the original album of the same name. This isn’t for the faint of heart so be patient.
So, I recently visited the Historical Home of Paul Laurence Dunbar in Dayton and the grave site of Albert Ayler (two days before his birthday, the 13th of July) in the Cleveland suburbs. Both were profound experiences that I will always treasure. I left a portion of a licorice root stick for Albert, and I was particularly intrigued by the Edison Cylinder Phonograph (another failed attempt by Edison to popularize one of his inventions) in Dunbar’s parlor.
RadioMike, 16 July 2023
PS: I might have to attempt another Jazz review with at least one of the recent Albert Ayler live box sets that have been released. Be patient. It may take some time.