Arthur Doyle - Me, Myself
Photo courtesy of Carbon Records
Arthur Doyle is the most immediately recognizable sax player alive. His sound is a mixture of African folk song delicacy and pure Albert Ayler overload. His vocal style (both as pure element and incorporated into his sax and flute styling) is unidentifiable and seemingly from an alternate (jazz) world. His style is impossible to ignore. For reasons both known and unknown, Doyle is not a figure widely recognized by the US free jazz community. He is seemingly more recognized abroad - as highly successful tours of Europe and Japan bear witness. This is the case with a lot of jazz musicians.
by Dave Cross (June 2000)
Those that do know Doyle most likely know him from his mid 1990's "comeback". His sound seemingly came out of nowhere and the evolution of Doyle continues.
The (r)evolution of Arthur Doyle
BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA Late 1940's-1960's
Arthur Roy Doyle was the second boy born into a family of 5 living in the American deep south - Birmingham, Alabama that is. There were five children in the family all told, that's the way things were done then. It is very clear that Arthur's parents were hard working and loving people - all five of their children family were to go on to achieve degrees of higher education, in fact, all but one (Arthur) hold advanced degrees (stand fast - Art is currently in progress with his degree in composition). Doyle remembers his parents hard work and dedication.
"I was born the second of five children to Mr. and Mrs. Margaret and Arthur Lee Doyle. The family consists of three boys and two girls. We were born in the south of America. The boys share one bedroom... So many lies have been told about the black family. Not so. On my Alabama Feeling that is what "Mother Image and Father Image" is about.
When asked about his youth, Doyle remembers fishing for bass and catfish with his brothers, but it wasn't all happy. Arthur Doyle remembers Birmingham: Wonderful, mystical and magical things happen in Birminghan, Alabama. People like Joe Louis, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Nat King Cole. The mixing of the races didn't matter very much because what you don't know won't hurt you. Because the two races were not together until Dr King and other local leaders came along the colored sign didn't matter much.
NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE, Late 1960's:
Things were changing during Doyle's time in Nashville. "My Father and Mother were in Birminghan, fighting alongside Dr. King, my brother and sisters too fought there for their God given rights. I was in Nashville, Tennesee fighting with people like (future Black Panther) Herbert Rapp Brown (noted for his quote "Violence is as American as cherry pie"). I was playing music in the moment." It was in Nashville that Doyle frequently gigged with R&B and rock as well as jazz groups. It was during this period that Doyle played with future Pip leader Gladys Knight. THAT would have been something to see.
NEW YORK 1967- late 1980's:
After college Doyle moves to New York and made the loft scene revolving around ESP Disk. He rehearsed with Sun Ra (confirmed in John Szwed's book Space Is The Place) and it's here that the first Doyle recordings are released. Noah Howard's Black Ark and Milford Graves Babi Music are the first releases that feature Doyle's early hard, hard sound. Extremely hard to come by, but the crown jewel in the early Doyle canon was his own. Doyle records and releases his own debut in 1978's Alabama Feeling (AK-BA, released again by Doyle's own DRA 1998 and still available). More legendary now for the price originals go for in Japan, the record was a screaming, raw continuation to a now completely out of style music. Free jazz in 1978? Please. The band is wild, loose and free and Doyle is completely off the hook. The performance of electric bass man Richard Williams is totally nuts, and at times comes close to upstaging Doyle... What a band, what a great recording, totally removed from time.
Doyle continued to play New York but would not release a record under his name again until 1993. While the original Alabama Feeling had a small release with limited distribution out of NYC (some squeaked out) it did catch the attention of then Red Transistor and soon to be brilliant Ed Wood biographer Rudolph Grey. Grey and Doyle soon formed a musical partnership known as The Blue Humans with jazz-uber drummer Beaver Harris. As documented on The Blue Humans Live NY 1980 (Audible Hiss) Doyle and Harris slam free jazz know how into Grey's way out post Hendrix sci-fi free no wave. The addition of Grey's sound to Doyle's would alienate everyone. The band was more involved in the NYC downtown No Wave scene than anything jazz. The Blue Humans would go on to record a couple more records without Doyle, doing a few with Alan Licht. Doyle continued his musical relationship with Grey as documented on a 1995 single on Audible Hiss. "I have been through stages of development of where I am today... I played BeBop, I have played noise punk rock and I played free jazz."
Late 1980's to early 1990's FRANCE:
Arthur was playing and supporting himself in Paris when personal problems landed him in prison. There is talk of government conspiracy and Arthur, even after serving time, maintains his innocence. While in prison Doyle wrote appromaxately 150 songs.
1993-9/8/1999 ENDICOTT, NY
Many would wonder how Doyle wound up in one of the small "expressway" cities of upstate New York on his return to the US. The fact is that he came to live with his brother, then employed there by IBM. Arthur soon found his own digs in a small Italian section that to me was very reminiscent of many upstate small towns. It was here that Arthur recorded a number of his mid 1990's work, a lot of it on his portable cassette recorder. "It's broken now," Doyle reports. More Alabama Feeling (Ecstatic Peace) released in the curious single sided format, marked the debut of the lo-fi solo performer Arthur Doyle. It was raw, with pause button slams, Doyle muttering incomprehensibly, multiple takes of shrieking sax power lift... "Now I am playing what I call Free Jazz Soul Music".
His next release was The Songwriter (Ecstatic Peace). Doyle recorded it in a small studio in Endicott. In Doyle's typical fashion, all of the false starts are left in place. The photograph on the cover was taken in Paris a couple of years earlier.
Audible Hiss released a number of Doyle related releases, already noting the Blue Humans CD, the also released the powerful Plays And Sings From The Song Book Volume One. Again, tape hiss aesthetic mixed with Doyle's best songs: "Just Get The Funk Spot", "Olca Cola In Angola", "Goverey" (pronounced "Grooving", don't ask me) and "Flue Song" are all heavy contenders in the Doyle repertoire and a few have been recorded several time each. Another live LP was recorded at NYC too hip nightclub The Cooler and released on CD by The Lotus Sound as The Arthur Doyle Quartet plays The Cooler. Doyle sounds particularly otherworldly for the first several minutes and there is a delay being produced by an overactive sound man. Doyle teams with longtime stalwart Rudolph Grey and a new rhythm section in the phenomenal Wilbur Morris and monster drummer Tom Surgal. Surgal later questioned the validity of the release without his approval.
Canadian label An Soph released Do The Breakdown in 1997. "Street Player" and "Alabama Feeling" were crowd favorites during the week and a half long Japanese Tour of 1997. While the musical aesthetic remains the same the graphic sensibility of the CD artwork was very different from anything Arthur had done before. Here's a kicker - there was a Japanese companion release to Breakdown. Yokoto Music Entertainment released Live In Japan Doing The Breakdown in 1997. Not many made it back here to the States, Art himself received 50 copies and sent them to college radio stations. A true greatest hits release, it features a live in studio recording of Arthur Doyle running through 6 numbers and an amazing 12 page book of photographs and text written in his own hand produced on rich matte paper. The one to own?
There are a couple of releases that are yet to be released. Yokoto is also planning a release of a Doyle Japanese trio. Also in the pipe is are French, Italian and US releases.
ARTHUR DOYLE 2000:
After completeing an early 2000 Euro tour with Sunny Murray, Doyle is back in Birmingham with his folks. A Summer Southern Tour is in the works. Full circle.
Official information regarding free jazz legend Arthur Doyle on the internet and beyond:
Arthur interviewed by Muckraker, 1995. Nice selection
Arthur interviewed on his Texas trip 1997. With RealAudio and photos. Again a fine selection.
1999 Photos of the live Arthur Doyle Electro-Acoustic Ensemble.
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