Remembering Charles Gayle

February 28, 1939 – September 7, 2023

A tribute to the fiery avant-garde saxophonist

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Tenor-saxophonist Charles Gayle passed away on Sept. 7, 2023, at the age of 84.

He was born on Feb. 28, 1939, in Buffalo, New York and little is known about Gayle’s early life.

He taught music briefly at the University of Buffalo, moved to New York City in the early 1970s, was homeless for 15-20 years, and survived by playing saxophone on street corners for spare change.

During that time Gayle developed his free-form style and huge sound.

In 1988 things began to change when the Swedish label Silkheart recorded and released three albums that were recorded by Gayle within a week; he was soon making headlines in the jazz world.

While his life became a bit more stable and he now worked in clubs rather than on the streets, his music retained its ferocity.

Gayle, who had earlier sessions released by K2B2 (a trio outing from 1965) and NoBusiness (two duets with bassist William Parker), made a series of albums for the Silkheart, FMP, Knitting Factory Works, Black Saint, Blast First, Victo, ESP, Thirsty Ear, Audible Hiss, 2.13.61, and Japanese PSF labels in the 1990s and continued being fairly prolific through 2007.

While also playing alto, soprano, bass clarinet, and piano at various times, Charles Gayle stayed true to his vision which was often quite spiritual and religious throughout his career.

Here is Charles Gayle in 2007, performing a free improvisation with bassist Ksawery Wojcinski and drummer Aleksandar Skoric.

-Scott Yanow


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