A bassist’s journey with Albert Ayler: Bill Folwell

Although known, if at all, in Jazz circles for the brief period he spent backing tenor saxophone visionary Albert Ayler in the late 1960s, bassist Bill Folwell had a Jazz history before and after that period, dabbling with Art-Rock, Pop and Blues-Rock and Blues music and has recently returned to active playing. In this interview with Point of Departure’s Marc Chaloin, the Rochester, N.Y.-raised Folwell tells how a friendship with clarinetist Perry Robinson introduced him to Free Jazz and how shortly afterwards Ayler hired him to play in his band with drummer Beaver Harris and brother, trumpeter Donald Ayler. Folwell says the trumpeter never matched the saxophonist’s talents. “He was babysitting Donald, pretty much,” he recalls, and remembers the less-than-enthusiastic response to some of the group’s concerts in Europe, New York and even in Ayler’s home town of Cleveland. Folwell began playing electric bass around that time, which would eventually lead to a less-than-happy tenure with the psychedelic Rock band Ars Nova and other pop groups. Ayler’s encouragement of using his electric bass line, stemming from the saxophonist’s desire to become popular, would eventually result in Folwell, Canned Heat guitarist Henry Vestine, keyboardist Call Cobbs, horn sections and vocalists such as Mary Maria playing simple Rock-type sounds on Ayler’s final and most controversial LPs.