Albert Ayler, Sun Ra, Milford Graves + More for the $1,000-Up Bin

s-l1600Like many of you, I’ve been watching the auctions of a Maine dealer under the handle “the-things-that-are” and his or her impressive list of 1960s underground jazz rarities and European small-press records. Initially the seller put up an impressive buy-it-now list with rare early recordings from Albert Ayler, Sun Ra, and the composer Moondog. Most of these did not sell at fixed prices, although a few choice pre-production and very ornate-looking copies of Ayler’s Bells moved at $1,250 and $1,050, respectively. One seemed to be hand-printed on clear plastic, a variant that I’ve never seen before. These limited-run early versions of Bells surely made their intended mark at the time of release in 1966, and once ESP put it into production the record saw numerous variants of clear and colored vinyl and regularly printed or screen-printed color combinations. At auction, the seller did well with a number of interesting versions, even bringing in the ducats on a couple of damaged multicolor copies and 1970s stereo pressings (which normally don’t go much over $40).

The seller also had a copy of Ayler’s first recordings released on the tiny Swedish imprint Bird Notes, Something Different!!!, as well as two different test copies of a second volume that were not issued at the time, rather showing up in 1990 on the DIW label in Japan. The copy of Something Different!!! was VG for the record and EX, or very close to M-, for the thin laminated cover and still netted a cool $1,789. The test pressings were both listed in VG condition for the vinyl and included covers of the earlier volume (which has no track list). They went for a whopping $2,375 and $3,589, respectively.

Ayler’s Spiritual Unity, recorded in 1964 and released as ESP 1002, is a free improvisation classic and its initial edition is tough to come by, with a different take of “Ghosts (Second Variation)” on side two than what was used on more common, slightly later pressings. The pre-release edition, with a beautiful black-on-orange hand-pulled silkscreen sleeve and a booklet with notes by Paul Haines, is very rare. I handled a copy once and it was in pretty rough shape. This one may have been somewhat better but was still only listed in VG condition for the vinyl and what looked like a strong VG+ for the cover, and brought in $2,047. Ayler’s initial forays into his own music were in Scandinavia and in addition to the Bird Notes title, three different (and highly-regarded) sessions were also released on the Danish fan-club label Debut. My Name Is Albert Ayler seems to be the most in-demand of these yet comes up with some regularity; thus, $1,592 for a VG++/NM copy seems a little high. Spirits is a personal favorite and I was able to score a nice UK Transatlantic mono version about fifteen years ago for $20. Even that edition goes for some change now, but I was surprised to see the original Danish with its sweet textured sleeve in M- condition come in at $997, way more than any previous auction.

In the Sun Ra department, many of us were curious about this Transition acetate of unissued takes, which also included tracks and fragments from Joe Gordon and Dave Coleman. While it did not sell for a buy-it-now of $5,500, someone did bite at $1,125. A VG acetate is not something that is really playable at this point but does serve as something of an artifact. The seller also had a very clean, albeit probably second edition, of Jazz in Silhouette on Ra’s Saturn imprint. Scorched copies have recently netted high prices, so $1,580 for a strong VG++ copy is probably not too surprising. There were a fair number of other early Ra classics on offer here, all of which did some wallet damage, and one which intrigued me in particular because I narrowly missed out at around $40 some years ago – Jazz by Sun Ra on the Swedish Sonet imprint, one of their earliest LPs. This example was a clean EX (it looked close to M- to me) for the top-loading laminated sleeve and VG for the vinyl, and netted $799.

Finally, a record that I’ve long been after but has also historically been well out of my price range is the first volume of duets between drummer Milford Graves and pianist Don Pullen, captured live at Yale University in 1966. The second volume, titled Nommo, is much easier to come by, yet is not musically as compelling as the first. Both were issued privately on their SRP (Self-Reliance Projects) imprint and In Concert at Yale University in its initial version came with a hand-painted, sometimes hand-lettered sleeve. Later pressings (also very rare) have a gold-printed jacket. The example on offer here had a particularly nice, rather psychedelic color scheme and, while missing the typewritten and mimeographed insert, nevertheless came in at $3,011 with both record and jacket listed in VG+ condition. That is by far the highest price I’ve ever seen for this rarity.

Take a look at some of these completed auctions as there are a lot of interesting, well-presented titles here; in addition to Ra, Ayler and Pullen-Graves, some rare Chet Baker and a gaggle of Danish Debut LPs are there for your perusal. Pretty neat stuff and it’ll be interesting to see what the seller continues to put up on auction.


  • Encouraging to see my copy of “bells” (black cover, gold vinyl, green labels) sell for $125..paid about $15 around 20 years ago. I wonder about this seller’s grading? The Sun Ra “Nubians” had some major tape and marker damage on read cover yet was graded as VG+. The vinyl had a dish warp and was graded at EX?

    Anyway would still love to know the origins of this collection; it had to be from someone with associations with the labels or artists…so many multiples of “bells”!?

  • Also another handpainted copy of the graves/pullen album recently sold in nice condition for well over $1000 less then the copy sold by this seller in Maine. Crazy record collectors!

  • I went to “completed” sales of this Maine seller. This man was sitting on a goldmine. Amazing. Nice Debuts.

  • I’m some what embarrassed to admit that I got all the way to the Graves/Pullen paragraph before I realized it was Clifford’s article. Thought maybe the avant garde revolution had finally arrived…

  • I don’t know about the seller’s grading but from the looks of several pieces it seemed strong, though Mark may be right about the VG+/EX being suspect. I’m surprised that anyone would pay $300+ for a VG copy of Ayler’s “Ghosts,” for example.

  • As a collector of avant jazz, I am torn by this turn of prices. It makes my collection more valuable for sure, but I am not about to sell it! I fear we are at that moment where we were not all that long ago with Blue Notes and the like. I think we are seeing the generation for whom avant jazz was the music of their youth now entering their high disposable income age, and pushing prices up very quickly. This, of course, shakes loose collections of folks who were not interesting in selling when the records were worth 30-50 each, but now….. Am I happy that, in a sense, Albert is being priced the same as Hank Mobley, well yes, but in another sense not. And it is odd, and sad, that the prices realized here are more than he probably got for any gig in his life, and certainly more than his whole ESP contract ever got him!

  • all very true, Eric.

  • My hand painted copy of Graves/Pullen live at Yale University came with what looks like photo copies of reviews stapled together inside. Is this the insert that is talked about, can find no other info on it. Found my copy in Port Credit a suburb of Toronto, Canada. This is a record I only dreamed of owning and there it was, a collectors copy looking like it was never played for $20 (Canadian). That was about three years ago and it would take a lot more than $3000 to get me to part with it. Anyway, any info on the original insert would be appreciated…..thanks

  • Congrats, Sean. I believe they are reviews of the concert on A4 paper, yeah. I’d still want it to be complete, you know?

  • Sean that’s a once in a lifetime find! Congrats.

  • Thanks for the reply, Clifford. Yes, A4 paper 3 pages stapled. (1) Faded blue/green paper, Jan 26th 1967 DownBeat “A Few Notes On The Avant-Garde (2) Pink paper, April 20th 1967 DownBeat “Record Reviews” (3) White paper, Jazz Monthly “Avant Garde Releases Reviewed by Max Harrison. Thanks again.

  • Nice find, Sean, as a fellow Canadian, I am jealous! Ric’s records I assume, lucky you!

  • Yeah, nice looking cover though I’d be leery of VG/VG+ vinyl… although for $1800 someone wasn’t!

  • Yeah that’s the copy I mentioned in my earlier comment..

  • On another note, I’m – like probably a lot of you – curious where this collection came from. I assume someone in one of the Scandinavian countries who knew Ayler, Erik Wiedemann, Frippe, or someone else involved with these productions. I often try to find out, when I encounter collections of interest either through online or in-store fruits, who the previous owner was. Usually that information is kept proprietary but as an archivist and researcher (in real life, not just music life), provenance feels somehow important. It certainly is part of my collecting (e.g., some of my records came from Bill Dixon’s collection).

  • I put some bids on the Ra records, I am looking for a copy of Nubians and Holiday from a very long time. I was kicked off without any possibility to reply these offers…I agree that the grading was a bit generous but these records are quite impossible to find. I hope that Sun Ra LLC will decide to produce some nice reissues of the catalog, the El Saturn originals prices are always rising. Itunes Ra reissues are not for me

  • I’m after “Nubians” myself but am not willing to spend big bucks for a flawed copy. Makes me regret passing on an original “Nubians” a few years ago for around $500 – that copy had no dish warp but did have some scratches which was why I passed on it. In hindsight that would have been a comparable bargain it seems!

  • Mark, you are right, too much money for this copy of Nubians. I admit that I never saw a copy of this record here in Italy. I went through a jazz record collection last year, I bought several Saturns but there were no copy of Nubians and Angels and Demons. Anyway, the Saturn mania is reaching new highs

  • Indeed they are.

    I know that yet another push is being made to properly document the early Saturn catalog on LP in the form of high quality reissues – supposedly with the estate’s cooperation (such as it exists). Scorpio were boots and I think Art Yard and Roaratorio have worked mainly with Marshall Allen rather than the Ra-Abraham end of things. Hopefully it’s above board and works out for all parties, though admittedly it does get confusing trying to separate the legit stuff from the pirated editions.

  • Sean and Clifford: the “reviews insert” came with (most? all?) later copies of the Don Pullen/Milford Graves album (with the golden cover). Maybe Sean’s handpainted cover with the reviews was initially sold by the musicians some time after it was manufactured?

    There’s another “insert” which came with the initial handpainted copies: it’s a small mimeographed paper with pricing and ordering information about the original release.

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