Rare Jazz on eBay: Sun Ra, Albert Ayler, Barney Wilen and More

Hello from the other side of the collectible jazz spectrum — well, there presumably are as many sides as there are collectors, so perhaps the “free” realm will work for now. I’ve had some interesting discussions recently with commenter DG Mono (who also has his own site and runs the forum at London Jazz Collector) regarding the appeal of avant-garde jazz and the idea that hardcore collectors of mainstream modern jazz don’t really get so into free music, while hardcore avant-garde collectors usually also collect Blue Notes and Prestige originals as well. Mark, another regular commenter, is an example of the latter and while my budget hits the “out” stuff first, I certainly enjoy hard bop and collect much of that music (although originals are often out of my price range). Like so many things it probably depends on the collector and nobody likes to be painted with a wide brush. It would be interesting to get fellow JC readers’ thoughts on this.

But on to the goods and here are few things I’ve been eyeing as of late. The first one has been on my list forever and I have had copies a few times, though never in condition I was happy with. French saxophonist Barney Wilen’s first entry into the avant-garde realm, recorded for Vogue in 1966, joins him with vibraphonist-pianist Karl Berger, bassist Jean-François Jenny-Clark and drummer Jacques Thollot, and was released as Zodiac. This copy was listed in NM- condition for the record and EX+ for the cover (or probably a strong VG++) and sat with no bids at $450 (or a buy it now of $650). The low feedback seller and high value item probably kept some away, myself included, but hopefully someday a crisp copy will make its way into the collection.

Here’s a surprising situation, though I guess we can chalk it up to people with money who aren’t necessarily condition-hounds: Albert Ayler’s third LP and second for Danish Debut, Spirits, in what appears at first glance to be a presentable all around EX or VG++. However, a closer look reveals that the back cover slick with liner notes by Ole Vestergaard Jensen is missing and that would knock the grade down quite a bit for me, probably to a VG at best. No matter, it sold for a cool $680 and hopefully the buyer is happy.

From the British jazz files comes this rarity, Neil Ardley’s Greek Variations and Other Aegean Exercises on EMI-Columbia’s Landsdowne series, which I have on CD but was nevertheless one of a few punters that didn’t quite make the high bid. It is an excellent record with a lot of sonic variety and features the pairing of Don Rendell and Ian Carr. This copy was listed in VG++ condition for the record and cover, with sound clips that in my estimation would put the record closer to M-. It’s no surprise that $535 took it home.

Finally, and somewhat cheaper by comparison, was an original Savoy copy of The Futuristic Sounds of Sun Ra, a classic early 60s non-Saturn session that’s actually quite difficult to find in decent shape (or any shape at all). At least, that’s been my experience. This example was listed as EX for the vinyl and VG+ for the cover, with some evident clear tape issues, and closed at $260. It’s easily gone for twice that according to trusty Popsike, so not a bad price at the end of the day.

As always, happy bidding and even happier listening!


  • The Ardley ‘Greek Variations’ is great. Also issued in Australia on World Record Club, using the original stampers.

  • The Neil Ardley is a nicely textured record (CD!) but is it a half-a-grand LP?

    In the two categories you delineate — hardcore collectors of mainstream jazz vs hardcore avant-garde collectors, I probably fall (if at all) somewhere in the middle. Of necessity, my house limit for ANY record is around GBP30.00-GBP40.00, never more, and therefore of necessity I am a collector of reissues. I prefer ‘old’ reissues to contemporary, but with classic avant-garde and free improv recordings I’m perfectly happy to find some of these key LPs being reissued — and usually extremely well — on contemporary pressings by tiny boutique labels. More power to them!

    In this category fall recent reissues, all beautifully done, of: Alexander von Schlippenbach Trio: Pakistani Pomade (Cien Fuegos); Evan Parker: Topography of the Lungs (Oto Roku); Brotzmann: Machine Gun (Snowboy); Bill Dixon: Intents & Purposes (Superior Viaduct), to name just a few.

    I think it’s marvellous to see small labels engaged in the labour of love that is rereleasing superbly crafted avant-garde music.

  • It took me a while to go “out”. For many years it was bop / hard-bop or nothing. I guess it comes with age and listening?

    On the collecting front, original jazz records are a very rare beast in England, in my experience, “out” or not. Therefore, you kind of get whatever you can find. I have found a few very nice records “in the wild” over the years, but it’s perhaps a once-a-year occurrence.

  • As I wrote recently on my blog, an example of the furthest I have gone out without the listening experience becoming a “chore” is Andrew Hill, Black Fire. At this point any avant-garde/free listening experience would take a significant effort for me and I think I’d need to be sitting down giving the music my undivided attention. Does anyone listen to avant-garde/free casually in the background while they’re doing something else??

  • Yeah, I do — great for doing dishes. Then again I’ve been listening to it for so long it is second nature to have some Braxton soli cranked up while engaging in household chores or whatever. I started “out” and went more “in” as the years progressed, while certainly keeping a bead on heavy free music.

    Alun’s point of course is quite true: rare or valuable records will probably stay that way or increase, no matter the genere — there’s always somebody who is willing to pay for it. Certainly the demand becomes clearer and in some ways that opens up the reissue market — I’ll likely never own an original World’s Experience Orchestra but the recent high quality reissue is a damn fine placeholder.

  • I started with “in” and I’ve been slowly dipping my toes into more adventurous territory. As Richard says perhaps it comes with age. When I was just getting into jazz a lot seemed out there even if it was just hard bop. Seems silly now.

    I normally listen to my more avant-garde albums early on the weekends when my wife is still in bed. The kids don’t care what I play…at least for now.

  • I like listening to free jazz while drinking beer; but hard bop goes well with beer too!

  • Free jazz: it’s not just for breakfast anymore!

  • Gregory the Fish

    Fascinating discussion points, Clifford! I don’t really collect any type of jazz in particular. I seek out things I like.

    As I’ve said before, the most abrasive of free jazz was what sucked me in initially, and I sort of worked my way backwards to hard bop, Charlie Parker, etc. One of my earlier interests was of course Sun Ra, and I have been outbid on that Savoy too many times to count. But while there are records I’d pay $200+ for given the opportunity (and spare change), I don’t know if that is one of them…

  • Gregory the Fish


    I listen to all music in all contexts. I like to have music on, and whether I’m sitting on the couch with my index fingers over my lips, taking it all in, or taking research notes, or anything else, I have music on, and find free jazz to be as good as anything else for most situations, though I imagine it helps to be a fan to begin with.

  • yeah, my core collection is decidedly postwar jazz but certainly there’s a lot of other stuff to listen to — folk, blues, rock, punk, psych, country, field recordings, roots reggae, soul, funk, classical, modern composers, sound art…

  • I love free jazz! Most record stores put stuff they consider unsaleable in a “free bin” sometimes I get lucky and come home with some free jazz…..

  • I prefer “free” jazz that is weird or unusual but not abrasive. For example, I can listen to anything on Out To Lunch a hundred times, but Sander’s “red black and green”, an agressive multi horn attack track from Thembi, I skip everytime. I respect those horn shrieks but I prefer oddness. A description of Andrew Hill’s music summed it up nicely: he’s so in he’s out. The perfect mix of normal and novelty, sort of like Monk in the 40s/50s.

  • Ethan – Monk is nothing if not odd, in the good way. I always feel like Monk was kind of “dropped in” to jazz from somewhere else, there really isn’t much else like him IMO.

  • @Art — a friend of a friend supposedly pulled a nice copy of Peter Broetzmann’s “Nipples” (original Calig) out of a free bin at a shop in Austin some years ago. Quite a good score.

  • Gregory the Fish

    Art, you’re so cheeky.

    Ethan, Yeah. I hear you. I used to love the multi-horn squawk stuff, and i still do, but i have become more selective with it. but goodness, don’t skip tracks! that’s like only looking at part of a painting or skipping 1/6 of a movie! to each their own, but that’s my two cents.

    Richard, that’s exactly my feeling as well. In his biography, he is quoted as saying ornette coleman wasn’t that new because “i did that twenty years ago!”. haha.

  • Richard- A friend of mine’s dad saw Monk play in the mid 60s and he caught him outside before the show, asking “Whats up Monk?” And Monk supposedly responded with “Whoa thats some heavy sh*t man!”

  • Haha, beautiful Monk quip.

    Agreed, though Thembi does feel to me like snippets of something larger, which was more fully realized on other Sanders LPs. Black Unity is in my opinion the strongest.

  • When I was in my teens I was very much into Frank Zappa and the song “Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue” made me seek out (no pun intended) Dolphy records. Also I thought “Weasels Ripped My Flesh” was brilliant. Zappa got me into the out and Dolphy made me the jazz lover I am today.

  • The farthest out I get is listening to George Russell, Carla Bley, Jeanne Lee, Vienna Art Orchestra, Sun Ra, Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart and some of Coltrane’s more experimental stuff. But… I just can’t picture myself coming home from a hard day at work and chilling out to “Echo” by Dave Burrell.

  • Abrasive_Beautiful

    Little late to the discussion, but it’s interesting how people’s collecting paths change from the mainstream as time goes on.

    I enjoy most styles of jazz, but I’ve spent the majority of the last few years focused on collecting Blue Note. There have been brief detours of a few weeks into Contemporary, inexpensive but excellent 70’s sessions, etc. I have also always appreciated Free jazz, which I think in part is due to a period of time (before jazz) that I was around a lot of DIY experimental and noise music. A lot of Free jazz sounds harmonious and beautiful compared to standing in a dark basement listening to distortion, static, and feedback. Heh.

    Unfortunately, I feel like I’ve hit a wall lately on collecting Blue Note, getting burned a lot, and paying a premium for less than average condition. Not fun. So instead, I’ve been heading deeper into the modern jazz on the mid to late 50’s on various other labels. I could have just as easily started collecting the Blue Note artists’ later works or gone down the avant-garde rabbit hole, but I have always liked the 50’s best. I’m finding a lot of new music, and some familiar names too, but with a much lower price tag and better condition.

  • Bill W.: yeah, Echo is on another level. I do like the flipside, Peace, though.

    @Abrasive_Beautiful — indeed, as I think commenter Michel has pointed out, the Blue Note/Prestige situation has gotten really crazy in terms of prices and it’s a lot easier and cheaper to focus on sessions done for other labels during the same period (also many of those are getting expensive!). I also buy a lot of random cheap ($5) 70s jazz titles just to check ’em out — I think one gets a pretty broad spectrum of the music, coupled with 50s/60s classics, free music, bop and pre-war forms.

  • Yes, the comments on D. Burrell’s “Echo” made me smile. Remember buying BYG’s in cutout bins, then the cycle turned and everybody wanted them and prices went upupupup!
    Had to play it again before packing it off to sell. Somewhat liberating packing shelves of records into boxes.
    As many are buying, I’m selling, it’s time, I’m older and the market is somewhat insane. Might as well cash in at high end, sold waaay too many Blue Notes for $10.00 or less over the years.
    Sean, I knew some cats who came to Jazz, as yourself, from Mr. Zappa. Though didn’t he once say that “Jazz isn’t dead, it just smells funny.”

  • Yes, Zappa had some great lines. An interviewer with a wooden leg said to him, ‘So Frank, you have long hair. Does that make you a woman?’ Frank Zappa: ‘You have a wooden leg. Does that make you a table?”

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