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Slinging tuneage like some fried or otherwise soused short-order cook

14 June 2014

No Shit, Sherlock…This Ain’t Conan

This is Arthur Roy Doyle not Arthur Conan Doyle.

Tenor saxophonist, flautist, & vocalist Arthur Doyle was born June 26, 1944 in Birmingham, Alabama. Doyle has played with a host of free jazz luminaries like Milford Graves, Noah Howard, Bill Dixon, & Alan Silva as well as with alt. guitar heroes Rudolph Grey & Keiji Haino. He has thus become something of an underground cult hero himself, despite releasing a mere handful of recordings (only thirteen albums, plus a handful of limited edition singles) since 1969.

Doyle's earliest exposure to jazz was to Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington. Originally drawn to the alto sax, he took lessons from Otto Ford, a family friend & Birmingham native, a musical genius who had to clean buses to make a living. Arthur moved to Nashville to study at Tennessee State University. There he played jazz with Horace Silver sideman Louis Smith & ex-Sun Ra band member Walter Miller. He also played rhythm & blues with various local Nashville bands. There was a really active jazz & R'n'B scene in Nashville. Most of Ray Charles’ orchestra came from there, along with musicians like David 'Fathead' Newman, Joe Guy, & Cleveland Eaton. At TSU in 1965 Doyle played in a big band led by pianist Donny Hathaway & also backed Gladys Knight.

After graduating from Tennessee State University, Doyle went first to Detroit in trumpeter Charles Moore's big band, but soon realized he wasn't going to find work there. All the Detroit musicians dressed like pimps with straight hair and drove shiny Cadillacs. Doyle just didn't fit in. He returning to Alabama & hooked up with Johnny Jones & the King Casuals, an R'n'B act that allowed him to tour as far as Boston, where he also played in a sextet led by Frank Washington. Finally arriving in New York in 1967, he teamed up with singer Leon Thomas, sat in with Pharoah Sanders a few times, but the decisive encounter which pushed him into free jazz was with Milford Graves.

Doyle's friend Leroy Wilson was walking down the street in Harlem & ran into Milford Graves. Milford was set up there with Amiri Baraka & others. He was looking for musicians to play free jazz, so he gave Leroy his number & Doyle called him up. At first Graves didn't really like what Doyle was doing, because Arthur was still playing be-bop. Graves wanted somebody like Albert Ayler, who Doyle was familiar with at the time. However, Arthur got the opportunity to play with Milford, Arthur Williams, Hugh Glover, & Joe Rigby. At this point he started working on his own particular style, which he dubbed 'free jazz soul'.

Unlike the saxophonists who evolved into free jazz playing by extending & eventually subverting the styling of bop greats John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, & Sonny Simmons, Doyle, like Albert Ayler & Frank Wright, came at free jazz playing from another direction: gospel; soul; & R'n'B.

Practicing one day with a faulty reed, Doyle discovered by chance the extraordinarily gritty sound produced by singing & blowing into the horn at the same time. The resulting 'Voice-O-Phone' sound, coupled with the gutsy honkin' & screamin' beloved of R'n'B tenormen placed into a free jazz context was a revelation to Doyle. He was soon in demand.

Charles Stephens, a trombonist & childhood friend from Birmingham who later featured on Doyle's first solo album Alabama Feeling introduced him to Sun Ra, who also originally hailed from the Magic City. Ra invited Arthur to sit in with the Arkestra at Slug's Saloon on several occasions.

Doyle then joined alto saxophonist Noah Howard's band with trumpeter Earl Cross, pianist Leslie Waldron, & Norris 'Sirone' Jones on bass, & Muhammad Ali on drums. Howard, originally from New Orleans, had arrived in New York from San Francisco in the mid 1960s. He already had two fine ESP albums under his belt when he went into the studio in March 1969 to record The Black Ark. Richard Williams' 1972 review of the album in Melody Maker described Doyle as "…dangerous. He never plays anything you could recognize, just furious blasts of rage. It sounds more like raw energy than anything I've ever heard. He's nasty, man." On the song "Domiabra" Doyle sounds as if he's trying to blow his whole body through the saxophone. It's a tour de force comparable to Pharoah Sanders' wildest solos with Coltrane or Frank Wright's "Your Prayer".

Though busy in the early 70s playing with Bill Dixon, Sam Rivers, Andrew Cyrille, & Dave Burrell, & also forming his own group with Charles Stephens & Juma Sultan, Doyle suffered the first of several nervous breakdowns in 1972. No recording of Doyle's playing has come to light from the period between 1969 & 1976. Then he recorded Bäbi with Hugh Glover & Milford Graves. Bäbi is a ferocious three-movement blowout recorded live in March 1976. The raw, tribal power of Graves & Doyle trading war cries is blood curdling, the audience reaction near ecstatic. In the audience at WBAI Free Music Store was guitarist Rudolph Grey, who'd been keeping an eye out for Doyle ever since reading that review of The Black Ark in Melody Maker back in 1972.

When Doyle played The Brook, a loft space on West 17th St in the autumn of 1977, Grey made contact with Doyle & the two exchanged phone numbers. The concert at The Brook, which at that time was managed by Charles Tyler, with whom Doyle formed his own label DRA, also in 1977, was the first album released under the Doyle’s name. That album was the renowned Alabama Feeling.

On Alabama Feeling Doyle is joined by old Birmingham friends Charles Stephens on trombone & the 'criminally under-recorded' Rashied Sinan on drums (Sinan's only other famous outing was on Frank Lowe's extraordinary ESP album from 1973, Black Beings). Sinan brought along a student of his, Bruce Moore as second drummer to give the album a more rhythmic feel. Richard Williams' meaty Fender bass completed the line-up. After the release of Alabama Feeling, Doyle & Rudolph Grey first played at Max's Kansas City on December 10th 1978 as The Blue Humans on a bill with Mars & DNA. Drummer Beaver Harris was added to the group in early 1979 (Rashied Sinan stepped in when Harris was unavailable). Over the course of six or seven gigs the trio introduced jazz to the NYC punk crowd.

Doyle decided to go to France in 1981 but returned to New York to play with the Blue Humans at the legendary Noise Fest on June 20th, on the same bill as Glenn Branca. It was the last time the Doyle/Grey/Harris trio played together (although Grey & Doyle went on to play & record often, Beaver Harris died in 1991).

1982 found the saxophonist back in Paris playing with Alan Silva's Celestrial Communication Orchestra on Desert Mirage, a double album on Silva's IACP label. Doyle played lead tenor, jamming with a big band mainly comprised of students from Silva's revolutionary jazz school, the IACP (Institut Art Culture Perception). Shortly after, Doyle found himself in another kind of jam. He was accused of a double rape. He spent the next five years moving around the French prison system. Doyle was framed by two American girls. At the trial the prosecution stressed the fact of  Arthur’s first nervous breakdown. The two girls finally broke down & admitted there was no rape.

Denied access to a saxophone in prison, Doyle wrote his memoirs, which promptly & mysteriously disappeared from his cell & occupied himself writing the 'Songbook', an extraordinary collection of nearly three hundred songs, selections of which feature on his 1990s solo albums, notably Plays & Sings from the Songbook, Songwriter, & Do the Breakdown. Of his time in jail, Doyle says:

"I learned to sing. I had the time. The words for the songs came from everywhere: headlines from the newspapers; my personal experiences with men & women; my time with Milford Graves; my memories of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Mohammed Ali, Amiri Baraka, Stokely Carmichael, Rap Brown; the things they said they were going to change; the things that haven't changed that much. After three years they gave me a horn. When they moved me to Strasbourg I had a saxophone in there. When I went to Metz they had a horn there too. That was re-adaptation, they said, getting me ready to be released. I felt bitter towards the United States government, not so much the French administration. They were very good to me, worked everything out & got me out of jail."

Returning back to upstate New York to get back on his feet, Doyle continued to work on the 'Songbook'. When he finally recorded, it was at home, on a boom box. He couldn't afford a studio. The resulting albums & singles are among the strangest, most compelling recordings of the last years of the twentieth century: though comparisons might be drawn with the instant poetry of Beefheart's "The Dust Blows Forward 'N The Dust Blows Back"; or the atrocious no-fi sound quality of Eugene Chadbourne's early cassette recordings; the works that come closest to Doyle's musical & linguistic universe are the early songs of Harry Partch. Like Partch's Barstow, which assembled its texts from cryptic, poignant graffiti left by desolate desert hitchhikers in the Depression, Doyle's lyrics transcend the personal to become universal. Oblique references to family & friends are intercut with hoots, whoops, & hollers that seem to derive as much from ancient Africa as from the doo-wop or the R'n'B Arthur had grown up with. Saxophone, flute, & recorder are no longer distinct from the voice, but are instrumental manifestations of it.

The 1990s saw Doyle renew old contacts, working with Rudolph Grey, Wilber Morris, Rashid Bakr, & making new ones, notably the insatiable free jazz enthusiast Thurston Moore. In 1997 Jun Tanaka (Keiji Haino's agent) booked a string of solo, duo, & trio gigs for Doyle & flew him to Japan. While there he played & recorded with bassist Barre Phillips, did a duo concert with Haino, & did two shows with the elusive Takashi Mizutani, underground guitarist from the cult psychedelic group Les Rallizes Dénudés.

In March 2000, he returned to Paris. In typical Doyle style, he was soon found playing in the Metro for intrigued passing travelers. He teamed up with legendary drummer Sunny Murray (the two had previously played back in 1980) for a series of dates across Europe & a recording session for Fractal which yielded the album Dawn of a New Vibration. On his first studio date since The Black Ark thirty-one years earlier, Doyle sounds relaxed, even playful, throwing in quotations from hoary old chestnuts like "In a Persian Garden" & the Young Rascal's "Groovin' ".

Doyle returned to his native Birmingham in the early 2000s & saw a new period of heightened activity. He formed Arthur Doyle’s Electro-Acoustic Ensemble, a wild & wooly rotating cast of players that includes Majora label artist Leslie Q. & folks from Temple of Bon Matin & Coffee, such as Vinnie Paternostro, Dave Cross, Tim Poland, Ed Wilcox, & others, dropping releases along the way on imprints like Ecstatic Yod & Qbico.

Sadly, saxophonist Arthur Doyle died January 25, 2014 in Alabama. He was 69.

Milford Graves w/Arthur Doyle – Bäbi, IPS ST004, 1977.
all decryption codes in comments

Side A –

Side B –

Side A –
Your Spirit is Calling
Noah Black Ark
Flute & Drums

Side B –
Jericho of Ballad
9th or 8th November
Conga & Flute

Arthur Doyle – No More Crazy Women 12” single side vinyl, Qbico 33, 2005.

Side A –

Red Bird
Funk Breaks
Jackie Millionaire
The Boost

Ecstatic Yod E#29b, 2001.

Side A -
Ozy Dozy Lady

Side B -
Flue Song

Here Electro-Acoustic Ensemble is: Arthur Doyle - vocals, flute, & tenor sax; Tim Poland - guitar; R Nuuja - vocals & electronics; John Schoen - trombone, alto saxophone, & turntables; David Cross - percussion: & Ed Wilcox - drums. Recorded at Bug Jar, Rochester, NY (6/99) & Astrocade, Philadelphia, PA (9/99).

This is the Electro-Acoustic Ensemble remixing the E-A Ensemble. National Conspiracy finds Doyle & this crew making a crazy collage tape mangled re-mix mischief out of recordings of their already wonkily unstable sounding gigs; the manhandled end results landing not far afield from something like Smegma. National Conspiracy is a remixing of the 2002 vinyl only release Conspiracy Nation. (Side One recorded at Hallwalls, Buffalo, NY on January 24, 2002 - Side Two recorded at Analog Shock Club, Rochester, NY on January 26, 2002).  National Conspiracy celebrates a string of performances in NYC in March of 2004, including sets at Tonic & the No Fun Fest at North Six in Brooklyn.

Side A –

Side B –
Here E-A Ensemble is: Arthur Doyle – vocals, flute, & tenor sax; Wilber Morris – double bass; David Cross – sampler; & Rashid Sinan – drums.

Side A –
When the Shit Goes Down
Milk Brain
Butt Call

Here E-A E is: Arthur Doyle - kinetic sax kaboom &village voice; Leslie Q – guitar; Vin Paternostro - Roland 505; Dave Cross – turntables; R Nuuja – electronics; & Ed Wilcox, drums.

Recorded at the No Fun Fest. March 19 2004, North Six, NYC.

Recorded live November 14, 1997 at Manda-la2, Tokyo, Japan: Arthur Doyle - tenor sax, flute, & voice; Takashi Mizutani - electric guitar; & Sabu Toyozumi – drums.

Side 1 –
November 8th or 9th – I Can’t Remember When
Side 2 –
Alabama & Mississippi Reunited
Side 3 –
I Pass, then Resist
I’d Live in Her World, then Live Without Her in Mine
Side 4 –
Love Heal



  1. Bäbi
    Your Spirit is Calling
    Crazy Women
    African Love Call
    National Conspiracy
    Patriotic Act
    Live in Japan

  2. check out www.homeboy-music.co.uk for more info
    and the astonishing 'nature boy' by Arthur's trio in 1972

    1. Thanks for the link. I started reading the Arthur Doyle imterview, will finish it shortly. Great job. I clicked How to Order but nothing happened. How much is the cdr & what does it contain?

  3. Thanks so much. I've been looking for more these Doyle records for a long time. I first heard him about 20 years ago on Babi. A friend of mine went to Bennington in the 80s and had Graves as a Teacher and played that record for me. I'd heard and admired Graves before but it was the reeds that knocked me out. Peace!