[JPL] Roy Ayers

Dr. Jazz drjazz at drjazz.com
Wed Nov 15 07:16:50 EST 2006

To put on Ayers is still divine: jazz

Pioneering vibe-ist on tour with his funky all-stars
Jonathan Ratner, National Post

Published: Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Acid jazz, smooth jazz, jazz fusion, or as he called it, 
jazz-funk-all-the-time, the music of Roy Ayers has garnered various labels 
over the years. The internationally acclaimed jazz vibraphonist and 
bandleader, known for making voice a key instrumental element in his 
innovative sound, as well as hits like Everybody Loves the Sunshine, 
Running Away and We Live In Brooklyn Baby, has trouble keeping up with all 
of the characterizations.

"I was playing smooth jazz before they started calling it smooth jazz," he 
says, laughing. "Erykah Badu told me that I was the neo-soul king," he 
continues. " 'Neo-soul?' I said, 'I ain't never heard that one.' She said, 
'Neo-soul is the groove. You've created the groove, Roy.' "

That groove is what helped inspire groups like The Roots and Jill Scott to 
blend hiphop beats and rhymes with live jazz and soul. It is also what made 
Ayers' music one of the most popular sources for sampling by artists, DJs 
and producers. Sampling continues to be the primary way younger 
generations, particularly hiphop fans, discover his music.

Ayers was raised in a musical family and in an equally inspiring Los 
Angeles neighbourhood, home to several of the successful musicians he 
studied under. His father played trombone and his mother was a piano 
teacher who gave him his first lesson at the age of five.

"I played the boogie woogie and messed with stuff," he recalls. "She used 
to always tell me that one day she was going to see my name in lights."

That year, Ayers' parents took him to what would prove to be a fateful 
concert by pioneering vibraphonist Lionel Hampton.

"I'm gonna play them vibes," Ayers remembers thinking during the concert.

After the show, as Hampton thanked his audience in the aisles of the 
Paramount Theatre, he noticed the young Ayers' enthusiasm and gave him the 
pair of vibe mallets he had used that night.

Before embracing the vibes as his instrument of choice at the age of 17, 
Ayers experimented with the steel guitar, flute, trumpet and drums. He 
quickly established himself on the west-coast jazz scene in the early 
1960s, but it wasn't until 1966, when renowned jazz flutist Herbie Mann 
needed a replacement for his regular gig at the Lighthouse Club in Hermosa 
Beach, Calif., that Ayers truly began to make his mark.

"I was evolving and I was continuing to grow," Ayers says. "I was creating 
a new musical dimension."

The alliance between Mann and Ayers lasted four years, during which the two 
toured together and Ayers recorded several of his own albums. Mann also 
taught Ayers how to manage the band, "to do all the things that a leader is 
supposed to do to keep the band working."

In 1970, Ayers moved to Manhattan and formed the group Ubiquity, which 
created a commercially successful and original blend of rhythm and blues, 
jazz funk, latin and disco. New York also afforded Ayers the opportunity to 
get to know musicians like Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis.

"I like to pattern myself a lot after Miles," he says. "He was able to 
change different types of grooves and he grew musically in many different 
ways. That's what I do, too."

Hancock immediately warned Ayers about Davis' penchant for hitting people 
in the stomach to test their conditioning, presumably to see if they were 
in shape for demanding performances. Every time Ayers got close to Davis, 
he would tighten his stomach muscles.

"He hit me hard," Ayers remembers. "He'd hit you in the stomach like he's 
trying to kill you. I'm glad that Herbie told me, but I was so proud Miles 
hit me in the stomach, because that's Miles Davis."

Another collaboration that inspired Ayers was his time with Fela Kuti, the 
politically charged Nigerian musician who is considered the father of 
Afro-beat. In 1979, the two had a hugely successful tour of Nigeria, which 
led to their two albums together, as well as Ayers' personal and musical 
exploration of his African heritage.

In more recent years, Ayers has continued to release albums, record with 
other artists and act as a producer. And the 66-year-old showman has no 
plans to slow down.

He continues to tour destinations as far as Japan and perform at jazz 
festivals with his own band. He is working on a new album due out in early 
2007 and organized The Original Superstars of Jazz Fusion tour.

- Roy Ayres plays with The Original Superstars of Jazz Fusion at the 
Phoenix Concert Theatre on Nov. 16 at 8 p.m.

jratner at nationalpost.com
© National Post 2006

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