[JPL] Roy Ayers
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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