By Deardra Shuler
Roy Ayers was relaxing after a wonderful night of smooth jazz and eclectic melodies at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York. Mr. Ayers was upbeat and feeling good about his show. Accompanying Roy on his vibraphone was Mark Adams on keyboard; Ray Gaskins on saxophone; Donald Nicks on bass and Troy Miller from England on drums. Two delightful singers, John Presley and Richard Shade, completed the evening. Between sets, we sat backstage at the Iridium discussing Ayers lengthy show business career which has spanned over 40 years, a career that is still going strong.
Originally from California, Ayers is now a New Yorker. As a child, Ayers played piano but took up the vibes after seeing Lionel Hampton perform. "My parents played Lionel’s music all the time so when they finally took me to see him, I went crazy. He had a big influence on me." Stated Ayers. Ayers formed the ‘Latin Lyrics’ in High School and later worked with flautist/saxophonist Curtis Amy. "I think basically my talent comes naturally, although I studied with a concert percussionist in Los Angeles." Roy dropped out of City College and began to work professionally with Herbie Mann. "Prior to Herbie, I worked with Gerald Wilson’s Big Band and artist Nancy Wilson, among others" stated the enduring artist. "I joined Herbie Mann’s band in 1966 and worked with him for 4 years. In 1970, I formed my own band. I called it Roy Ayers ‘Ubiquity.’ Ubiquity means the state of being everywhere at the same time." explained the jazz vibraphonist.
At 65, Roy Ayers is ebullient and content. He commands the stage. He charms both his audience and his mallets, adeptly stroking each with a showmanship that has come through years of honing his craft. His mallets caress the vibraphone, coaxing out of it silky jazzy refrains which only a soulful jazz master at the top of his game can do. He smiles and giggles as he teases and delights the audiences with his comic tales and soulful musical stylings. Songs like "Everybody Loves the Sunshine" which have become his trademark signature.
"I try to play many different sounds and styles," stated Ayers. "I play Latin Jazz, a little funk, a little R&B and even a little rap. I play everything. I mix it all up. I think that is the keystone to my popularity and longevity. Although I have been a professional artist since 1941, I change with the times as musical styles continue to change and become more popular. For instance, the emergence of rap is so strong it is almost phasing everything else out" commented the charismatic artist. "I have been very fortunate. A lot of people have sampled my work. Mary J. Blige was my real big sample. She sold in excess of 3 million albums of my song "Everybody Loves the Sunshine," but on her own album, she called it "My Life." It was a big hit for her. Rapper 50 Cent also sampled the same song in his movie "Get Rich or Die Tryin.’ I have worked with and written for artists like: Wayne Henderson of the Jazz Crusaders, Rick James, James M’Tume (who is a prolific speaker, composer, and host of the radio show Open Line on Kiss-FM). I have recorded with Vanessa Williams, Herbie Hancock, George Benson, and Whitney Houston" remarked the fertile songwriter and musician.
Ayers recently released "Roy Ayers: All Over the World" on DVD and on CD "Roy Ayers: Sunshine Man." "I have discovered that oftentimes when artists record on a major record label, the label eventually drops everybody. This causes artists to have to find another record label where oftentimes, nothing else happens. In my case, I record on the AFI CD Record label, which is my own label. I also record with Ono Melodic Records. The year before last, I recorded an album called "Mahogany Vibe." The problem I am having is getting my records in record stores. There are so many artists recording their own music and trying to get it into the marketplace. Initially, I didn’t have problems getting my music directly into the record stores," explained Roy. "I was selling the records so fast that the major recording companies informed the stores that I should go through a distributor. That slowed down the sales. Sometimes these recording companies are greedy. Rather than pay an artist their due, they will let the artist go. They wait until after the artist has signed with another label. If the artist then gets a hit while at the new label, the former record company simply releases product they were holding on the artist and may label it something like "The Best of Roy Ayers" surmised Roy.
Ayers also formed Uno Melodic Records with Nigerian Fela Kuti, with whom he recorded while touring in Africa. "Africa was a wonderful experience. I learned about some of the African ways and music and was very excited about that. I recorded "Music of Many Colors," in Nigeria. I learned from Fela Kuti, a Nigerian musician who had 27 wives. Fela said the Elders of the Tribe would allow a man to marry more than one woman if the man had a lot of land. Fela had a lot of land," chuckled Ayers.
Though people have given Ayers’s music many labels, Ayers calls it Smooth Jazz. "People call my music Jazz Fusion, Smooth Jazz, and "Acid Jazz." When I first heard the term "Acid Jazz, I thought they meant LSD, but later, I realized they meant my music was like acid because it eats right into your brain." Grinned the amused performer.
Ayers ushered in the New Year performing at the Jazz Café in London. He plans a European tour in February and will perform at the 2006 Superstars of Jazz Fusion alongside jazz flautist Bobbi Humphrey, Jon Lucien, Lonnie Liston Smith, Jeanne Carne, and Wayne Henderson, et al. From June through September, 2006 he will tour the U.S. and Europe.
Mr. Ayers website is: www.RoyAyers.com
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