Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012 Preview – Roy Ayers

“Having good health, being able to breathe and be happy, that’s one of the most beautiful gifts. On top of that, I have the gift to play music and make people happy through that. I’m just telling you from my heart, I’m so in love with life” – Roy Ayers

About 15 years ago, my wife and I were boarding a plane from Nashville back to New York after attending a friend’s wedding. While in Nashville we had  bought t-shirts – mine was John Coltrane, hers, Miles Davis. As we boarded the flight, we encountered a rather boisterous group of brothers in our section. When they saw our shirts, they became even more boisterous “Ohhhhh look out now y’all, we got some heavy hitters sittin’ with us!!!”, said the oldest of the gentlemen; who had on some funky looking shades. The good-natured ribbing continued for a few minutes. As I looked at the cat with the funky shades, I whispered to my wife, “That guy looks familiar, I’ve seen him somewhere before”. 

He then took the shades off and became deadly serious.  He said to me “Trane was the man, bro…he was the man…” He shook his head in a gentle awe and was transported  to another place, clearly hearing those sheets of sound in his head.  But this seemed like it wasn’t just a memory of a recording, like my Trane moments. No; this cat had the look of someone who had been there and experienced Coltrane in person.

I knew by now that he had to be somebody.  I was dying to ask the cat who he was, but I didn’t want to embarrass myself by admitting that I didn’t know him. 

I went to the rest room during the flight. I had decided that on the way back to my seat, I was going to ask this man who he was.  However, by the time I returned, the cat with the funky shades was asleep. I wasn’t going to wake him just to satisfy my curiosity.

The cat and his crew got off before us in New York and disappeared into the La Guardia throng. As my wife and I drove home, I was still curious about this man’s identity.

I didn’t have to wait long to find out. As I opened the mailbox to collect what had been left over our long weekend, the latest issue of one of the major jazz publications was in the box. Staring back at me, in a full-page ad on the inside cover was, you guessed it, the cat with the funky shades…Roy Ayers.

Roy Ayers is a legend of jazz funk; adored by hundreds of thousands of fans, sampled over the years by countless hip-hop artists and unfortunately, sneered at by a handful of jazz purists who have no use for his brand of fusion. 

Let them sneer all they want, but know this, Roy Ayers is no Kenny G.  Roy Ayers has paid his dues. Roy Ayers has influenced and inspired many who have come along after him.

Ayers got his first vibraphone mallets from Lionel Hampton at age five.  He broke in as a part of the thriving straight ahead jazz scene on Los Angeles’ Central Avenue in the early sixties, playing alongside L.A. heavyweights such as Curtis Amy and Jack Wilson, so yes, when Roy Ayers spoke of Trane, he knew what he was talking about, first hand.  In the mid ’60’s, Ayers joined forces with Herbie Mann and Gerald Wilson to produce some strong mainstream and soul-jazz records.  If you ever get a chance, check out Virgo Vibes and Stoned Soul Picnic, two early Ayers albums on Atlantic Records.

Then came the 70’s and Roy Ayers, the jazz-funk legend was born. UbiquityCoffyMystic Voyage… and the list goes on. Then in the 80’s came his work alongside seminal Nigerian musician Fela Kuti, introducing Ayers to a worldwide audience.  With the rise of hip-hop sampling in the late 80’s and early 90’s Ayers became a hero to another generation; the hip-hop deejays and producers who began to sample a lot of Ayers’ killer 70’s grooves.  Roy Ayers was now reborn as the “Godfather of Acid Jazz”. He has worked steadily ever since, attracting audiences that cross generational and cultural lines.

So at 71, Roy Edward Ayers, Jr., the cat on the plane with the funky shades, has no need to explain himself to anyone, fan or critic.  What he still wants to do is perform music from his catalog of five decades and entertain his fans, including the couple in the Miles and Trane t-shirts. And we’ll bring along our son, another generation of Ayers fan. We’ll be there when he closes out the first night of the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival, we hope you will too.

Roy Ayers is scheduled to perform at the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Fest in Piedmont Park; on Saturday, May 26, 2012, at 9 p.m. Admission is free.

For further information about Roy Ayers, visit his website at www.royayers.net

For further information about the 2012 Atlanta Jazz Festival, visit their website at http://atlantafestivals.com/

One Response to “Atlanta Jazz Festival 2012 Preview – Roy Ayers”

  1. Roy Ayers is one bad dude. I’ve had the pleasure to sing with him a few times and each was better than the last. He’s also a kind person. Great article

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