Born Roy E. Ayers, Jr., on September 10, 1940, in Los Angeles, CA; son of Roy Ayers (a trombonist) and Mrs. Ayers (a piano teacher); children: Roy Ayers III. Education: Attended Los Angeles City College. Addresses: Record company--RCA, 1133 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036. Booking--Associated Booking Corp., 1995 Broadway, Suite 501, New York, NY 10023. Website--Roy Ayers Official Website: http://www.royayers.com.
Perhaps acid jazz would have emerged even if Roy Ayers had never existed, but it certainly would have sounded different. Scores of deejays, hip-hoppers, acid jazzers, and others have incorporated samples of music created by Ayers into their own work, making his sound an integral part of these emerging musical forms. His status as the godfather of acid jazz, or jazz funk, or whichever label is preferred, represents a second life in the career of vibraphonist and composer Ayers, who first rocked American dance floors in the 1970s with such anthems as "Everybody Loves the Sunshine" and "Freaky Deaky." Thirty years later, Ayers is as ubiquitous in the dance clubs as he ever was.
Ayers was born on September 10, 1940, in Los Angeles, California. Thanks to the influence of his mother, a piano teacher, and his father, a trombone player, Ayers was a musical child. By the time he was five, he was banging out boogie-woogie licks on his mother's lap at the piano. His introduction to the vibraphone came at the age of six, when his parents took him to a Lionel Hampton concert. After the show, Hampton--one of the all time greats on the instrument--handed Ayers a pair of mallets, perhaps sealing the youngster's musical destiny with that simple gesture. Meeting Hampton again years later, Ayers regaled him with the story of how he had unknowingly shaped his future.
Before that destiny came to fruition, however, Ayers spent his formative years experimenting with a variety of other instruments. At nine, he taught himself to play the steel guitar. He spent his teens alternating between the flute, trumpet, and drums. He also sang in church choirs, an influence that could still be detected in his vocal style years later. It was not until he was 17 years old that Ayers finally got a chance to play the vibraphone, which he claims had been his favorite instrument all along. Within a year, vibes was his main instrument. After high school, Ayers enrolled at Los Angeles City College, but it was not long before his studies took a back seat to the pursuit of his dream to be a working professional musician.
By the early 1960s, Ayers was playing regularly with a number of local performers, including such fixtures on the Los Angeles jazz scene as Teddy Edwards, Chico Hamilton, and Jack Wilson. This experience soon gave Ayers the necessary confidence to become a bandleader. His first opportunity to record in that capacity came in 1963, on a project called West Coast Vibes, released by United Artists. In 1966 Ayers, at the invitation of bassist Reggie Workman, sat in on a gig with Herbie Mann and his Quintet, at the Lighthouse, a prominent Los Angeles jazz club. Mann was so impressed with his work that he immediately made Ayers a permanent member of the group. Ayers toured and recorded with Mann for the next four years, a period that included the release of Mann's smash hit LP, Memphis Underground. During this stint, Ayers also recorded three solo albums, which were all produced by Mann: Daddy Bug, Virgo Red, and Stoned Soul Picnic.
The exposure he gained through his work with Mann eventually earned Ayers a following of his own. Now ready to strike out on his own, Ayers left the Mann group and moved to New York, where he quickly formed his own band, which he dubbed Ubiquity. Ubiquity did not have a stable lineup like a conventional band. It consisted instead of a constantly shifting roster of musicians at various stages in their careers. The band included established pros like bassist Ron Carter and saxophonist Sonny Fortune; young performers destined for success, such as vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater; and lots of talented newcomers hoping they had found their big break. Ayers used Ubiquity to create a new genre that borrowed elements from jazz, funk, rock, soul, salsa, and whatever else he heard and liked, and then synthesized them into an appealing melange. Although some jazz fans criticized Ayers for producing music that could not be claimed authentically as either jazz or R&B, urban contemporary listeners took to it instantly. The band was quickly signed to the Polydor label.
The next dozen years represented an incredibly prolific period for Ayers and the various versions of Ubiquity. During that span, the group recorded no less than 20 albums for Polydor. Ayers spent the first half of the 1970s building an audience for his new musical mixture. His approach was to incorporate anything that he thought sounded good. "I have a totally open mind about music," he was quoted as saying in the liner notes to the 1995 compilation Evolution: The Polydor Anthology. "I love the music I listen to--pop, jazz, blues and soul--and I'm not closed to them. My music is a combination of styles fused into one. I like to cover the total perspective," he continued. He also experimented quite a bit with his own instrument, becoming one of the first vibes players to alter the instrument's sound with fuzz boxes, wah-wah pedals, and other effects more commonly associated with the electric guitar. At times, the vibes were a featured solo instrument, with Ayers taking off on extended flights of mallet fancy. Just as often, however, his vibes lurked in the background, shimmering behind riffing keyboards, guitars, and horns, all driven by a thumping rhythm section.
The emergence of disco in the second half of the 1970s brought Ayers and Ubiquity into the limelight. The hit song "Everybody Loves the Sunshine," from the 1976 album of the same title, became a dance floor sensation, and although it was never released as a single, it probably remains the tune most associated with Ayers. In 1977, the song "Running Away" broke into the R&B top 20 and is generally regarded as a dance club classic. The following year, Ubiquity recorded "The Freaky Deaky," which became popular enough to inspire a dance step of the same name. These and other Ubiquity hits of the genre Ayers referred to as "disco jazz" became dance floor anthems and have remained popular.
In 1979 Ayers and Ubiquity embarked on a nine-city tour of Nigeria with African pop superstar Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. The tour affected Ayers profoundly, and upon his return his music began to take on a more politically conscious tone. His 1981 album Africa, Center of the World was a direct result of his experiences on that continent. Feeling Good, released in 1982, was Ayers's last album for Polydor. That year he started his own label, Uno Melodic, primarily to release projects that he produced for other artists. Ayers signed with Columbia Records in 1984, and over the next few years he scored a handful of minor R&B hits on that label, including "In the Dark" in 1984, "Slip 'n Slide" in 1985, and "Hot" in 1986. Although he began to fade into semi-obscurity in the United States as the 1980s rolled on, he remained immensely popular elsewhere, particularly in Great Britain and Japan. Even in the United States, Ayers would occasionally pop back into the spotlight with guest appearances, such as his 1987 performance on the Whitney Houston song, "Love Will Save the Day."
In Britain, Ayers was much more than a nostalgia act. As the musical form known as "acid jazz"--a blend of hip-hop, jazz, and soul--began to take hold there, Ayers was seen as one of the movement's founding fathers, perhaps its single most important progenitor. Hip-hop, acid jazz, and R&B artists on both sides of the Atlantic began to use samples from Ayers's hits of the 1970s in their work. Dance club deejays could not play enough Roy Ayers to suit the tastes the people on the floor. Suddenly Ayers was back in the limelight, as dozen of popular artists paid homage to the unique musical stew Ayers had developed over the course of his long, varied career.
In 1993 the Ayers renaissance received its biggest boost yet when he toured and recorded with hip-hop star Guru of the group Gang Starr on Guru's Jazzmatazz project. The following year, Ayers accompanied Vanessa Williams on her recording, The Sweetest Days. By 1995 demand for Ayers's sound had grown large enough to warrant his first major label recording project in years, Naste, released on RCA. Simultaneously, Polydor attempted to cash in on his renewed fame by releasing Evolution: The Polydor Anthology, a two-disc compilation of Ayers's work on that label.
In the late 1990s, Ayers had an ongoing arrangement to play at Ronnie Scott's in London. He recorded a CD there, called Live at Ronnie Scott's, during that time; the CD was released in 2001. His shows at Ronnie Scott's were extremely successful and almost always sold out. Paul McCartney often came to see him. "He's an ex-Beatle, extremely rich, and he comes to see Roy Ayers," Ayers was quoted as saying in the Metro. "Something like that can make you want to cry."
As acid jazz continues to gain a loyal following in the United States, Roy Ayers--as its leading icon--has become a pop culture hero once again. Ayers spent much of his career trying to stay at the top by seeking out and capturing the musical mood of the times. Now, in middle age, Ayers has seen that situation reverse itself. The musical mood of the times has chosen him and made him its king. His music has been sampled by a whole new crop of artists, including Mary J. Blige, Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, the Notorious B.I.G., Erykah Badu, and A Tribe Called Quest, among others. "I'm honored that they picked my music..." he was quoted as saying in a 1995 Boston Herald interview. "I'm ubiquitous again."
by Robert R. Jacobson
Roy Ayers's Career
Began professional career in 1961, as a side man with various Los Angeles musicians, including Chico Hamilton and Teddy Edwards; first date as a bandleader, West Coast Vibes, 1963; toured and recorded with Herbie Mann, 1966-70; formed Ubiquity, 1970; toured regularly throughout U.S., Great Britain, and Japan, 1970-; recording artist, Polydor Records, 1970-82; recording artist, Columbia Records, 1984-87; recorded "Love Will Save the Day" with Whitney Houston, 1987; recording artist, Ichiban Records, 1989-92; recorded and toured with Guru on Jazzmatazz project, 1993; accompanied Vanessa Williams on recording Sweetest Days, 1994; numerous samples on various recordings, 1990-.
- Selected discography
- Virgo Vibes , Atlantic, 1967.
- Stone Soul Picnic , Atlantic, 1968.
- Daddy Bug , Atlantic, 1969.
- (With Herbie Mann) Memphis Underground , Atlantic, 1969.
- Roy Ayers: Ubiquity , Polydor, 1971.
- He's Coming , Polydor, 1972.
- Virgo Red , Polydor, 1973.
- Change Up the Groove , Polydor, 1974.
- A Tear to a Smile , Polydor, 1975.
- Red, Black and Green , Polydor, 1975.
- Mystic Voyage , Polydor, 1976.
- Vibrations , Polydor, 1976.
- Everybody Loves the Sunshine , Polydor, 1976.
- Lifeline , Polydor, 1977.
- Let's Do It , Polydor, 1978.
- You Send Me , Polydor, 1978.
- Step into Our Life , Polydor, 1978.
- Fever , Polydor, 1979.
- No Stranger to Love , Polydor, 1980.
- Africa, Center of the World , Polydor, 1981.
- Love Fantasy , Polydor, 1981.
- Feeling Good , Polydor, 1982.
- In the Dark , Columbia, 1984.
- You Might Be Surprised , Columbia, 1985.
- I'm the One (for Your Love Tonight ), Columbia, 1987.
- Wake Up , Ichiban, 1989.
- Double Trouble , Ichiban, 1992.
- (With Guru) Jazzmatazz , 1993.
- Evolution: The Polydor Anthology , Polydor, 1995.
- Naste , RCA, 1995.
- Live at the Montreux Jazz Festival , Verve, 1996.
- Soul Essentials: Best of Roy Ayers , Polydor, 1997.
- In the Dark/You Might Be Surprised , Columbia, 1998.
- Juice , Charly, 1999.
- Lots of Love , Charly, 1999.
- The Millennium Collection , Polydor, 2000.
- Live at Ronnie Scott's , Castle, 2001.
- Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 16, Gale Research, 1997.
- Billboard, February 4, 1995.
- Boston Herald, June 20, 1995, p. O34.
- Dallas Morning News, June 28, 1997, p. 45A.
- Guardian(London, England), December 17, 1995, p. 13.
- Metro (London), July 24, 2001.
- New York Daily News, June 14, 1995, p. 35.
- Washington Post, June 30, 1995, p. N16.
- "Hotter Than July--Roy Ayers," http://www.green-street.com/hotterthanjuly/ayers.html (September 23, 2002).
- Roy Ayers Official Website, http://www.royayers.com (September 20, 2002).
- Additional information was obtained from the accompanying booklet to the double CD Evolution: The Polydor Anthology, Polydor, 1995.