Positive Vibes: Roy Ayers

By Brian L. Knight

Acid Jazz is the musical buzz word for the 1990s. Everybody loves it, but very few can clearly define it. There is hip-hop influenced acid jazz. There is ambient, techno acid jazz. There is jazzy acid jazz. There is funky acid jazz. It is every where. No matter the school of thought, there is one universally accepted fact: Roy Ayers is the godfather of acid jazz.

"It isn't about LSD. I didn't want to be associated with it. I want it to be associated with "eating jazz", Roy Ayers explains," Just like acid that eats through things, my music eats right into your brain and stays there. When you hear it, you always want to hear more."

Roy Ayers is one of the premier vibraphonists of our time and has revolutionized the instrument. By using modern technological inventions such as MIDIs and the Wah-Wah, Ayers redefined the sounds of the classic, yet somewhat unknown instrument. Ayers comments," I use modules that give me unbelievable sounds- Big Band, Classic, Orchestra, Rock, Jazz. I like the experimentation aspect of it, cause I can go places that I have never been before."

Ayers and the vibraphone were destined to meet each other. When Ayers was five years old, he attended a Lionel Hampton concert. Ayers may have revolutionized the vibraphone, but Lionel Hampton is responsible for providing the foundations of the instrument. After his performance, Hampton walked off the stage and handed his vibraphone mallets to the young Ayers. Like a message from god, Ayers knew the vibraphones were his destiny.

To this day, Ayers does not downplay the genius of Hampton. "He got Rhythm in every piece of his body and you can feel it. He was the original groover. He is one of the best ambassadors of good will that America could send out to other countries. He could establish good relations with countries that we didn't have good relations with."

Hampton is amongst the many that Ayers credits as an influence: Red Narvo, Carl Tjader, Milt Jackson and Gary Burton. "I always give respect to those who come before me, " Ayers continues, " I fit in there somewhere. I would love to get all the vibes players together. We would be groovin'."

It took twelve years after receiving Hampton's mallets for Roy Ayers to start playing the vibraphone, but once he started, he couldn't stop playing. Ayers explains," The rest history. I drove my family crazy until I moved out and joined Herbie Mann's band."

Herbie Mann was making exciting music as he was combining elements of Caribbean music and jazz and provided an excellent forum for Ayers to explore his vibraphone talents. In 1970, Ayers formed Ubiquity where the genesis of acid jazz began. Since Ubiquity, Ayers has adopted his music to the times. As the funky-jazz early seventies melted into the disco era, Ayers was there playing his mallets to a danceable beat. Today, he has melded the danceability of disco, the improvisation of jazz and the vocals and beat of hip-hop to prepare acid jazz for the 21st Century.

Ayers has made his impression on modern music as many of today's artists continually sample his music. The Brand Nubians, Mary J. Blige, and A Tribe Called Quest have all borrowed the sounds of Roy Ayers. Because of his influential impact on today's music, Ayers has received many nicknames: "Icon Man", "King of the Vibes" and "The Man." Ayers loves all the monikers, but they are not his first. "I used to be called Willy Lump Lump," Ayers continues, "I got hit by a car(on his bicycle). When the ambulance came, I was balling the guy out for hitting my bike. The ambulance guy took my hat off and I was bleeding all over the place. For the next couple of years, I had a lump in the middle of my head." This nickname definitely did not the possess the staying power of his later names.

Ayers is presently working on new album which will be out in late October. Ayers seems to be proud of his efforts and his has no problem displaying his enthusiasm: "It is the best acid jazz album out yet. It's got a lot of flavors. Its got a lot of jazz. It's got funk. There is a lot of room for solos and we stretch it out a bit. The songs are bright and uplifting and the solos are exciting and strong."