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Color: Red
Food: Shrimp
Quote: What's Up?
Season: Christmas
Vacation Destination: Mexico
Los Angeles, California
Interview Description:

Biography |

Interview Date: 9/19/2016

Jazz composer and vibraphonist Roy Ayers was born September 10, 1940 in the South Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, California to a musical family. His father, a scrap metal worker, played trombone in his free time. His mother, a schoolteacher and piano instructor, began teaching Ayers music when he was only a toddler. Growing up near Central Avenue, the heart of the West Coast jazz scene, Ayers was exposed to local luminaries from an early age. At five years old, Ayers was given his first set of vibraphone mallets by bandleader Lionel Hampton. Ayers attended Thomas Jefferson High School, where many of his classmates also went on to become famous jazz and R&B artists.

Ayers played steel guitar and piano and did not study the vibraphone until he met vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson at age seventeen. At twenty-two, Ayers began his prolific recording career as a sideman for jazz saxophonist Curtis Amy. The following year, in 1963, Ayers released his first album under his own name, West Coast Vibes. In the 1960s, Ayers recorded with the Jack Wilson Quartet, Chico Hamilton, and the Gerald Wilson Orchestra, before joining up with jazz flutist Herbie Mann at The Lighthouse club in Hermosa Beach, California. Mann produced three Ayers albums for Atlantic Records, and Ayers was a principal soloist on Mann’s hit album Memphis Underground.

In 1970, Ayers moved to Manhattan and formed Roy Ayers Ubiquity, marking his move into jazz fusion. Ubiquity released a number of records on Polydor Records, including mass hits ‘We Live in Brooklyn’ and ‘Everybody Loves the Sunshine.’ As the decade closed, Ayers went solo and moved into his mellow period with Let’s Do It. In 1980, Ayers began collaborating with Nigerian musician Fela Kuti and formed Uno Melodic Records, whose material has since become some of the most heavily sampled music in the industry. Ayers called In The Dark, released on Columbia Records in 1984, one of his “best recordings.”

Ayers continued releasing yearly albums through the 1990s. At the same time, Ayers’ work became a favorite of the new generation of hip hop and electronic musicians who remixed, covered, and sampled his work, including such artists as Mos Def, Puff Daddy, and Mary J. Blige. Ayers cemented his position when he appeared on Gang Starr rapper Guru’s Jazzmatazz, Vol. 1, one of the first albums to combine a live jazz band with hip hop production, in 1993.

Singer Erykah Badu has dubbed Ayers the Godfather of Neo-Soul, and he has more sampled hits than any other artist. Ayers continues performing and recording today.

Roy Ayers was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on September 19, 2016.

Speaker Bureau Notes: