Roy Ayers

Timeless music exists as a piece of art that is perpetually in vogue; a creation of sound that never sours with future generations.  For Jazz Is Dead, a taste for timelessness is essential and our strength is based on presenting the unexpected.  With great pride, we announce a new album with Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Adrian Younge and the godfather of neo-soul: Roy Ayers Jazz Is Dead (JID) 002

With a career spanning nearly 60 years, he’s inspired a multitude of artists with his jazz-oriented R&B: a fusion of post-bop and soul that canonized his place in the world of music.  He’s one of the most sampled artists of all time, responsible for some of your favorite songs by A Tribe Called Quest, Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu, Kendrick Lamar and more.  His formative years came in the ‘70s, with a slew of Polydor releases including He’s Coming, Vibrations and Everybody Loves the Sunshine.

The Los Angeles bred Ayers was raised near the epicenter of the west coast jazz scene, Central Avenue.  By day, a pleasant downtown for the segregated black middle class; by night, a dynamic multi-cultural thoroughfare of music, entertainment, and Black excellence.  At a time when Bebop was the new wave, musicians ranging from Lionel Hampton, Charlie Parker, and Ella Fitzgerald were frequent regulars.  With fast tempos, instrumental virtuosity and complex chord progressions, it was the younger generations answer to the oversaturated jazz of yesteryear. At the age of 5, Ayers attended a Lionel Hampton concert, where he was personally gifted a set of mallets by the legendary vibraphonist. “I was singing before the vibraphone but I was playing the piano because we had one at home…the piano really made me want to play the vibraphone.”  Ayers sought to become the next Hampton.

At 17, Ayers convinced his parents to buy him a $300 vibraphone, with the goal of one day becoming a professional musician.  As he progressed, he began performing with fledgling musicians like Bobby Hutcherson and Edwin Birdsong.  He also played with more established artists like Chico Hamilton, Teddy Edwards, Jack Wilson, Phineas Newborn and Gerald Wilson.  His persistence paid off and he found his niche as a touring vibraphonist for the flautist Herbie Mann.

Towards the end of his four-year tenure with Mann, he signed a deal with Polydor that would define his career.  Slowly, he began to forego some of his post-bop virtuosity for a prevalence in groove and R&B.   Unbeknownst to Ayers, he would create a catalog, ultimately serving as the predecessor to neo-soul.  This move was heavily influenced by his childhood friend and frequent co-producer, Edwin Birdsong.  During these formative years, Ayers found a new purpose and reached a wider audience with soulful iterations of jazz.  In ’76 he released “Searching,” and “Everybody Loves The Sunshine,” the latter serving as one of the most influential songs of his career.

“The song changed everything for me. It’s still the last song of my show. People always join in and it’s been sampled over 100 times, by everyone from Dr. Dre to Pharrell Williams,” stated Ayers.  His biggest hit was ironically recorded at night and the phrase just came to his head.  Roy chanted, “Feel what I feel, when I feel what I feel, what I’m feeling. Then I started thinking about summer imagery. Folks get down in the sunshine, folks get brown in the sunshine, just bees and things and flowers. It was so spontaneous. It felt wonderful and I knew exactly how I wanted it to sound: a mix of vibraphone, piano and a synthesizer.”

It's this simple blending of soul and jazz that revolutionized a sound of music for years to come.  Prior to recording Jazz Is Dead 002, he worked with Alicia Keys, Thundercat and Tyler The Creator.  When asked why he still continues to record music, he had one simple answer, “For the younger generation. That’s exactly why I do it, exactly for that reason.”