Roy Ayers: Jazz-Soul Godfather


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By the late 1960s and very early '70s, a growing number of young jazz musicians saw the writing on the wall. Rock was attracting massive media attention, ever-larger crowds of young listeners, and larger paydays. To compete, many jazz artists gave up their acoustic instruments for electronic counterparts and began playing a new form of jazz that was heavily influenced by hard rock and psychedelic mysticism.

But not all jazz musicians determined to remain relevant rushed to embrace rock. Some felt rock was too reliant on volume and wailing rather than seduction and romance. So instead, these musicians fused jazz with the newly emerging soul and funk airing on late-night FM radio. Among the artists exploring jazz-soul and jazz-funk hybrid were Grant Green, Larry Young, Freddie Hubbard, Idris Muhammad, Donald Byrd, the Crusaders, Herbie Hancock and others.

But perhaps the jazz artist who best leveraged soul and funk was Roy Ayers. Born in Los Angeles, the vibraphonist sang in his church choir and came up in the early 1960s as a protege of vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson. Ayers teamed with Herbie Mann in the mid-'60s, and in the early '70s formed his band Ubiquity after leaving Atlantic for Polydor.

Few artists have been more skilled at merging jazz improvisation with the chill of soul and groove of funk than Ayers. In just a few short years on Polydor, Ayers's group had created an entirely new genre, blending soul vocals, synthesizers, vibes and trippy beats and enviable bass lines. Ayers's biggest hit was Everybody Loves the Sunshine in 1976, a song that still sounds fantastic today.

JazzWax clips: Here's Roy Ayers playing Daydreaming, from his Red, Black & Green album...

Here's Ayers playing Mystic Voyage, from the album of the same name...

Here's Ray Ayers Ubiquity playing Everybody Loves the Sunshine...

Here's Lifeline from the album of the same name...

And here's Treasure from Ayers's Naste album in 1995...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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