Roy Ayers (born September 10, 1940) is an American funk, soul, and jazz composer and vibraphone player. Ayers began his career as a post-bop jazz artist, releasing several albums with Atlantic Records, before his tenure at Polydor Records beginning in the 1970s, during which he helped pioneer jazz-funk.
A prolific composer and vibraphonist, Roy Ayers career spans six decades.
Ayers’ has released over 30 albums and his work has been sampled over 500 times whilst his Roy Ayers Ubiquity project has been sampled over 400 times.
In the late 1970s, he toured Nigeria and recorded with Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti. He produced and released artists such as RAMP, Sylvia Striplin, Bobbi Humphrey, Eighties Ladies, and is cited as a major influence by the likes of Erykah Badu, Jamiroquai, and Pharrell Williams with his jazz-funk vibes.
Ayers became a revered icon in hip-hop and R&B circles across generations – from collaborating with Guru and The Roots in the early-mid ’90s to Erykah Badu, Talib Kweli, Kanye West & Will Downing in the early ’00s to Tyler, the Creator a few years back.
Ayers was born in Los Angeles, California, and grew up in a musical family.
At the age of five, he was given his first pair of vibraphone mallets by Lionel Hampton. The area of Los Angeles that Ayers grew up in, now known as « South Central » but then known as « South Park », was the epicenter of the Southern California Black music scene. The schools he attended (Wadsworth Elementary, Nevins Middle School, and Thomas Jefferson High School) were all close to the famed Central Avenue, Los Angeles’ equivalent of Harlem’s Lenox Avenue and Chicago’s State Street. Roy would likely have been exposed to music as it not only emanated from the many nightclubs and bars in the area, but also poured out of many of the homes where the musicians who kept the scene alive lived in and around Central. His high school, Thomas Jefferson High School, produced some of the most talented new musicians, such as Dexter Gordon.
Ayers was responsible for the highly regarded soundtrack to Jack Hill’s 1973 blaxploitation film Coffy, which starred Pam Grier. He later moved from a jazz-funk sound to R&B, as seen on Mystic Voyage, which featured the songs « Evolution » and the underground disco hit « Brother Green (The Disco King) », as well as the title track from his 1976 album Everybody Loves the Sunshine.
In 1977, Ayers produced an album by the group RAMP, Come Into Knowledge, commonly and mistakenly thought to stand for « Roy Ayers Music Project ». That Fall, he had his biggest hit with « Running Away ».
In late 1979, Ayers scored his only top ten single on Billboard’s Hot Disco/Dance chart with « Don’t Stop The Feeling, » which was also the leadoff single from his 1980 album « No Stranger to Love », whose title track was sampled in Jill Scott’s 2001 song « Watching Me » from her debut album Who Is Jill Scott?
In 1980, Ayers released Music Of Many Colors with the Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti.
In 1981, Ayers produced an album with the singer Sylvia Striplin, Give Me Your Love (Uno Melodic Records 1981).
Ayers performed a solo on the John « Jellybean » Benitez production of Whitney Houston « Love Will Save The Day » from her second multi-platinum studio album Whitney. The single was released in July 1988 by Arista Records.
1990s to present
In 1992, Ayers released two albums, Drive and Wake Up, for the hip-hop label Ichiban Records.
In 1993, Ayers appeared on the record Guru’s Jazzmatazz Vol.1 featuring on the vibraphone in the song « Take a Look (At Yourself) ».
In 1994, Ayers appeared on the Red Hot Organization’s compilation album Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool. The album, meant to raise awareness and funds in support of the AIDS epidemic in relation to the African-American community, was heralded as « Album of the Year » by Time Magazine.
During the 2000s and 2010s, Ayers ventured into house music, collaborating with such stalwarts of the genre as Masters at Work and Kerri Chandler.
Ayers started two record labels, Uno Melodic and Gold Mink Records. The first released several LPs, including Sylvia Striplin’s, while the second folded after a few singles.
Roy Ayers hosts the fictitious radio station « Fusion FM » in Grand Theft Auto IV (2008).
Currently, there is a documentary in progress called the Roy Ayers Projectfeaturing Ayers and many hip hop producers who have sampled his music and other people who have
been influenced by him and his music. The documentary is planned for release in early 2014.