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Roy Ayers: Everybody loves his 'Sunshine'

DEARDRA SHULER | 4/12/2011, 5:26 p.m.

Roy Ayers is among a select group of African-American vibraphonists, consisting of Bobby Hutcherson, Milton Jackson, Stefon Harris and Steve Nelson. Now that Lionel Hampton has passed, Roy continues to represent the vibe tradition. Best known for the song "Everybody Loves the Sunshine," Ayers will help Carl Clay of Black Spectrum Theatre celebrate 40 years via their 40th anniversary concert, which includes comedian Gil-T. The concert will be held within Black Spectrum Theatre, located at 119-07 Merrick Boulevard (in Roy Wilkins Park at 177th Street near the Baisley Boulevard entrance) in Jamaica, Queens, N.Y., on Saturday, January 16 at 8 p.m.

"I grew up with fellow vibe player Bobby Hutcherson in Los Angeles. Of course, we miss the late Lionel Hampton and Milt Jackson, two exceptionally great vibraphonists. There aren't that many African-American vibraphonists. Although a few young guys are coming up now," said Ayers who formerly worked with the Gerald Wilson Band in Los Angeles.

Roy has been keeping himself busy performing around the country. His new CD, "For Sentimental Reasons," is due for release in April, and he recently returned from overseas.

"In 1966, after joining Herbie Mann's band, I started to get international fame. I travel all the time now. I enjoy it. The latter part of last year I visited Poland, London, Prague, Czechoslovakia and Spain. I had no idea how popular my music is in these countries. The people were so friendly and enthusiastic, I plan to go back. For now, I am back in the United States, where I will perform in Buffalo, N.Y., and, of course, in Jamaica, Queens, on January 16. Also, I'll be at the Jamaican Jazz Festival in the West Indies," said the eclectic performer of jazz, R&B, funk and even hip-hop.

"Erykah Badu told me I was the king of neo-soul," recalled Roy. "I asked, 'What is Neo-soul?' I had never heard the term before. Erykah said, 'Neo-soul is your sound. People like myself, Jill Scott and others, sample your sound because we love it.' When Erykah said that to me, it was humbling. I really appreciate that these artists think enough of my work to sample it."

"You know, Lionel Hampton was the reason I took up the vibes. He was my inspiration as far back at 5 years old. My parents always played his records. My mother kept telling me that one day I would be great and my name would be in lights. My parents planted that idea in my head. They took me to see Lionel Hampton perform at the Paramount Theater in Los Angeles. Lionel gave me a set of vibe mallets in 1948 when I was about 7 or 8 years old. My folks told me he laid some spiritual vibes on me because I started playing the vibes some 12 years later. I haven't stopped yet," said Ayers, who claims his parents' vision of his success became his vision.

The vibes set Ayers apart, so he had no difficulty finding work once he moved to New York. He began performing with Herbie Mann's band. "Playing with Herbie Mann was a wonderful experience," remarked Roy. "Herbie taught me how to be a true leader. He was always creating music and went beyond just being a leader. Musicians don't always have good credit at the beginning of their career, since they are not yet established. Herbie actually helped by co-signing loans for his band members. I have the greatest respect for Herbie, who is now deceased.