by Kevin Amos
Kente Arts Alliance kicked off their Jazz Royalty Series by presenting legendary vibraphonist / composer/ arranger Roy Ayers at the New Hazelett Theater.
Ayers is one of the best-known and respected jazz/R&B artists on the music-scene. Ayers has a long career in the music business and as the Godfather of Neo-Soul, he continues to bridge the gap between generations of music lovers. The concert attendees certainly exhibited their high spirits and were vocal in their approval of the repertoire which ranged from “A Night in Tunisia” and “You Send Me” to his signature “Everybody Loves the Sunshine.” The audience was comprised of many of the baby boomers who grew up with his signature sound.
In the ’60s he was an award-winning jazz vibraphonist, and transformed into a popular R&B band leader in the ’70s and ’80s. Today, the dynamic music man is an iconic figure still in great demand and who music industry heavyweights, including Hip-Hop icons Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu, Tupac Shakur and Ice Cube have sampled and collaborated with.
The concert was a homecoming for Ayers having played Pittsburgh on many occasions. He reflected on playing at the legendary Crawford Grill, Stanley Theater (now Benedum Hall) and smaller venues, and made reference to many of the Pittsburgh Jazz greats who he knew personally. Roy also mentioned the fact that Pittsburgh still has many great musicians who live and work here. To that point, Roy called on the great talent of percussionist George Jones and alto sax player Tony Campbell to join his band consisting of Mark Adams on keyboards, Bernard Davis on drums, Donald Nicks on bass, Raeford Gaskins on tenor/soprano and piano, in addition to the great John Pressley on vocals and percussion. The enthusiastic crowd called out tunes much to the delight of Ayers who quipped, “You know I have these senior moments but thanks for reminding me. I was going to play that anyhow.” The entire evening was a smoking hot session with great exchange between Roy and the audience with 12 tunes that included “Mystic Voyage,” “Searching,” “Don’t Stop the Feeling,” “We Live in Brooklyn Baby,” and “The Third Eye.” Roy entertained the audience thoroughly then met concert goers for an autograph session and an after party with DJ Buscrates.
Roy also mentioned during the show that he will release some new music before the end of summer and during a radio interview on Ebony Spectrum at WRCT-FM earlier in the week, he mentioned another current endeavor, The Roy Ayers Project.
The project is a multitude of things. It is first and foremost a documentary, produced by digital media professionals, telling the life, music, and philosophy of the great Roy Ayers. It is also art, with talented artists who use their gifts to express themselves through canvas, murals, and other mediums capturing the spirit of Roy Ayers. It is also performances to bring together Roy Ayers himself with talent musicians to perform live at venues across the country dedicated to preserving and exposing the art and history of music and culture.
Ayers called the project during the Ebony Spectrum interview a “work in progress” expressing his excitement of the “very talented individuals working on this endeavor.” Many of his songs including: “Everybody Loves the Sunshine,” “Searchin,” and “Running Away” have been frequently sampled and remixed by DJ’s worldwide.