Interviews

Roy Ayers Brings the Sunshine to Bayfront Jazz Festival

Roy Ayers
Roy Ayers Photo courtesy of Gnazzo Group
click to enlarge Roy Ayers - PHOTO COURTESY OF GNAZZO GROUP
Roy Ayers
Photo courtesy of Gnazzo Group
In another sign of live music's resurgence, Bayfront Park Amphitheater is hosting the Bayfront Jazz Festival, its first concert in over a year, on April 30 and May 1. The festival will be one of the first U.S. concerts with more than 1,000 people in attendance since the pandemic descended last year. So with all eyes on Bayfront Jazz, organizers say they're taking all the precautions they can.

"The health and safety of our guests and staff is our highest priority," says Manuel Molina, cofounder of Melrose Media, the event's organizer. "We will be enforcing social-distancing parameters, operating at 15 percent total capacity. In an amphitheater that holds 10,000 people, we will only be hosting 1,500. We will also be providing sanitizer gel pouches to everyone upon arrival, and guests will be required to wear masks during the concerts."

The lineup promises a laidback medley of jazz, Afro-Cuban, and electronic genres — from vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater to pianist Chucho Valdés to drummer Mark Guiliana and plenty of others — which the organizers hope will lure music lovers out of the house.

"It's important to have musicians who will bring smiles and joy to the lucky guests who will be there to celebrate the revival of music and culture," says Amos Rozenberg, Melrose Media's other cofounder. "We wanted to bring together Cuban musicians who brought so much to the state of the art of music, like Chucho Valdés and Gonzalo Rubalcaba, two of the most amazing Cuban pianists in the world. Aymée Nuviola will also join Gonzalo, sending her stunning voice to the skies of Miami. We also wanted to incorporate electronic music. In aiming to do so, we brought in Mark Guiliana, who has an amazing set which mixes jazz and futuristic sounds. Mark is also the last drummer of David Bowie."

But one of the most exciting opportunities of the festival is the chance to see Roy Ayers. You might not be familiar with the 80-year-old vibraphonist's name, but you've definitely heard his music. Ayers' 1976 neo-soul album Everybody Loves the Sunshine is one of the most heavily sampled records in hip-hop history, everyone from Dr. Dre to Mary J. Blige to the Flatbush Zombies having taken beats from it. Love for Ayers' sound even led to a collaboration with Tyler, the Creator on the 2015 song "Find Your Wings."

"I've always found it flattering that all of these other artists sampling my music were saying that my music is what went best with what they themselves were trying to convey with their lyrics," Ayers tells New Times.
Born in Los Angeles, the composer was born into a musical family. His father was a trombonist, while his mother played the piano.

"My mother is actually the one who taught me piano and really encouraged me to play as well," he remembers.

But it was a show his parents took him to nearly 75 years ago that made the vibraphone his instrument of choice.

"My parents took me to a Lionel Hampton concert when I was only five years old," Ayers recounts. "When the show was over, Lionel was walking down the aisle, and my mother says he noticed how excited I was, and he walked right over to me and handed me a pair of his vibe mallets. My mother said he laid some spiritual vibes on me that day, and well, the rest is history."

That history includes close to 30 albums as a bandleader and thousands of live performances — making the sudden absence of live music a difficult change for the road warrior.

"Like many spent the past year, I spent it laying low, staying indoors, staying safe," Ayers says. "I practiced just a bit here and there and took the time to rest as much as I could as circumstances had it. I couldn't travel due to the pandemic. It may not have been the most exciting time, but we're still here, and I'm really glad to be getting back to finally performing live again."

Now he's back malleting away at his vibraphone, and all feels right in his world.

"I’m still trying to bring the best of me to stage and to my loyal fans," he says. "I am honored to be able to perform live again at the Bayfront Jazz Festival for them all."

Bayfront Jazz Festival. 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 30, and 4:30 p.m. Saturday, May 1, at Bayfront Park Amphitheater, 301 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-358-7550; bayfrontparkmiami.com. Tickets cost $195.25 to $355.25 via livenation.com.
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David Rolland is a freelance music writer for Miami New Times. His novel, The End of the Century, published by Jitney Books, is available at many fine booksellers.
Contact: David Rolland