Leonard Feather, the author of the encyclopedia of jazz, spoke to me and he said the first real American he ever met was Louis Armstrong.
– Roy Ayers
Growing up in Los Angeles, Roy Ayers marveled at the sounds of jazz masters Lionel Hampton, Billie Holliday, and Louis Armstrong. Today, Ayers follows in their footsteps and has become a musical icon. For over four decades, his musical contributions are unparalleled. Aside from James Brown, no other artist has been sampled more in the hip-hop community. His deep, dark and rhythmic beats have been the backdrop to countless hits. Respected across a variety of genres, Ayers continues to perform live concerts and record new music…. further solidifying his legacy. But throughout his musical career, he has witnessed a tremendous change in the music industry. Ayers notes that these changes are not for the better. In fact, he suggests that jazz music is under duress. Roy Ayers passionately spoke with iRockJazz writer Mark A. Moore on the business of jazz and his incredible journey as a musician.
iRJ: When you were growing up in LA, what was the music scene like at the time when you started?
RA: It was a great music scene because I grew up listening to the music of Lionel Hampton, who is my idol, along with other great artists like Billie Holliday and all of the great jazz artists of that time.
iRJ: In your opinion, how do you think the scene in LA has changed since then?
RA: I don’t know. It’s kind of died out. As a matter of fact, it’s kind of dying out all over the world, especially in the United States. They seem to be phasing the music called “jazz” out. It is one of America’s greatest music. People like Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton and Duke Ellington brought fame to this country through the music and through the appreciation of other countries like England, France and Germany and the rest of the world. It seems as though radio is starting to evaporate, it is starting to dry out. Other people are buying radio stations and radio is phasing a lot of artists out; especially black artists. And it’s a shame….. It’s a shame what’s going on, it’s a massive thing. I believe that it is organized by people that are in the industry to try to take the music away. And I see it happening on television, on MTV where they are phasing jazz out. I see that the Grammy Awards don’t have a vocal jazz artist category. It’s not as significant as it used to be. And jazz was one of greatest goodwill ambassadors to other countries. And it’s not happening anymore. So, I would think it would be up to our people, black people to try to save the music and continue its participation in the world. The record companies have backed off most jazz artists like me, and like Ronnie Laws, and Lonnie Liston Smith, Tom Brown and many others. But it’s being phased out. So it’s important that we talk about it. I’m talking about it. A station called Clear Channel, they don’t play me. They don’t play a lot of black artists. They do play a few people like George Benson. But they don’t play us as much as used they to play us…. Even BET which was blacked owned, has now changed formats and has dropped jazz totally. There’s a lot of resentment from a lot of musicians. A lot of R& B musicians are being phased out. It’s a shame. So I’m trying to organize other musicians so that we can talk about it more. It is so sad what the industry is doing to our musicians and to us. As one of the musicians from this era, it saddens me to see what’s happening in this country and places abroad as well. There are still a few really good places to play in the United States but there are only a few. And the music has to live on and I will continue to make music myself. And I guess that’s all I really have to say.
iRJ: You’ve echoed some of the same sentiments where others are feeling like the industry has changed, and you’re being blocked out. So I guess that would lead into my next question: Why do you think this has happened?
RA: It affects all of us economically. There aren’t that many places to perform and play. That’s a direct change. There aren’t that many people to hear our music because of radio, and because of the decline of record companies. And a lot of musicians are dying. They are getting old and dying. And so these are happening and there’s not a lot of work. There’s not a lot of exposure as there was before. You understand that?
iRJ: Oh of course! But it’s unfortunate. I don’t understand why it should happen!
RA: It’s unfortunate, but that’s the way it is…. You’re a writer, what can you write to make things better?
iRJ: That is what I hope to do. That is my goal: To be a conduit for artists to spread the word.
RA: Well, everything is changing. I guess we all have to work with the change. But it’s very discouraging the way that things are changing. It’s a discouraging event. I have positive attributes and my mind is optimistic about everything that’s going on. I feel really good about my music. But feel really bad about how the industry is changing. Guys that have put years and years of their lives into the industry are being phased out. Generally speaking, it is happening to most of the black artists. And I emphasize that because that’s who it is happening to. When you look at Earth, Wind and Fire, Cameo and R& B groups like that, when you look at our great singers who are being phased out. It’s a shame. But that’s the way it is. And I guess time will tell. Maybe things will change. Maybe I should become a hip-hopper!
iRJ: You know some people wouldn’t mind that!
RA: People have sampled my music and I hope I can get paid. I have a lawsuit now against some people.
RA: A lot people have sampled my music and I haven’t been paid by the record companies. So the lawyers are working for me. There are a lot of things happening. It’s about the money. That’s behind everything that’s happening. If you look at the presidential situation between Romney and Obama, it’s the money. It’s always about the money. It seems like the money is always getting in the way. Both are spending ridiculous amounts of money to become president. The amount of money they are spending, they could give it to the budget! They are spending stupid amounts of money. They could put it in the deficit! It doesn’t make sense! The money should be going to the people. To those who deserve a better break. It’s crazy! I have to laugh at it. These are our leaders that are doing that. All they are doing is trying to win. They are screwing up everything. And really they are both losers! In reality they make all the people in the United States of America losers as well. It’s a shame. It’s a damn shame. With so many things that have been done to make things better, they’ve made things worse.
End Pt. 1
By Mark A. Moore