On the Spot: Roy Ayers

Roy Ayers, neo-soul man, knows good vibes from bad.

Roy Ayers, neo-soul man, knows good vibes from bad.

The Smithsonian owns a set of vibes that once belonged to Roy Ayers — and for good reason. During the 1960s and ’70s, the vibraphonist melded jazz, R&B and funk into an indelible concoction that spawned hit singles (including “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” and “Running Away”) and inspired generations of artists.

What kind of vibes do you play?
I’ve been playing electric vibes for about 10 years. It’s called a malletKAT. It’s a very capable instrument because it gives me all the sounds I want. I can use a module to make me sound like a full orchestra, horns, percussion or vibes.

You’ve played so many styles over the years. How do you incorporate all those phases of your career into a live show?
I’ve been exposed to so much music in my life. Now I call my music neo-soul. It’s a sound that encompasses all these different sounds. I like it because it’s better than saying I just play jazz, or I just play funk, or I just play blues, or whatever. I play neo-soul.

Where did that term originate?
One of the songs on my last album is called “Neo Soul Groove.” Erykah Badu was on it, and at the recording sessions, she told me, “Roy, you’re the king of neo-soul. It’s your music because you’re the one who started all of us doing it.” I’m really thinking about calling the next album “Neo Soul.” I’m stuck on that name. It’s got me going.

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