Photos by Marisa Aveling
Roy Ayers turned 70 this past September, but right now you could pit him somewhere closer to 56 without feeling like you were in fact 14 years off. He’s got that wide stance as he peers over his electric vibraphone, his face twisted into a gleeful smile of a kid who’s about to smash something with a tiny ham fist. This expression doesn’t really change as Ayers picks up his marshmallow mallets and moves them furiously in a series of what looks like random taps. It’s like watching a two-finger typer stab at a keyboard—except that curiously enough, the sound that’s being created makes perfect melodic sense.
Although, when you’re in the sixth decade of your career, perhaps there’s not that much curious about it. Ayers’ flurried precision onstage, currently being backed by a five-piece band (as a side note, one of the things that actually was curious was the backing vocalist’s choice of Communist-like attire), represents years of practice and experience, dear audience. Some of us watching Ayers play with open-mouthed pleasure have only been alive for one third of his professional life. In situations such as these, it’s best to be quiet and ready yourself for what you are about to receive.
Blurry evidence of Roy Ayers' furious styles
“Thanks for coming,” Ayers told us graciously. “You needed some stimulation in this cold weather, ‘cause you couldn’t get it at home.” He looks back at his band, and together they set off on a meandering 10-minute (literal) jazzercise. Mr. Backing Vocals pulls out a few moves that Ayers occasionally falls in line with (our favorite was a ‘flick-it-into-the-trash’ kind of move), and the rest of the band chugs along with a smoldering cool.
There’s little respite. “This is what some people consider to be a jazz standard,” Ayers says, and hurls into a cover of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Night In Tunisia.” He’s a gracious bandleader, and stretches the piece out to showcase the skills of each musician. Mr Keyboard is also Mr. Sax (is also Mr. Backing Vocals); Mr. Drummer is also one of great dexterity; and Mr. Bassist is also Mr. Showman. All five band members are tight jazz cats, and Ayers is generous enough to acknowledge it.
The focus of tonight is on the work of others as much as it is on Ayers’ own extensive catalogue. It’s better than fine because he brings it home a la Ayers (“Mystic Voyage”), but when he gets to “Everybody Loves The Sunshine” of course we’re going to go nuts. Because it’s winter (and this song reminds us of summertime). Because it’s a classic. Because it’s Roy Ayers. His voice sounds like it has for the past 50-odd years, his vibrancy perhaps preserved by the palpable joy stemming from sharing his music with audiences for that same length of time. Ayers is 70, but tonight we’re pitting him somewhere closer to 56. He lets us in on his secret.
“I’m just enjoying living, ‘cause life is wonderful.”