"Just bees and things and flowers..." You should know the rest, but in case you haven't heard the whole story behind the Acid-Jazz-Funk godfather...

The day was set in 1940 when brought into this world was a prodigy child of soul. Twenty years later, Roy Ayers was gigging through the '60's with such pros as Gerald Wilson, Chico Hamilton, and pianist Jack Wilson. In '63, Ayers led West Coast Vibes (United Artists). In '66 he gigged with Herbie Mann which led to a 4 year stint here in New York recording such LP's as 'Memphis Underground', as well as 3 solo albums on Atlantic (Daddy Bug, Virgo Red, and Stoned Soul Picnic). In the '70's, he recorded the soundtrack for Pam Grier's sexy Blaxploitation flick "Coffy", and his band Ubiquity helped add more musical inspiration to the future strains of Funk, Salsa, Jazz, Rock, Soul,and Hip-Hop.

Now, in 1999, over 20 hit albums later, IMNYC caught up with the 'Icon Man' at his Manhattan home to rap about the evolution of music and marketing, his legacy, and the meaning of '2000 black'.

IMNYC (IM): Ok, so you're stranded on this desert island which just happens to be equipped with a working turntable. What 3 albums would you like to have with you?

Roy Ayers (RA): It has to be Miles Davis 'Kind of Blue' [because he was the epitome of coolness], Marvin Gaye 'What's Goin' On' [for its'] sensitivity to the human spirit and relating to God in such a wonderful way. If I could be so honored to do an album of that magnitude, of that depth...I mean his spirituality had to be on another plane man, he was so to a place where most of us don't even go.

And the last album would be Duke Ellington, one of Duke's early songs. The old cats are the ones that made everything happen for us. All of them paid heavier dues than us.

IM: How long have you been in the music business anyway?

RA: Quite a little while, but not as long as Quincy Jones. You know it's an interesting industry, and as an artist I've experienced alot.

But now as a record company owner I'm experiencing alot more, and it's pretty hectic. One has to be prepared for the reality of running your own company. Today the record companies are only recording a few new artists, and a few established artists...They don't want to take any chances, they'd rather go with sure things. And I respect that for a business, but it's really sad for the musicians.

Therefore, people like myself have formed their own record companies. You have to compete market by market, so what I've found best is to sell your records at a performance, as well as over the Internet, or an 800 number, or sell them to the stores directly. But it's very difficult for new artists because people don't know who they are.

IM: Speaking of the power of the artist up against the power of the distributors, there seems to be a bit of panic in the industry due to the new wave of technology, particularly with the rise of MP3 audio over the internet. Any thoughts?

RA: I have a problem with that myself, because if one is able to download, one can purchase an artist's record and then download it to somebody else. How can that be monitored? I mean I can download my own record to somebody else, and who's going to monitor that? So that's very difficult right there.

The music industry is a very lucrative business, and a very cruel business. Things happen in it that people don't even know about. When an artist is out there doing something and getting ripped off, they can be very sensitive. Alot of artists have been hurt seriously, that's why I propose to every artist that if they can, they get their own record company or business. Then you are in charge of your own product.

IM: Your latest release is on your own label, correct?

RA: We got Smooth Jazz out and people are talking about it, it's getting added to stations and I'm getting great responses. But it's such a mysterious business.

On alot of the companies' formats you'll hear artists like Luther Vandross, Grover Washington, Al Jarreau, George Benson, and you'll usually hear their old music. Nothing new, and I wonder why they're doing that. Also I wonder what they are doing to upgrade their format to include smooth jazz because now they are putting in Babyface and Toni Braxton which I'm not opposed to, but I'm saying, is that smooth jazz? Or is that something else?

Now my concept of smooth jazz is what originated back in the 70's when I was playing what I call jazz-funk. I realized that on the [radio] stations now, there are about 90 across the US calling the music smooth jazz. So I decided to call my album Smooth Jazz because I feel that I am one of the original innovators of this music.

I've done 84 records and I am the smooth jazz man without a doubt. I understand the concept and I think that alot of the music out there now is not what they are saying it is. I would rather say it's a mellow groove.

Smooth jazz is something that has deep roots from the original form of be-bop. To me, that understanding has to be there, and most important, it must groove, and it must be smooth. I think alot of people say they are playing smooth jazz and they don't really know what they are doing. I'm not naming any names because they should know who they are. That's why people should check out my sound so they can hear really what smooth jazz is.

IM: Getting back to the roots of smooth jazz, your career has spanned 4 decades. What are some of the other genres you've been associated with?

RA: I've been labeled so many different things by writers. In the 1960's I did 4 albums for Atlantic Records and I used people like Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter, Mickey Roker, Buster Williams, you know, some of the fine jazz musicians at that time. When I recorded then I was playing all vibes, not singing.

In '70 I had just left Herbie Mann, and formed my group Roy Ayers Ubiquity. Ubiquity means 'a state of being everywhere at the same time', and it was given to me by an ex manager, Myrna Williams. I said 'oh, that's right. If everyone has one of my albums, then I can, in fact, be everywhere at the same time.'

During that period we were calling the music Jazz-Funk. Then I had a disco hit "Running Away" in '77 and they called me the "King of Disco". Then this guy over in England, Giles Peterson, coined the term Acid Jazz which I didn't like at the time because I didn't want to be associated with LSD. But I changed my whole idea of it. I said 'what is acid? Acid eats into something, and my music eats into your brain."

IM: There is a whole audience out today who has first, if not only, heard your compositions through other artist's use of 'sampling'. What is your take on that?

RA: I have more sampled hits than anyone else. Maybe I haven't been sampled as much as James Brown, but since the late

80's sampling has been happening to me on a massive level. It's rewarding, because I'm usually geting 50-75% of the composition. Sampling [also] tells me that to them, that's the best music for their words.

Damn near every song that's been done on me has been a hit. You know, from Brand Nubian, to a Tribe Called Quest, to Ed OG & the Bulldogs, to Will Smith, to Mary J. Blige, to Erykah Badu... it's incredible, and I haven't really named 1/2 of the people. I never got a gold record from Polygram, but I got a triple platinum album from Mary J. Blige, so good things are happening, and sampling I think is a good thing. In many cases, as in my case, they have revived artists. It's like a re-juvenation, a re-birth. All of a sudden, you're back on the scene.

I let my people out in California handle all my publishing 'cause you can't handle everything... unless you can. (laughs)

IM: Why are you here in NY?

RA: This is where everything is at as far as my businesses are concerned. I'm from Los Angeles, and when I was in L.A. there were very few things happening. Herbie Mann called me to come with him in 1966. I was 26 years old. I said 'I'm going to New York with Herbie Mann because almost nobody gets the opportunity to go to New York and have a job'. I love New York because there's energy here, and I like to leave it, but I love to come back.

IM: One of the projects of recent years here in New York was Nuyorican Soul; the project of Masters At Work in '95, that brought together some of the heaviest hitters from the '70's scene on one groove-soaked album. How was working on that project?

RA: When Louie Vega and Kenny Gonzalez called me to their studio, they had already done these tracks, one of 'em was a song I wrote called 'Sweet Tears', and a song that they

eventually called 'Roy's Scat'. These guys are so humble, they knew how to vibe with everybody. Tito Puente said 'these guys are geniuses'. They know what kind of music to play for the people, and they're innovators.

The trick with what they did was all in the mix. [They] are mix-ologists, and that was a great concept album. I hope they call me for the next one.

IM: Who else would you like to collaborate with in the future?

RA: Herbie Hancock and/or Patrice Rushen. Two fabulous musicians that I consider under-rated. They should be acknowledged more.

IM: On the album Spoken Word I noticed that the intro to 'Lightning Strikes Twice' contains a sample of what sounds to me like the intro to 'Running Away'. Is it?

RA: DJ Smash took it off the original record. You know, I thought it was very well done. I said 'oh man, you went right there and bought you some real Roy Ayers, huh?'

IM: It seems you've got the 'artist samples self' thing working out (quite well I might add), so what do you plan to do next?

RA: I've thought of this so many times. It's called Roy Ayers & friends. Roy Ayers re-samples the samplers. [I'd] resample all the people that have sampled me, on a concept album and encompass all the songs with all these different artists on it. That would be fantastic. [Remember you read it here first]And maybe I'd use a Stevie Wonder cut and sample them all into that! (laughs)

IM: In that same spirit of collaboration, I remember you did some tracks with some hip-hop artists back in the early '90's.

RA: Yes, and enjoyed it, very much so. I worked with Guru's Jazzmataz along with Donald Byrd and we toured with them. The concept there was to try to merge the adults with the young people. To try to get closer. What people have to realize when they hear Hip-Hop is that these are our young, these are our children, or our friend's children. And they are saying something.

I [also] had the pleasure of working with the Roots. I did a video [with them] that's really out of sight. I was most impressed by [them] because they're very conscious of their heritage and their history, and that's important. That consciousness does come through in their music, people can relate to it, and it can help them find more foundation in reference to life and understanding of self.

IM: 2000 black..."30 years away" is the chorus on that track.

RA: The concept was that by the year 2000, that hopefully we as a race of people can be totally conscious and aware. We'd have very little, if any, negativity. There would be harmony, good

spirits, and good will. Positive vibrations, and spirituality, and relating to other people of other races in a clear and pleasant manner, getting along as brothers and sisters in this world we all have to live in.

By the year 2000, you would think with all the past years of all the things that come along with life, that all of that [other] shit would be gone.

IM: So with less than a year left, what do you think?

RA: It's not necessarily going to happen. Because you've got all these other people who want to blow the world up, whatever man, and all these other things. So it's a hard fight, but this is what I believe Wayne Garfield was talking about [when he wrote it] and also I could relate to it, so that's why I put it on my album. I did it also again with the African artist Fela Kuti, and it was saying the same conceptual thing.

So hopefully, still, by the time 2000 comes around, we can all have positive minds and get together as races of people as one. You're gonna get the yin and yang no matter what happens. You just gotta try to keep on putting out positive thoughts.

IM: Certainly it's not every artist out there today who takes the responsibility to promote a worthwhile message seriously. When I think Roy Ayers, I think of the themes of mysticism, of love and sunshine, and of that search for self.

RA: I like to say things to people that generate happiness, or make people wanna move and groove. At the same time I like to say things about the mind, and development of self, and of course the respect for your brothers and sisters. Because it's a life cycle of all of us trying to learn to be better people, to get along while we are on this planet.

What I say in my music has alot to do with what I learned when I was coming up. My mother and father taught us things like the golden rule...'do unto others as you would have them do unto you'. And alot of these things are missing today. Unfortunately people are not teaching this to their children. Alot of young people are misguided [with] nobody to teach them, nobody to give them a certain amount of value and respect.

I try to say as much positive stuff in my music in order to make things better. I guess one day it won't all be together, but maybe there won't be so much crime, so much pain and negativity, and misinterpretation of what is right and wrong. There's only one way that is right, and that's 'right is right'.

All these things have to be said, and I guess I'll keep saying them because I care. Get that message to one, and each one can teach one.

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