Even if you don't recognize the name, you know his music; Roy Ayers is one of the most sampled artists in hip-hop. You've heard his "Everybody Loves the Sunshine" in tracks by A Tribe Called Quest, Common, Mary J. Blige, and countless others. DJs, producers, and musicians alike cite him as having a major influence on their craft. Last night, the legendary vibraphonist was honored for his contribution to the development of hip-hop, R&B, and neo-soul with a hometown "Homage" show presented by ArtDontSleep and EVFA.
When we spoke a few days ago, the 71-year old king of vibes said he initially found out about a new generation discovering his music by accident when his children began hearing tracks that sampled his earlier works on the radio. Unlike some artists, Ayers took the sampling in stride and sought out artists like Q-Tip and Pete Rock in hopes of finding out what in his music appealed to them.
"A lot of the hip-hop artists don't write music," Ayers told me. "They write words and they tell me that Roy Ayers music is the best music for their words and I'm very thankful for that." In addition to giving his permission clear samples, Ayers has also recorded with several emcees.
Exchange L.A. was packed with several generations of hip-hop and jazz fans anxiously awaiting the return of the L.A.-born musician. Opening for Ayers were two performers clearly guided by the prophet of jazz-funk: Brainfeeder bass master Thundercat, who performed with a full band, and World Famous Beat Junkies DJ and Stones Throw affiliate J.Rocc. Downstairs, DJs Anthony Valadez, Clifton Weaver, Destroyer, Lee Joseph and Marlon Fuentes played soul, jazz, funk and Latin beats to a small crowd. Brainfeeder a/v wizard Strangeloop provided mind-bending psychedelic visuals for the evening.
When Ayers finally came on stage, over a thousand people stood in awe before breaking into a roaring applause. Everyone in the audience had been waiting at least several hours--and many, several years, or even several decades--to see him perform with a full band.
Though set to join Ayers' band, Pete Rock did not perform last night. I suspected he might not play despite being listed on the bill because his cousin Heavy D, with whom he was incredibly close, passed away just last week, and it turns out I was right. No announcement of his cancellation was made online before the show--but apparently signs were posted saying as much at the venue--and the show went on without a hitch.
Dressed in a pinstriped suit and wearing a backwards baseball cap and sunglasses, Ayers held on to his mallets tightly all night, only dropping them briefly to trade them in for a tambourine. As he stood with his arms outstretched, mallets in hand, the audience went wild, eager to welcome him home. "I want to thank all the hip-hoppers out there for sampling my music," Ayers said, beaming with pride at his reception.
In the middle of his two sets last night, which featured the classics like "Can't You See Me," "Searchin'," "Everybody Loves the Sunshine," KCRW's Garth Trinidad presented him with a commendation from the L.A. City Council for his massive imprint on L.A. musical landscape over the last several decades.
"To come home to L.A. and see all the lovely people here is really wonderful," he said. "Thank you for your support over the years."
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Personal Bias: Loved the concept and the performers but was a little confused and annoyed trying to navigate the venue and deal with its security.
The crowd: Fans of all ages. Lots of sparkly cocktail dresses.
Random Notebook Dump: What's up with all the creepy, painted masks and dead-looking tree branches lining the hallway outside of the downstairs lounge?