Roy Ayers gives all the credit to his mother.

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“When I was five, she took me to the Paramount Theatre in Los Angeles to see Lionel Hampton. I thought I was going to be Lionel Hampton.” Ayers said. Hampton, the legendary jazz bandleader and vibraphonist, saw this wide-eyed kid near the stage, and gave him his mallets.

“After that, that’s all I wanted to do, be Lionel Hampton. Later I figured out I could not be him, but I could be me, playing the vibes. He was the best, now I’m the second best.”

Sixty-five years later, Ayers is the self-proclaimed King of the Vibes, (the name of his new album) and he is still breaking new ground in music. He’ll bring his sound and his new band to the Regal Theater in Chicago for a November 13 concert, Jazzin’ At the Regal, which also features Tom Browne (of Jamaica Funk fame) and Reggie “Rajah” Helm.

“Well, I love music, and I believe that music loves me,” Ayers told the Defender. “Music is my escape, even when there isn’t any escape.” Now, at 70 (on Sept. 10), Ayers said he doesn’t see any reason to slow down. “I’ve always thought that 70 was an old number, but I hit 70 and I don’t feel old.”

Ayers laments the fact that there are fewer venues to perform for jazz artists and that radio stations have little use for jazz, especially the jazz artists he has performed with.

“I think that many of the radio stations are programming less jazz than before,” said Ayers. “It is important that the people in the community speak up and tell them they want to hear – the music is what I call Black Jazz, not white jazz. Lot of stations are programming our brothers out,” he said, noting musicians like Lonnie Liston Smith, Ronnie Laws, Browne and others.

Ayers also wants there to be more appreciation for the musicians that he grew up listening to, like Hampton.

“We have to speak up. We have to remember all the blood and sweat that has been shed by these great musicians,” said Ayers. “Almost all of those musicians that created all that music are dead. Ellington, Count Basie, Thelonious Monk, Miles. There are not more than ten guys left in the world who played that music – Sonny Rollins, Horace Silver, James Moody, Benny Golson. We mustn’t let these other stations do that, trying to rename the new jazz stars. We’ll look around and they’ll have a picture of Duke Ellington, and he’ll be white. Must not let our great musical heritage die.”

Ayers also doesn’t want the vibraphone to die as a jazz instrument. He says there are some good young people who have made their mark with the instrument. “ New guy, Stefon Harris, is exceptionally good, exceptionally talented,” said Ayers. “He doesn’t sound anything like me. But maybe these new people should start sounding like me, in order to be successful,” he laughed.

Copyright 2010 Chicago Defender

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