Roy Ayers @ St Saviour’s Church, 21st July 2011

roy ayersThe pupils of St Saviour’s C of E Primary in Little Venice, West London, were treated to an amazing 30-minute show at the local St Saviour’s Church by the legendary vibraphone player, singer and songwriter Roy Ayers.

St Saviour’s Head Lindsey Woodford has long championed the importance of music in young people’s lives. She said before the show, ‘We feel like the luckiest Primary in London this week to have the honour of welcoming such a world-famous talent! We have a long-standing commitment to music and each year have to find increasingly creative ways to raise funds to keep our music teacher and maintain the broad musical learning we offer. So to have the King Of Vibes playing for us is not only extraordinary but reflective of our commitment.’

Even though the music world currently seems to be ruled by technology, with laptops, MP3 players and digital sequencers the norm, it may ironically have never been a better time for the budding funk, jazz or R’n’B musician to pick up a bass, guitar, keyboard or some drum sticks. Legendary James Brown/P-Funk bassist Bootsy Collins has founded his online Funk University and countless other musicians such as master drummers Billy Cobham andPeter Erskine are giving away their secrets for free in the form of internet tutorials or Youtube clips.

While the vibraphone is these days one of the more ‘specialist’ instruments in the jazz canon, it has a rich, expansive tradition of players from Lionel Hampton through Cal Tjader, Bobby Hutcherson, Milt Jackson and Gary Burton, right up toJoe Locke, Bill Ware and Stefon Harris. But no one has done more than Roy Ayers to bring the instrument to a wide audience. He started his career playing post-bop jazz before helping to forge the classic jazz/funk sound in the late ’60s and early ’70s on albums such as Mystic Voyage, He’s Coming and Red, Black and Green. Since then, he’s been a hugely prolific artist and one of the UK’s best-loved entertainers on the jazz scene – his annual gigs at Ronnie Scott’s and The Jazz Cafe have become legendary. So this visit from the venerable Mr Ayers in the middle of a sold-out UK tour was another very welcome invitation to get ‘on the one’ and spread the gospel of real musicianship to the next generation.

The vibraphone is made up of aluminium bars laid out chromatically in the same format as a piano keyboard and it’s struck with up to four mallets at a time. These days Roy uses a very nifty MIDI device that looks more like a keyboard than a set of vibes, though thankfully it retains a very organic timbre.

And what a superb band he had alongside him here featuring ex-Amy Winehouse drummer Troy Miller, keyboards/alto sax double-threat Ray Gaskins and super-solid bassist Derrick McIntyre. And MC and vocalist John Pressley got the kids going from the first note and formed a great double act with Ayers. The church was absolutely packed to the rafters, and the sight of mums, dads and their kids shimmying along to ‘Everybody Loves The Sunshine’ was one of the most heartwarming sights you could ever wish to see. And no one present will forget the sound of 200 kids shouting ‘In the sunshine!’ in perfect unison.

Gaskins played a marvellously bluesy alto solo channelling Cannonball Adderley on ‘Searching’, while some of Miller’s polyrhythmic permutations could give the heavyweight US R’n’B drummers a run for their money. Ayers joked about finding such a receptive new audience for his music, saying ‘I should have been doing this all along! You’ll be hearing about this on CNN and the BBC!’ ‘Don’t Stop The Feeling’ was the glorious uptempo closer, rounding off a truly inspiring afternoon of music with not a laptop or sequencer in sight. If one young person was inspired to start learning a musical instrument after this show, Roy’s work has been done. Here’s to the next generation of good musical vibes.

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