Vibraphonist and neo-soul/jazz/funk/rap master had the crowded Iridium in the palm of his hand from his first funky bars. Ayers plays happy music to make people happy, and seems to have succeeded 100%. I lucked out and shared a table with vibraphonist and educator Ted Piltzecker, who played for years with jazz pianist legend George Shearing, and more recently has been teaching the nuances of composition and vibraphone to new fans like myself.
Playing a KAT, an electronic MIDI mallet percussion instrument with 4 octaves rather than a traditional vibraphone, Ayers treated us to all phases of his music, bringing rap and hip-hop into his already diverse repertoire. He’s been playing a long time and lived through many genres of music, but Ayers has the chops and the smarts to incorporate young players who keep him moving forward into new territory, a philosophy he picked up from his mentor, Miles Davis.
Well into his seventh decade, Ayers maintains his lightning-fast licks, and his versions of his hits “Here Comes the Sunshine” and “Red Black and Green” got under my skin to the point that when he played another hit, “Running Away,” I found myself wishing for more vibraphone, a new thought for me. Borrowing on some Coltrane licks, Ayers dipped in and out of the harmony, playing off Jamal Peoples’ excellent keyboard.
Whether performing his own material, covering the Temptations, the Wailers or Herbie Mann, audiences hear Ayers’ love of life in every note, and—thank God—it’s catching.