AHHA: Who are some of the current acts that you are into?
RA: Jill Scott [she] sampled one of my songs on her current record. She sampled No Stranger to Love. The names go on from Will Smith, to…there’s just so many people. Mary J. Blige is probably the biggest sample I ever had when she did My Life. Big Daddy Kane, Brand Nubian, A Tribe Called Quest, Monie Love – it feels good to hear the people sampling my music, and that they love it enough to sample it. They’re saying this is the best music for my lyrics.
AHHA: You started doing West Coast Jazz right?
RA: Yes sir.
AHHA: As you went on to dabble in Funk and Disco, how did the Jazz scene take to that?
RA: There was a certain amount of resentment. The good thing about my career is that I’ve been growing ever since – I get respect from the Jazz musicians, I get respect from the R&B people, and I get the same respect from the rappers. I get respect from everybody, because I’ve been around a long time. I guess I’m in a unique category because my ability to play everything and that’s to my advantage.
AHHA: Considering all of the genres you’ve done, was it a question of you wanting to see if you could do it yourself?
RA: I just I knew I could do it. Just like when the president of the Polydor Records asked me if I could do a soundtrack, I said Yeah. I had never done a soundtrack before and then I did the music to Coffy. Then I did some of the music to Jackie Brown later. I recorded with Rick James. I recorded with George Benson. I worked with Herbie Hancock and Joe Henderson. Everybody accepts me.
AHHA: Did you ever consider yourself just a Jazz artist?
RA: No. I’ve considered myself just an artist, and I consider myself incredibly versatile.
AHHA: Out of all the people you’ve worked with, does one experience particularly stand out?
RA: One of the most impressive people I worked with is Herbie Hanckock, because of his ability to play one chord and make it sound so many different ways. He and Ron Carter are both spectacular, exceptional musicians, because they have so much knowledge of chords and so much musicality. Just working with them alone was a unique experience. I can’t even remember them all.
When you look at someone like Whitney Houston, who sold a lot more albums than me, but what she’s done in her career is maybe and I’m just taking a guess, maybe she has done 20 albums. I’ve done 89. No one has done that many except Duke Ellington did maybe a hundred and something 104. Miles Davis did about 100. And they lived to be quite old. Lionel Hampton did about 140 albums and he was 94 when he died. That’s incredible, he had done that many albums man. I’m at 89 and I’m still kicking them out, and I’ve been working on my music and I feel good and I thank God for the strength and just the blessing to be here and participate.
I’ma tell you something else…this is interesting; Bill Clinton, the ex-President of the United States wrote a book and he called the book My Life, right? Mary J. Blige used that sample, Everybody loves their life in the sunshine… and she called her song My Life right? Without getting too political with it or whatever, if you ever talk to Bill Clinton why don’t you say, ‘Hey Bill, what you think about Roy Ayers’? [laughing] Ya know, just to see if he vibe on “My Life”.
AHHA: How did the song We Live in Brooklyn come about? I ask because that is one of your most sampled records.
RA: I didn’t write it. I recorded it cause there was a young man named Harry Whitaker, in my band. In the early days he was in Ubiquity – that was my group. He wrote the song. Everybody Loves the Sunshine comes from my growing up in Los Angeles, California, and how beautiful the sun was when I wrote it in 1976. I was reflecting on my childhood. We Live in Brookyln was a beautiful song too.
AHHA: Whats the story behind Running Away?
RA: Running Away was a song written by me and my friend Edwin Birdsong. That was during the Disco era. I remember this guy that used to manage Kiss came to me and said, Hey man, I can make you the biggest black Disco star ever. I said That’s cool, just guarantee me 5 million dollars [laughing] cause I had already made a million.
AHHA: Your music, in addition to having a good time, always had a conscious vibe to it. Do you think artists still have that balance?
RA: I was very lucky that I was aware and I knew of a lot of things that I say in my music to a lot of people, and I’m glad that I was able to do that. I see it in people like a Mary J. Blige, like an Erykah Badu.
AHHA: What’s next?
RA: I got a DVD that’s going to be coming out next year, it’s called Roy Ayers All Over The World. These are excerpts; some live, stuff I’ve done in the studio, live [footage] of me performing, me talking a little bit. It’s very nice, it’s very entertaining and I’m very excited about it. And I’ll probably have another album come out sometime after February or March.
AHHA: Have you ever done records with Betty Wright before?
RA: I’ve never recorded with her before [now]. It’s interesting how that happened cause I was recording with Erykah, and she said Betty Wright was in town . I said Where is she performing. She said, She’s not performing anywhere, she’s my best friend. I said Really? She said, You want her on the album? I said, Yeah! She called her up and gave me the phone. We talked for a little bit, I gave her the address and she came about an hour later and [now] she’s on my album too. She’s bad. I have two of the let’s call them divas. She’s not as old as me, but she’s older than Erykah. You got the young, the middle and the old. The old is the medium, that’s our clipping board.