NuJazz Festival: Soul hero Roy Ayers headlines jazz funk fest

Published in the Nov. 10-17 issue of NOW Magazine

The name NuJazz Festival only hints at what the multi-day showcase is about. Aiming to move beyond jazz standards and spotlight genres with an underlying groove, the fest, now in its fourth year, dips into electronic, soul, indigenous and hip-hop territory.

This year’s headliner is legendary vibraphone player Roy Ayers, best known for the cerebral funk of his 1976 hit Everybody Loves The Sunshine. Fresh off an eight-day jazz cruise, the active touring musician attributes his longevity to his passion for playing.

“I’m very grateful. It’s a pleasure to be 71 and a picture of health,” he chuckles over the phone from New York City. “One of the things that keeps me healthy is playing music, so I’m looking forward to being back in Toronto.”

It’s telling that Ayers is headlining, and a testament to the fest’s motley spirit. His work has been, and continues to be, ubiquitous in the hip-hop world. Take last Friday at the Rivoli, when Action Bronson rapped over top Sunshine to a young, rowdy crowd.

“It’s wonderful that people come to my music through hip-hop,” says Ayers, acknowledging that sampling has won him a brand new audience. He says hip-hop fans and producers like Q-Tip are drawn to the analog purity of much of his work. Unlike other established artists, he’s never fretted about being sampled.

“The great thing about it is that these people have to pay me,” he enthuses, “and it’s a wonderful thing to get paid!”

Ayers headlines NuJazz’s final night at the Mod Club on November 20, with a stacked lineup of exciting local support that includes poet/rapper Ian Kamau, DJ John Kong and newbie jazz-hop trio Bad Bad Not Good.

There’s also plenty to take in before then. Electronic producer/musician King Britt, who’s worked with Ivana Santilli and Bedouin Soundclash, plays an extended DJ set at the Great Hall Saturday (November 12). On the same bill is eclectic Montreal singer Sarah Linhares, dirty-soul seven-piece Mamabolo and Solid Garage founders and DJ crew Groove Institute.

On November 17, Grammy-nominated Trombone Shorty & Orlean’s Avenue and Heavyweights Brass Band play the Opera House, while Afro-rockers Toubab Krewe, lightsweetcrude and DJ Medicineman play Revival. November 18 sees Mike Field release his Ashes CD at Waterfalls alongside the Jessica Stuart Few and Lord Bubba’s Nu-Jazz Project. L.A. eight-piece Breakestra (featuring Afrodyete) play the Phoenix November 19 with Krafty Kuts and Stickybuds. Visit nujazz.ca for more details.