Throughout his 50-year career, John Mayer never stopped growing as a musician and composer. "John Mayer was one of those multiple-threat music talents that made most other players' lives and career paths seem simple," wrote Bruce Eder in All Music Guide. Whereas many musicians were content to work within the confines of a particular genre, Mayer drew from both Eastern and Western tonal scales, and from classical and jazz, to create a distinct blend of music that defied categorization. He began his career as a violinist with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in the 1950s, but delved into fusion jazz and world music during the 1960s and 1970s. "Very few musicians make a significant impact on even one sphere of music," wrote Yehudi Menuhin in the London Times, "but to leave a lasting impression on three vastly different areas—classical, jazz and world music—is an exceptional achievement."
Mayer was born into a poor family in Chandni Chawk, Calcutta, India, in 1930. His Anglo-German-Indian father was a dockworker and his mother, an Indian, had come from Madras. "Starvation was never far away," wrote the London Telegraph, "and young John frequently waited for food parcels at local churches." Mayer found his deliverance, however, when he began violin lessons at the age of seven. Although he often practiced by himself due to his family's lack of money, he eventually studied classical music in Bombay with Melhi Mehta, and took violin lessons at the Calcutta School of Music with Phillipe Sandre.
When he was 22, Mayer won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in London. Although his skills as a violinist had won him the scholarship, he started out studying composition under Matyas Sether, and eagerly began exploring the connections between Eastern and Western music. His money ran out after a year, but he was hired by the London Philharmonic Orchestra to play in its violin section, and he remained there for the next eight years, simultaneously studying at the Royal Academy. Mayer also composed while working with the London Philharmonic, and several of his works were performed.
Mayer's first real break came when Sir Charles Groves commissioned him to write Dance Suite. The piece combined orchestral arrangements with tabla, flute, sitar, and tambura, and was performed by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in 1958. But Mayer's success created tensions with his current employer. "This early success … created problems with the management of the London Philharmonic," wrote Eder, "which was a conservative organization and didn't appreciate having a composer within the ranks of its performing musicians."
After being forced to leave the London Philharmonic, Mayer accepted a position with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Sir Thomas Beecham. For the next seven years he worked with the Royal Philharmonic, learning to conduct and becoming familiar with the inner workings of a large ensemble. By the mid-1960s Mayer was making enough money with his compositions to leave the Royal Philharmonic, and he quickly gained a reputation in avant-garde circles for his works combining Eastern and Western classical music styles.
In 1964 producer Denis Preston was finishing an album for Atlantic Records, and asked Mayer if he had written any short pieces that would be suitable for a jazz album. Mayer said he had, and Preston asked him to bring his music to a recording session the following day. In truth, Mayer had not written anything of the sort, but he stayed awake all night to write "Nine for Bacon." Once the piece had been recorded, it came to the attention of Ahmet Ertegun, the president of Atlantic Records. He liked Mayer's work and suggested he record an album for the Atlantic label. Mayer joined with saxophonist Joe Harriet, who formed the Indo-Jazz Fusions with pianist Pat Smythe, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, flutist Chris Taylor, sitar player Diwan Mothar, tamboura player Chandrahas Paiganka, and tabla player Keshan Sathe. "It was certainly the first ensemble to successfully introduce jazz, classical and Indian music to each other," wrote Alyn Shipton on the Indo Jazz website, "and it was the first band to use the term 'fusion' in its name."
The duo of Mayer and Harriott had a month to prepare new material for their first album, and two days in which to record it. Indo-Jazz Fusions was quickly followed by Indo-Jazz Suite. Consisting of four ragas and using an Indian tonal scale, Indo-Jazz Suite resembled free jazz by eschewing the linear progression dominant in Western musical scales. The presence of a Western quintet, however, along with elements of the blues and swing, also seeped into the music's framework. Thom Jurek of All Music Guide wrote of Indo-Jazz Suite, "This work, written and directed by Mayer, offered the closest ever collaboration and uniting of musics East and West." Together Mayer and Harriet recorded three highly praised albums between 1966 and 1968, and toured Europe and Britain.
After tensions developed between Mayer and Harriott in 1970, the latter dropped out of Indo-Jazz Fusions. He was replaced by Tony Coe, and the band recorded a fourth album in the early 1970s. Following Harriott's death from cancer in 1973, however, Mayer chose to retire the band. "I felt very disheartened when Joe died," he later told Shipton, "and I just didn't want to carry on with the band." For a short time Mayer worked with progressive rock musicians, including Keith Emerson, and he played violin on Cosmic Eye's Dream Sequence. Soon, however, Mayer turned to quieter pursuits. For the next 20 years he concentrated on writing new compositions and on his academic work at the Birmingham Conservatoire.
In 1995 Mayer decided to revive Indo-Jazz Fusions. "Soon after we re-formed," he told Shipton, "we visited Bangladesh. Audiences were bowled over, and I knew then that this was different. This was a group full of new blood, playing the music a very different way." Many of Mayer's former students joined the group, and over the next several years Indo-Jazz Fusions would record three albums for the Nimbus label and tour India. "Indo-Jazz Fusions is just such a proof of the folly of labels," noted Shipton. "It isn't a question of the music being jazz, or Indian, or classical; it is a thoroughly satisfying blend of ingredients into something genuinely new, original and forward looking." Mayer died after being hit by a jeep while returning from an optical appointment on March 9, 2004.
For the Record …
Born on October 28, 1930, in Calcutta, India; died on March 9, 2004, in England.
Joined London Philharmonic Orchestra, 1950s; commissioned by Sir Charles Groves to write Dance Suite; joined Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, late 1950s; wrote "Nine for Bacon" for Denis Preston, 1964; recorded with Joe Harriott as Indo-Jazz Fusions, 1966-70; established at Birmingham Conservatoire as composer in residence; re-formed Indo-Jazz Fusions, 1995.
Addresses: Record company—Nimbus Records, Waystone Estate Limited, Waystone Leys, Monmouth, Monmouthshire United Kingdom, NP25 3SR, website: http://www.wyastone.co.uk.
With Indo-Jazz Fusions
Indo-Jazz Fusions, Atlantic, 1966.
Indo-Jazz Suite, Atlantic, 1967.
Asian Airs, Nimbus, 1997.
Regatal, Nimbus, 1999.
Telegraph (London, England), March 20, 2004.
Times (London, England), April 12, 2004.
"Indo-Jazz Fusions," Indo Jazz, http://www.indojazzf9.co.uk/ (June 16, 2004).
"John Mayer," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com/ (June 16, 2004).
—Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.
"Mayer, John." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/mayer-john
"Mayer, John." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/mayer-john
Pop singer-songwriter John Mayer came to the fore in 2002, fueled by the popularity of his major label debut, Room for Squares, which sold more than three million copies and earned him a Grammy Award in 2002. Literate and thoughtful, Mayer has been lauded for his sensitive lyrics, astute guitar playing, and melodically rich songs that are a blend of jazz, pop, and blues.
Mayer was born on October 16, 1977, to Margaret, a school teacher, and Richard Mayer, a school principal. He grew up as the middle child between two brothers in Fairfield, Connecticut. According to Jenny Eliscu on RollingStone.com in November of 2003, his mother described him as "a peaceable kid." While he was growing up, Mayer wanted to be a radio announcer. "Maybe it was the booming baritone or the glib delivery," he told Eliscu. He practiced announcing his own radio station, WJOHN, in the bathroom, and recorded radio shows in his bedroom. His aspirations changed when he started playing guitar at age 13. He learned to play mostly by himself, listening and playing along to CDs. He drew attention as a teen by emulating the blues guitar licks of his hero, Stevie Ray Vaughn.
Mayer's guitar playing got in the way of his school work and he was constantly at odds with his parents, who wanted to know what their son was planning to do if he didn't become a world-famous musician. "Just watch, just watch," he recalled saying to his mother, according to Eliscu. He graduated from high school and earned a partial scholarship to the prestigious Berklee College of Music, which he attended for a year. In 1999 he moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where he worked at a gas station to support himself. He played guitar and sang in coffee houses during time off from work, and released his acoustic, independent debut, Inside Wants Out, during that year. In Atlanta, Mayer found an audience in the coffee houses and clubs, and began to draw the attention of major record labels. He later moved to New York City.
Mayer found a major label record deal at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas, in 2000. A representative of Aware Records, a Chicago-based imprint of Columbia, saw him perform, and Mayer was able to sign to the label soon after. Columbia took over his contract before his first release. By the fall of 2000 he was in the recording studio with producer John Alagia, who had worked with Dave Matthews and Ben Folds Five. In contrast to Inside Wants Out, Mayer's major-label debut, Room for Squares, was backed by a full electric band.
Room for Squares simmered for a while before it began to pick up speed. But by the spring of 2002, the album was climbing the Billboard charts in leaps and bounds. Radio stations across America were playing his first single, "No Such Thing," in heavy rotation, as they did with his next two, "Your Body Is a Wonderland" and "Why Georgia." Rolling Stone magazine named him one of Ten Artists to Watch, he was featured on television and in major magazines, and many of his 2002 concerts were sold out. When Mayer was struggling at Berklee in 1997, his father had sent him a check for $250 with a note that read, "Remember me when you go platinum." In 2002 Mayer gave his first platinum record plaque to his father, with the note mounted inside the frame.
Early on, Mayer's lyrical and vocal styles earned him comparisons to Dave Matthews, David Gray, and Steely Dan, but the young musician still counts Vaughn as his biggest influence, along with Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Guy, and Robert Cray. Mayer appears to take his guitar playing more seriously than he does his stardom. "At a time when countless musicians wish they were pop stars," critic Jon Pareles wrote in the New York Times, "Mr. Mayer is a pop star aspiring to be a musician."
"I want to run through the walls of my high school, I want to scream at the top of my lungs," Mayer croons in the opening refrains of "No Such Thing." In the song he looks forward to his ten-year high school reunion, and postulates that there's no "real world" to be afraid of or look forward to. In Mayer's follow-up single "Your Body is a Wonderland" he describes the joys of making out. The song earned him a Grammy Award in 2002 for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance. Mayer's style appeals especially to female fans. "In Mr. Mayer's songs," Pareles wrote, "he's a perfect candidate for a boyfriend: thoughtful, affectionate, a little wounded, and ready for assurance, with a breathy voice." A brief but highly publicized romance with actress Jennifer Love Hewitt left Mayer wary of celebrity dating.
Mayer's highly anticipated follow-up to Room for Squares, titled Heavier Things, debuted at number one on the American charts, and pushed his career further into the stratosphere. Rolling Stone critic James Hunter called it a "more sophisticated album." The songs, Hunter wrote, "are sparser … Most of these tracks proceed more subtly, with an emphasis on interior life." Being a famous person isn't Mayer's goal, he claims. Even after his second, star-making album, he told Eliscu, "I'm focused on proving my success wasn't an accident…. I want to get twice as good as I am now."
For the Record . . .
Born on October 16, 1977, in Fairfield, CT; son of Margaret (a school teacher) and Richard (a school principal) Mayer.
Began playing guitar, 1990; attended Berklee College of Music, 1997; released Inside Wants Out, 1999; signed with Aware Records, released Room For Squares, 2001; released Heavier Things, 2003.
Awards: Grammy Award, Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for "Your Body is a Wonderland," 2003.
Addresses: Record company— Columbia Records, 555 Madison Ave., 10th Fl., New York, NY 10022-3211, website: http://www.columbiarecords.com. Booking— Creative Artists Agency, 3310 West End Ave., Nashville, TN 37203, phone: (615) 383-8787. Website— John Mayer Official Website: http://www.johnmayer.com.
Mayer is respected throughout the music community by his pop peers and, perhaps surprisingly, by rap music's elite. Rap star Jay-Z and Grammy-winning producer Pharrell Williams of the Neptunes have both publicly praised Mayer's music. Williams elaborated to MTV: "You know, the dude is a real musician," Williams said. "It's like anything you ever loved in Joe Jackson or anything you ever loved in any '70s rock. You're gonna get it out of this dude. He's a real student, and it comes through in his music."
Inside Wants Out, Aware, 1999.
Room For Squares, Columbia, 2001.
Heavier Things, Columbia, 2003.
New York Times, November 26, 2003, p. E1.
People, October 6, 2003, p. 51.
Rolling Stone, October 2, 2003, p. 116.
Village Voice, October 1-7, 2003, p. C89.
"Forget Cristal: John Mayer CDs are the Latest Hip-Hop Must Have," MTV.com, http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1484845/20040205/index.jhtml?headlines=true (February 13, 2004).
"Songs in the Key of Mayer," RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.com/features/featuregen.asp?pid=2043 (January 3, 2004).
"Mayer, John." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/mayer-john-0
"Mayer, John." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/mayer-john-0
Born: Bridgeport, Connecticut, 16 October 1977
Best-selling album since 1990: Room for Squares (2001)
Hit songs since 1990: "No Such Thing," "Your Body Is a Wonderland"
As teenage and college girls of Generation Y (the children of baby boomers) outgrew *NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys, John Mayer turned them on to more mature, thoughtful music that nevertheless retained the sentiment and soft seduction of their half-forgotten bubblegum idols.
Mayer grew up with a middle-class family in Fairfield, Connecticut, but was entranced by the idea of breaking out of the tranquil lifestyle and pursuing an individualistic life of music. He caught the music bug at age thirteen, after hearing a neighbor's cassette of the late Texas blues great Stevie Ray Vaughan. At fifteen, he started playing professionally and dropped out of high school for two years.
In 1997 he was accepted by the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. While the pop rock world is notoriously unimpressed by official credentials, Berklee is one of the few institutions that has had success in formally training pop musicians. However, Mayer felt stifled by what he saw as the school's emphasis on technical virtuosity over creativity. So after three months, he moved to Atlanta, Georgia, with a friend who was originally from the city.
He found the booming metropolis an excellent live music market—plenty of people went out at night, yet audiences were not overly jaded or demanding. However, the experience separated him a bit from his blues roots. For one thing, he tended to write introspective, self-deprecating lyrics, while blues is more geared toward extroversion and accusation. Another more pragmatic hurdle was the fact that it was tough for a no-name newcomer to assemble a band. Therefore, he performed as a solo, acoustic act, which gave his repertoire some touches of the coffeehouse troubadour.
Audiences warmed up to his skillful, jazz-influenced guitar playing and his soothing, grainy voice that sounded like it was coming from someone far more mature than his years. While Mayer has always been a guitar natural, he said singing well requires a concentrated effort.
Mayer went the acoustic route for his first EP Inside Wants Out (1999). Drums are absent from most cuts, and the only obvious studio touch is some vocal overdubbing. Its first four tracks, "Back to You," "No Such Thing," "My Stupid Mouth," and "Neon," would show up on his debut album Room for Squares (2001). "Neon" is memorable for its incongruity—Mayer sings about a lover who is into "mixed drinks and techno beats" over a folksy, percolating guitar solo. His guitar playing also signals that while he may not have been interested in being the most technically proficient student, he possesses chops to spare.
He was discovered by Columbia Records subsidiary Aware at a South by Southwest Music Festival showcase in Austin, Texas, in 2000. Later that year, he began recording Room for Squares with producer John Alagia (Ben Folds Five, Dave Matthews Band). This time, Mayer used a full rock combo to fill out his raw inspiration. His slightly raspy voice draws comparisons to Dave Matthews, while his confessional lyrics and acoustic leanings make him seem an ideal counterpart to the other Generation Y breakout of the early 2000s, Norah Jones. His first single "No Such Thing" rocked along with an aggressive tempo and unusual but catchy chord progressions. With musings about high school memories and trying to avoid a boring fate, Mayer created an anthem for aimless yet ambitious twenty-somethings going through what he calls the "quarterlife crisis."
The second single, "Your Body Is a Wonderland," a new song not included on Inside Wants Out, is an acoustic-framed ballad whose success signaled pent-up demand in the pop world for direct, sexy, understandable lyrics. The song won a Grammy Award in 2003 for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.
Mayer, now more than able to hire a backing band, showcased his well-honed performance skills on double-live Any Given Thursday (2003). He returns to his blues roots on the despairing "City Love" and lets bassist David LaBruyere get funky on "No Such Thing."
Millions of young people who had put away their prefab pop records were still in the market for enjoyable, inoffensive music. Mayer helped them through their college and young professional years with lyrics that treated them as adults and accessible melodies they could sing along with.
Inside Wants Out (Aware, 1999); Room for Squares (Aware/Columbia, 2001); Any Given Thursday (Aware/Columbia, 2003).
"Mayer, John." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/mayer-john
"Mayer, John." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/mayer-john