“WWe played the Royal Albert Hall in 1964, ”says Charles Lloyd, recalling his first performance in the UK. “I packed it up to the rafters.” He was 26 years old, playing tenor saxophone in the majestic Cannonball Adderley band, and for the first time seeing a world beyond America’s jazz and blues clubs. “I can’t wait to go back,” Lloyd says of this weekend’s appearance at the EFG jazz festival in London.
Now 83, he speaks with an accent that mixes jazz slang and spiritual pleading (he says he took the pandemic “construction steps,” that is, to a higher plane rather than a DIY project) and is eager to re-engage with the audience. “I have been playing in front of the public since I was nine years old. I have been a professional musician since I was 12 years old. That’s what I do “.
What Lloyd “does” is work alongside more contemporary music giants than possibly anyone else alive. Born in Memphis, Tennessee, he grew up in a hotbed of jazz, blues, and country music: Newborn Phineas and Booker littleMemphis, two jazz prodigies, were his closest teenage associates, but young Charles found that playing the blues was paid better.
This was the southern United States, where “that world of man’s inhumanity to man – racism, segregation – was a game that someone had prepared, a nuisance.” And yet he says of Memphis: “We were in Mecca, you know? The music was so powerful. We were bitten by Bird’s cobra [Charlie Parker] and Prez [Lester Young]So there was no going back, but the blues is part of our spirit and those were the concerts that were available to us. Howlin ‘Wolf would come to town and say,’ You play with me, you eat pork chops, you play in other bands, you eat neck bones! ‘I could pay about $ 5 more, $ 10 more, than the other bands. Naturally, you wanted to play with Wolf. Besides the fact that he shook those buildings when he played. And the women, throwing her panties on stage and putting her pants on! “
Lloyd went from Memphis to Los Angeles, to study Bartók at the University of Southern California: “I think because of his work with his folkloric themes and melodies, he touched us, there was a kind of nice guy.” A classical music student by day, a jazz musician by night in a Los Angeles scene dominated by a group of musicians who would pioneer free jazz. Their leader, Ornette Coleman, became Lloyd’s mentor.
He remembers a jam session from 1956. “Billy Higgins, Ornette, Dexter Gordon, a lot of guys were there. I got up to play and then Ornette came over and said, ‘Man, you sure can play the saxophone, but that doesn’t have much to do with music.’ He was about eight years older than me and basically said he could play, but he still didn’t have it all together. We became friends, we played and we practiced a lot together. It was a rich community in California, so I was blessed again. “
While working as a school teacher in 1960, he received an offer to join Chico Hamilton’s band in New York. Here Lloyd wrote much of Hamilton’s material before joining Cannonball Adderley; released his debut solo album, Discovery !, then formed his own quartet in late 1965. Recruiting drummer Jack DeJohnette, bassist Cecil McBee and 21-year-old pianist Keith Jarrett, with jazz magician George Avakian as manager, the Charles Lloyd Quartet’s 1966 album Dream Weaver would be a hinge on which modern jazz revolved, gaining airing on the nascent FM rock radio stations. 1967’s Forest Flower: Charles Lloyd at Monterey was the first modern jazz album to sell more than a million copies in the US, and it helped establish the new crossover between jazz and rock.
Other novelties: playing at the Fillmore, often alongside new psychedelic bands (“those San Francisco boys and girls, they said, ‘The only thing going on is us and Charles Lloyd'”), and bringing modern jazz to life. Soviet Union. His 1967 live album Love-In, with its psychedelic title and cover and performance of a Beatles song, was aimed squarely at his youthful fan base and led to naysayers. New York Times critic Martin Williams pointed out scathingly: “With his bushy hair, military jacket, and flare-striped flared trousers, he looks like some kind of showbiz hippie. Usually it sounds like some kind of John Coltrane from show business. “
The quartet bitterly imploded in early 1969, when Miles Davis, long envious of Lloyd’s success, hired DeJohnette and Jarrett for his merger adventures. “Miles is very creative, a very special guy; He changed music a bunch of times, ”says Lloyd, but the friction meant“ we can’t get along. He’s extremely talented, but he wants all the girls and all the money. “
Lloyd may have been famous, but he was desperately unhappy. “You have to understand, fame and fortune, it’s like a pig plum – it looks so juicy and you bite into it and break your teeth because it’s all bone and skin. Then, I realized that fame and fortune were the reason I was miserable. They were not what they seem. You know, I have all these demands on me: ‘Sign this, do that, come here …’ Around ’68 things started to get worse: my marriage and the tragic magic. “
What, I ask, is tragic magic? “A little powder that you drink. You do things with it. And you have no problem, you just need to get your tragic magic every day. I’d go play with the Grateful Dead and they’d put Peru on the table, you know, a big mountain of coke and stuff… When you’re taking medication like that, you’re in another area. It was stimulating at first, but after a while it stunted creativity. I decided that it was better that I leave New York because I saw many of my colleagues die and disappear. I came to California to get cured. And that is what I did “.
Frustrated by his contract with Atlantic Records, describing it as a “plantation system”, Lloyd stopped performing, so he gifted Miles Davis, Weather Report and the British fusion band Nucleus his old audience. Upon settling in Malibu, a certain synchronicity made the Beach Boys become Lloyd’s saviors.
“I didn’t know who the Beach Boys were, but it turned out they were my fans. Mike Love started inviting me to Brian Wilson’s house: Brian had a house in Bel Air with a studio and an engineer there all the time. Atlantic had rejected me and I was out of bread, so they told me, ‘You can use this study.’ Brian would come down from his upstairs sandbox and sit in sessions and they would start singing on my records and stuff. It was an enlightened situation. “
Lloyd would play on various Beach Boys albums (including Surf’s Up), toured with the band, and even formed Celebration, a side project with Love and Al Jardine, in the late 70s. Settled in Big Sur, a spiritual community higher up. On the west coast, Lloyd relaunched his quartet in 1981 after meeting French jazz pianist Michel Petrucciani. His performances found Lloyd welcomed by jazz audiences and critics, but, having successfully launched Petrucciani’s career, he withdrew to Big Sur and into silence. A near-death intestinal disease convinced Lloyd to re-commit to jazz: he signed with the German jazz label ECM in 1989; Since then he has released 23 albums and toured extensively. “I am a seeker and I am trying to change the world, right?” Lloyd says of his productivity. “And I’m doing it with sound.”
Since Don Was signed to Blue Note Records in 2015, Lloyd has regained his business position. Befitting a Bartók student, he continues to work with global musicians – from India, Hungary, and Greece – while crafty couples with Norah Jones, Willie Nelson, and Lucinda Williams (“She’s the real one!”) Have won him new audiences. .
“Back in Memphis, I used to play with a country band that had a hot steel pedal guitarist, so when playing with Bill Frisell [guitar] and Greg Leisz [pedal steel], I managed to get there after that. I like weird connections because I don’t like playing with one hand behind my back. I have to have a full deck of cards – no restrictions. “
All the narrator, famous names keep popping up. Lloyd points out that, in Memphis, a young trucker named Elvis used to come to study one of his teenage gangs. “Every night to see Calvin Newborn, Phineas’s younger brother, because he played guitar and jumped in the air, flapping his legs. Well, Elvis couldn’t do those guitar things that Calvin could do, but he could shake his leg, so he looked and got some stuff from those concerts. “He mentions missed recordings with The Dead and plans to record with Jimi Hendrix who were frustrated by his death, he also wanted to record with the Byrds, but his label refused to sanction the collaboration. “They said no, that is not going to happen, that they were still having racial polarities.”
However, he has always tried to ignore any musical divisions (“growing up in the South, the cross pollination was such that the musicians didn’t feel those lines of demarcation”) and now he often covers songs by old friends Bob Dylan and Brian. Wilson. , while his gorgeous new album, Tone Poem, does honor Ornette Coleman with a Ramblin ‘recording of the latter: “Ornette had her own cosmology because she discovered it: all the hard times she had, all the fights she had, Coming from Texas, all the blues I played … Ornette and the blues are always in my sound. “
I mention the fertile UK jazz scene, something Lloyd is unaware of: “except I met that girl, [Nubya] Garcia, at a festival in the United States, is a fan of mine, ”and I explain how the spiritual jazz sound that helped pioneer is very popular in Britain today. “If I had known it was fashionable, I would have increased my fees,” Lloyd drags, before laughing. It seems that the lessons learned from Howlin ‘Wolf are still being applied today.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism