Critics all agree when they point out that Charles Lloyd has never sounded better; his depth of musical expression reflects the experience of a lifetime. Lloyd is a legend in the world of music and could quite easily rest on his laurels, but he has never been interested in looking back at the past.
Charles Lloyd was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on 15 March 1938. Just like New Orleans, Memphis lays claim to a rich culture linked by the river Mississippi and with a legacy steeped in the blues, gospel & jazz. Lloyd’s ancestry of African, Cherokee, Mongolian and Irish descent reflects a similar rich culture.
He was given his first saxophone at the age of nine, and was riveted by radio broadcasts featuring the music of Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington. His early teachers included pianist Phineas Newborn Jr and saxophonist Irvin Reason. His closest childhood friend was the great trumpeter Booker Little and as a teenager Lloyd played jazz with saxophonist George Coleman and was a sideman for blues greats Johnny Ace, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Howlin’ Wolf & B.B. King.
Classical music also exerted a strong pull on the young Lloyd. In 1956 he left Memphis for Los Angeles to earn a degree in music at USC where he studied with Halsey Stevens. While his days were spent in academia, Lloyd spent nights getting educated on the job in L.A.’s jazz clubs, playing with Ornette Coleman, Billy Higgins, Scott LaFaro, Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, Eric Dolphy, Bobby Hutcherson and other leading west coast jazz artists. He also was a member of the Gerald Wilson Big Band during this period of time.
In 1960 Lloyd became music director of Chico Hamilton’s group. Hungarian guitarist Gábor Szabó and bassist Albert “Sparky” Stinson soon joined Lloyd in the band. Hamilton’s most memorable albums for Impulse Records featured music arranged and written almost entirely by Lloyd, and during this period of prolific composing he was also finding his unique ‘voice’ as a saxophonist.
Lloyd joined the Cannonball Adderley Sextet in 1964, and performed alongside Nat Adderley, Joe Zawinul, Sam Jones and Louis Hayes. He remained in this group for two years, and to this day continues to acknowledge the important role Cannon played in his own development as a leader.
In 1964 Lloyd signed with CBS Records and began to record as a leader. In 1965 he left to form his own quartet, a brilliant ensemble that brought together and introduced to the world of jazz the talents of pianist Keith Jarrett, drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Cecil McBee. Their first release was a studio recording, Dream Weaver, followed by Forest Flower: Live at Monterey (1966). Forest Flower made history as one of the first jazz recordings to sell a million copies. The Quartet was the first jazz group to appear at the famed Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco and at other rock palaces sharing the billing with Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Cream, the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane.
In 1967 Lloyd was voted “Jazz Artist of the Year” by Down Beat magazine, and was invited to guest on recordings with the Doors, the Byrds, Aashish and Pranesh Khan, and the Beach Boys. Miles Davis and other jazz figures were highly influenced by Lloyd’s explorations and soon plugged in to play for the young fans that Lloyd had reached through his acoustic outings.
At the height of his career in the early 1970s, Lloyd disbanded the quartet and dropped from sight, withdrawing to pursue an inner journey in Big Sur, the wild haven that had previously attracted other artists and writers including Robinson Jeffers, Langston Hughes, Henry Miller, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jack Kerouac, Jean Varda and Jaime de Angulo.
Despite recording several albums during the 1970s and occasionally appearing as a sideman, he practically disappeared from the jazz scene. During this period of time Lloyd played extensively with the Beach Boys both on their studio recordings and as a member of their touring band.
It wasn’t until 1981 that Lloyd moved to break a decade of silence in the jazz world to introduce & support a remarkably talented young French pianist, Michel Petrucciani during the start of his career.
Lloyd is currently touring the world and continues recording albums with his new quartet.
CHARLES LLOYD NEW QUARTET
Charles Lloyd – saxophone
Jason Moran – piano
Reuben Rogers – contrabass
Eric Harland – drums