The Spirit Informs

Charles Lloyd, in Conversation

by Stanley Naftaly

Tenor saxophonist and flutist Charles Lloyd’s career has spanned
more than 45 years. Born in Memphis, Lloyd was bathed in the music
of Phineas Newborn, Art Tatum, and Charlie Parker at a young age,
and came to California at the age of 18. He joined Chico Hamilton’s
quintet in 1961 and played with Cannonball Adderly in ’64 and ’65
until, in 1966, he formed his own quartet, which included Keith
Jarrett on piano, Cecil McBee on bass, and Jack DeJohnette on
drums. The group played and recorded Lloyd’s composition “Forest
Flower” at the Monterey Jazz Festival that year, and the resulting
album became one of the most popular jazz records of the era, even
crossing over to the rock audience. Lloyd later retreated from the
public eye for almost 10 years in order to pursue his spiritual
destiny, an aspect of which led him to reside here in Santa
Barbara.

Since his return to public performance and recording in the late
’70s and early ’80s, Lloyd has demonstrated great maturity, both as
a person and as a musician. His music has grown ever more free,
spontaneous, and spiritual. His recent work with the late Billy
Higgins and with his world music group, Sangam (see interview with
Zakir Hussain on pg. 69), has met with strong critical and popular
acceptance. Charles Lloyd is an absolutely sincere man of the most
pure intent. Speaking with him was both an honor and a
pleasure.

When did you first know that music was going to be your life? By
the time I was 7 or 8 I knew that I was supposed to be a
music-maker in this lifetime. I was a lonesome child and I couldn’t
get the setup of the world right. I got an instrument at about 9
and that kind of helped me out a lot. Even as a very young child,
when I heard music I knew there was some way to achieve harmony in
the world. My mother said, “Do whatever you want to do, but just be
the best at it.” I’m still coming up short.

I once read a quote of yours that fits perfectly here. You said,
“I’ve never gotten good enough at music to quit.” Precisely. I’m
moved by sound. I hear that universal sound — it’s in my mind’s ear
and I come close to it sometimes. I’m not able to articulate that
in the word, but in the sound I’m working at that. I’m better at
what I do than I was as a young man. I don’t have to use as many
notes to say something. You have to approach making this music with
humility because you’re up on the high wire and there’s no net
except your character.

It is 40 years since you set the jazz and rock worlds on fire
with Forest Flower at the 1966 Monterey Jazz Festival. The night
after the Lobero concert, you’re headlining Monterey again to
commemorate the occasion. What does all this feel like? Well, I’m a
kid. I’m still tryin’ to be better at what I do. Fame and fortune
is not what it’s about. I like to work a spiritual life because it
takes you into a zone where you have nothing to cling to except the
silence of the center. I’m sincerely enthralled by that and it
informs my work. There’s no possibility for me to stop doing what I
do now. For me to be a music-maker in this lifetime is a special
blessing, and I want to do this right. I want to finish up.

At the Lobero you’ll be playing with Geri Allen, Eric Harland,
and Reuben Rogers. How did you put this quartet together? Geri is
from Detroit and she’s of the lineage of the great pianists that
have come out of there, like Hank Jones and Tommy Flanagan and way
back to Mary Lou Williams. I met her in the ’80s at Montreux. I
liked her and remembered her. We did a benefit for Billy Higgins at
Lincoln Center in the early ’90s and Geri and I played together
with Ron Carter and Louis Nash, and then I invited her to play with
Dave Holland and Higgins and me. So, she’s been playing with me
since then. I met Eric Harland in New York after hearing about him
from my then-drummer, Billy Hart. I invited Eric to join me five
years ago.

When our bass player left, Eric brought his dear friend Reuben
Rogers in and he’s been playing with us for a couple of years now.
He’s amazing — you’ll love him when you hear him. So, that’s the
group, and we all have the love of the tradition in us, and we’re
all spiritual aspirants and making this music with love in our
hearts and minds. It’s kind of like flying, but we don’t need
fossil fuel.

I appreciate your taking the time to talk with me. I think the
reason I’m doing this is so you can inform the sensitives around
our town that something’s going to be happening on September 15
over at the Lobero. It would be great if you had some lonesome
child soul such as we’ve been discussing come and meet up. They
might not know anything about jazz, but they may know something
about life and the spiritual quest.

4•1•1 The Charles Lloyd Quartet
plays the Lobero Theatre this Friday, September 15, at 8 p.m. Call
963‑0761 or visit lobero.com.

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