I have been listening to Donald Macleod’s Composer of the Week, on BBC Radio 3 which was devoted to George Gershwin. Switching on midway through a heart rending duo rendition of Bess You is My Woman, and immediately recognizing the distinctive plaintive soundscape of Charles Lloyd on tenor, accompanied here by Jason Moran on piano. By the way I highly recommend Donald Macleod’s series which is normally devoted to classical composers. He veers into the jazz world every now and again. https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m001n29p.

I have also been reflecting since the passing of Wayne Shorter and Ahmed Jamal earlier this year of the extraordinary longevity of the current crop of jazz musicians still active into their 80’s and 90’s. I’m thinking of George Coleman, Alan Skidmore, Henry Lowther, Archie Shepp, George Cables, Martial Solal, Mike & Kate Westbrook, Herbie Hancock, Cecil McBee and of course Charles Lloyd who turned 85 this year and is showing no signs of slowing down in his quest for new sounds and new musical environments in which to showcase his unique talents.

So, this blog is devoted to a brief retrospective on Charles Lloyd who had the misfortune or good fortune to record a million selling album Forest Flower in 1966 which reflected the sixties counterculture at a time when mainstream jazz was going through one of its periodic declines. Fortunately, Lloyd was not a one shot wonder and has continued to pursue his own deeply mystical musical journey up to the present day

Charles Lloyd at Montery

Charles Lloyd was born in Memphis Tennessee in 1938. He has African, Cherokee, Mongolian and Irish ancestry. Memphis was a distinctive melting pot of jazz and blues vibes when Charles was growing up and he references his total immersion in the soundscape of Memphis in his early years in the short PBS interview he gave recently. 

Charles was a Memphis contemporary of jazz greats Harold Mabern and George Coleman (still active in his late 80’s). Check out the Jimmy Witherspoon track on the playlist to get a sense of how Lloyd might have sounded in his early career as a big-toned tenor player in his early days touring with Howlin Wolf and B.B. King. Appropriately, Charles Lloyd was inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame in 2016

Unusually for a jazz musician of his era Lloyd completed a music degree at the University of Southern California, immersing himself in Bartok and 20th century classical modernists by day and playing with, among others, Ornette Coleman and the great big band leader and orchestrator Gerald Wilson on the L.A. jazz scene at night.

Charles Lloyd

Charles established his jazz credentials with two year stints as a sideman with both Chico Hamilton and Cannonball Adderley. Two very different modern jazz units, before forming his first “classic” quartet comprising Keith Jarrett on piano, Jack de Johnette on drums and Cecil McBee on bass. He has been a leader ever since  showcasing his talents as a composer and improviser in an extraordinary range of styles and musical contexts.

For much of the 1970’s Charles dropped out of the jazz scene while he studied  transcendental meditation and Eastern spirituality- funding his lifestyle with occasional recordings and tours with the Beach Boys and the Doors.

Lloyd returned to the jazz scene with a quartet featuring Michel Petrucciano on piano at which point he signed up with Manfred Eicher’s ECM with whom he recorded and toured for over 30 years. https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1164493774287689.

During this period Charles continued to explore musical influences beyond the recognized margins of jazz and this has characterized his work up to date. Charles continues to work with emerging talent. Brad Mehldau, John Abercrombie, Larry Grenadier, Bill Frisell and Jason Moran and many more have all benefitted from their association with Charles Lloyd. 

Given Lloyd’s polyglot musical interests and influences his work defies easy classification and I have no intention of attempting that here. What does stand out for me is Charles’s tone, both on saxophone and flutes. He has, to my mind an ethereal quality, a lightness of touch and a deep and very personal lyricism to his tone and playing which make him instantly recognisable. Which brings me back to my chance encounter with him on the car radio. I immediately recognized that it was Charles Lloyd gently re-inventing George Gershwin in the company of Jason Moran. Listen for yourself on the playlist.

The Playlist

Charles Lloyd has a lengthy back catalogue stretching back over 60 years. I have put together a selection that presents Lloyd in his various guises. You will find an almost unrecognisable Charles providing a growling accompaniment to blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon as well as the more familiar ethereal sounds that he continues to evoke in his unique musical journey. I am particularly drawn to his recent recordings with the Marvels featuring the alt country singer Lucinda Williams and his distinctive re-invention of two Ornette Coleman tunes, Peace and Ramblin

Charles Lloyd is and continues to be a true jazz master.

I’ll leave the final words to Charles Lloyd himself; “Jazz is the music of freedom and wonder”.