“Mr. Lloyd has come up with a strange and beautiful distillation of the American experience, part abandoned and wild, part immensely controlled and sophisticated.” -The New York Times
“Lloyd is one of the greats, rather like Joan Miro in modern art, he has no peer save himself. Music of total transport and delight.” -Jazzwise
NEA Jazz Master and recipient of the Ordre de Chevalier des Arts et Lettres, Charles Lloyd, continues to elevate the art form with each performance and recording. Born in Memphis, Tennessee March 15, 1938, from an early age, Lloyd was immersed in that city’s rich musical life and was exposed to jazz. He began playing the saxophone at the age of 9. Pianist Phineas Newborn became his mentor and took him to Irvin Reason for lessons. His closest friend in high school was trumpeter Booker Little. Lloyd worked in Phineas Sr.’s band and became a sideman in the blues bands of B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Johnnie Ace, Bobbie “Blue” Bland, and others.
In 1956 Lloyd moved to Los Angeles and graduated from the University of Southern California. During this period Lloyd played in Gerald Wilson’s big band and formed his own group that included Billy Higgins, Don Cherry, Bobby Hutcherson, Scott LaFaro, and Terry Trotter. Lloyd joined Chico Hamilton in 1960. His influence as a composer quickly pushed the group in a more progressive post-bop direction when Hamilton asked him to be the group’s music director. In 1964 Lloyd left Hamilton’s group to join alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley. He recorded two albums as a leader for Columbia Records, Discovery, and Of Course, Of Course; his sidemen included Gabor Szabo, Don Friedman, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Tony Williams, and Pete La Roca. In 1965 Lloyd formed a quartet with pianist, Keith Jarrett, bassist, Cecil McBee, drummer, Jack DeJohnette. It was a meeting of straight-ahead post-bop, free jazz, rock, and world music. Their music quickly caught the attention of jazz fans and critics. They achieved crossover success with young rock fans and became the first jazz group to play in the famed Fillmore. The album Forest Flower, Live at Monterey sold over one million copies.
In 1970, Lloyd surprised the music world by walking away from performing just at the point that he was dubbed a jazz superstar. Actually, he was just following the trajectory that was taking him closer to the essence of the music he was hearing. During the 1970s Lloyd played occasionally with The Beach Boys, both on their studio recordings and as a member of their touring band. When approached by pianist Michel Petrucciani in 1981, he resumed performing for two years to help Petrucciani gets a footing on the world stage, before retreating again to his secluded life in Big Sur. Following a near-death experience in 1986, Lloyd decided to rededicate himself to music. In 1989, Lloyd reestablished an active touring schedule and began recording for ECM Records. Noteworthy albums include Fish Out of Water, Canto, Voice In The Night, The Water Is Wide (featuring Brad Mehldau, John Abercrombie, Larry Grenadier, and Billy Higgins), and Sangam with Zakir Hussain and Eric Harland.
His ‘New Quartet’ with Jason Moran, piano, Reuben Rogers, bass, and Eric Harland, drums, has three recordings on ECM; Rabo de Nube (2008 ) was voted #1 recording for the 2008 Jazz Times Reader’s and Critics Poll, and Mirror (2010) and Passin’ Thru on Blue Note Records (2017). Commissioned by Jazztopad in Wroclaw, Poland, to write a new composition to premiere at their 2013 festival, Lloyd wrote Wild Man Dance Suite for piano, bass, drums, cimbalom, and Lyra, released on Blue Note Records in April 2015. Lloyd formed a new group called The Marvels featuring Bill Frisell on guitar, Reuben Rogers, Eric Harland, and Greg Leisz on steel guitar. Their first release I Long To See You (Blue Note 2016) featured guest tracks by Willie Nelson and Norah Jones. Vanished Gardens ( Blue Notes Records 2018 ) is Marvel’s collaboration with the great American singer and poet, Lucinda Williams. Jazztopad Festival created two additional and important commissions for Lloyd – the 2017 project titled Red Waters, Black Sky was an homage to his great grandmother, Sallie Sunflower Whitecloud, who refused to walk the Trail of Tears, and all of the indigenous people who had their homelands taken away from them. This multimedia project was written for the string quartet, choir, and the Marvels. The lush arrangements were written by Michael Gibbs. Lloyd’s wife Dorothy Darr created the video that became the backdrop for the performance. In 2019, Jazztopad requested a new performance of the Wildman Dance Suite, this time with orchestra. Michael Gibbs, again, wrote the arrangements and the resulting performance was a resounding success.
In celebration of Lloyd’s 80th birthday in 2018, Blue Note Records released a limited edition box set; 8, Kindred Spirits, Live from the Lobero featured fellow Memphian, Booker T. Jones. The box set includes a CD, LP, and DVD of the concert along with a 96-page book of photos commemorating Lloyd’s life and legacy. His newest recording, the sixth for Blue Note Records (2021), is Tone Poem, and once again features the Marvels.