An interview with Charles Lloyd: There are a lot of folks in the world who have much more sensitivity than they’re given credit for … – Photos


Charles Lloyd is on a mission. Never mind he celebrated his 85th birthday last year, he remains at the peak of his powers – and what’s more, he is constantly striving to improve.

“I want to make a contribution,” he says. “If I want to do that, I have got to dig deeper and try and find some sandalwood forests; I’m not looking for gold mines or diamond mines, I am looking for the true elixir of spiritual value, that’s why we are here.”

Charles Lloyd - Official Website

Lloyd is a musical storyteller par excellence, and combined with a lifetime of musical experiences, a Charles Lloyd concert becomes a profound musical experience. Reaching deep into the human psyche, the humanity of his playing stirs emotions that music seldom reaches. A unique artist, Lloyd’s sound is a thing unto itself – and there is nothing else like it in 21st century music.

I am in the last stages of the journey now… I like simple living and high thinking. The simple living part has been beautiful for me
Emotionally persuasive and immediately identifiable, it establishes the source of meaning and authenticity of his playing. Captured in the perfect acoustics of the recording studio early last March, his sound provides the perfect entrée into The Sky Will Still Be There Tomorrow. A double album with an all-star ensemble that’s scheduled for release on 18 March – not uncoincidentally Lloyd’s 86th birthday – the eloquent execution of the two opening numbers, ‘Defiant, Tender Warrior’ and ‘Lonely One’, establish an emotional climate you can take refuge under when the travails of contemporary living begin to weigh heavily on the soul.

Although Lloyd presents a line-up that has never played together before, all involved understand his music, sharing the tacit understanding they are involved in creating music that is not just for the present,, but for the future as well.

Most of the compositions on The Sky Will Still Be Be There Tomorrow were the result of a period of intense writing activity during the months of Covid lockdown. “Here I am, 85 and I’m still a youngster, blooming,” says Lloyd with a twinkle in his voice. “I’m a late bloomer, that’s what I’m trying to say. During Covid, something happened when I was walking around in [partner and manager] Dorothy’s garden and walking on the trails, I had all these compositions that were coming through me. I was thinking of these intervals and sounds when I came back, so I went to a piano to see if Steinway will let me get in there and find something – and sure enough I found these treasure troves; so ‘Tender Warrior,’ that’s what we are, and ‘Lonely One,’ I have always been.”

A lot of song titles on The Sky Will Still Be There Tomorrow share an autobiographical subtext. ‘Late Bloom,’ for example, a flute duet conversing with himself on alto and bass flutes, refers to the blooming of his ever-ascending career since returning from a performing hiatus, marked in 1989 with the album Fish Out of Water (ECM). Then there’s ‘Monk’s Dance,’ a spirted piece that has a chord progression that seems to dance around. Lloyd says: “Monk is very important to me because he is like a high priest. I don’t know if I told you, but his manager called me and said Monk wants you to play with him, it was when I was with Chico [Hamilton], we played opposite him in the Jazz Gallery back in the early 1960s.

“So I said, ‘Gee, man, are you kidding? I’d love to,’ and then he said, ‘just go up to his house’. I was young then, I said, ‘Well if he calls me I am here’ – I didn’t understand about intermediaries, the manager telling me to get up there and go and play. To me, Monk was like a high priest, I wasn’t going to go knocking on his door and bother him. So that’s one of my finishing schools I missed out on, but I always make homage and play some of his pieces sometimes, so on ‘Monk’s Dance’ I bow to him again.”

Then there are moments recalled shared with Dorothy Darr years ago – things like ‘Sky Valley, Spirit of the Forest.’ “Dorothy was born in this paradise place in North Carolina and she only lived there for three years,” explains Lloyd.

Charles Lloyd Revels in the Flow on a Stellar Live Album - The New York  Times

“Then her family moved out of there, they were kind of living in a commune, and then much later we went back to see it, it was very difficult to find, but we found it, it’s got a lake on it, it was one of those paradise kind of places and I was so moved by that – the spirit of the forest. I am in the last stages of the journey now, and I like simple living and high thinking; the simple living part has been beautiful for me.”

“‘Balm in Gilead’ is an old spiritual, part of our culture over here. I’ve heard it since I was a child, and then I went to ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’, which we sang everyday in school when I was a little boy, and all that comes along with me, so ‘Lift Every Voice’ is like the Negro national anthem.”

Lloyd has never forgotten his close relationship with trumpeter Booker Little (1938–1961), a young man as wise about music as he was about life, and the memory of conversations and experiences Lloyd shared with him have been a continual source of inspiration to this day.

“‘Booker’s Garden,’ that’s Booker Little – this great, misunderstood genius who was a great composer, he made a wonderful record [in 1961] called Out Front; he did so much beautiful work, he made those records down at the Five Spot with Eric Dolphy and Mal Waldron, Richard Davis and Eddie Blackwell. Booker was my best friend in High School, with whom I used to listen to Béla Bartók string quartets in the school library.

“When I got to New York I was staying at the Alvin Hotel and he said, ‘Where are you staying?’ and I said, ‘At the Alvin,’ and he said, ‘No you’re not, go pack your bags you’re coming home with me!’

“What a leap of faith! He took me to the apartment he shared with his lady friend up on East 92nd Street between Lex and Third, a four flight walk-up, and he began to take me apart. I was about to jump into the fast lane up in New York – and he said, ‘No, it’s not about that, it’s about character,’ that was so profound. I am always conversing with him, we really have this deep communion now, he was so deep, he left town at the age of 23 but he did so much in that short time.

“‘Lady Day,’ is about Billie Holiday of course; she was my heartbeat when I was a little boy, playing the radio late at night with her singing to me.”

Over the last decade, Lloyd has been experimenting with different ensembles, different musicians, different instruments, different sounds, and different musical and rhythmic textures – most notably his Greek ensemble with Maria Farantouri; The Marvels; Kindred Spirits; and his already classic trilogy of three different trios – the Chapel Trio, the Ocean Trio and the Sacred Thread Trio – released last year as A Trio of Trios.

But, always eager to challenge himself with different musicians and different approaches, he brought together another set of personalities for The Sky Will Still Be There Tomorrow. “I had to get these people,” continues Lloyd. “Jason Moran had played with me earlier, and he seemed to understand.

“Then came Larry Grenadier who played with me on the Water is Wide, with Brad Mehldau, Billy Higgins, and John Abercrombie, so I knew Larry has this big sound and big heart, and Brian Blade had always been in the wings; there were many aborted times when we might have gotten together, Brian and I, and he understands my music too. I wanted to bring these people together.”

At 80, Saxophonist Charles Lloyd Finds Enlightenment in the Groove : NPR

The group first assembled in the recording studio in March 2023 before playing a series of dates, one of which was on 18 March 2023 at his hometown theatre in downtown Santa Barbera. The Lobero is a 150-year-old adobe theatre and a venue where he has played more times in his life than anywhere else.

The tour schedule, as ever, was arranged and booked by Darr. “Well, for that concert at the Lobero Theatre last March, Charles had gotten together a group of musicians,” she tells me. “Jason Moran, Larry Grenadier and Brian Blade who had been in the studio two or three days prior to the concert to make The Sky Will Still Be There Tomorrow. Charles has had a number of birthday concerts at the Lobero, and it has become like an extension of our living room – a place where he is very relaxed.

“The place was full to the gills and at a certain point, I think it was two or three songs in, they were pausing between songs and the audience burst into a ‘Happy Birthday’ spontaneously, which was very touching. It just charged the energy; the Lobero is just a beautiful place to perform, and it was a highly charged, memorable evening.”

The Lobero concert set the tone for what followed in 2023, Lloyd’s first full year of touring since the end of lockdown, when he launched into an exhausting round of dates across America and Europe. There was no shortage of highlights, but they all shared one thing in common – the genuine warmth and enthusiasm he received, acknowledging a true jazz legend during his lifetime; at the Newport Jazz Festival in July 2023, “he topped the list of highlights” according to The Boston Globe.

“Oh yeah! That was a great,” enthuses Darr. “Charles is very fond of the Newport Jazz Festival because of his friendship with the late George Wein. It was with the New Quartet – Jason [Moran], Eric Harland [drums] and Reuben Rogers [bass] – and they always have great energy, a great connection, and yeah, that was a great evening!

“We also had a wonderful concert at the Washington DC Jazzfest, in September celebrating Charles’ 85th year. It was the Kindred Spirits group with Gerald Clayton [piano], Rueben, Marvin Sewell [guitar] and Charles, and that was great. It was along the river, a big, outside event, and a great audience showed up for that, and that had a special kind of feeling, being in the capital.

“Then in November we had two nights at the Lincoln Center, with the New Quartet with Jason, Eric and Rueben, and Sangam concerts with Eric and Zakir [Hussain, on tabla], and another wonderful reception.” | QA-Charles Lloyd

Also in November was a memorable European tour of ‘selected venues’. Why selected?

“Well, I never know which tour is going to be the last tour,” admits Darr. “Charles has had several very serious health issues, the last one was last March 2022, when he nearly died, so when the agents and promoters approach me about touring I try to make it selective.

“At the start of the tour [17 November], Charles was performing at the Barbican; he has warm affection for the artistic director, so we were back there, that was the with The Ocean Trio II, as I call it, with Marvin Sewell, a wonderful guitarist who shares a Delta background with Charles – actually he’s from Chicago – and Gerald Clayton on piano.”

The press reviews for this concert, and those across Europe, were uniformly enthusiastic, with Jazzwise heralding the concert as: “a deeply spiritual evening with The Ocean Trio”.

From London, the ensemble flew to Geneva [19 November] with a date every other day until the end of the month.

“We returned to the Jazztopad Festival in Wroclaw, Poland [November 26], they have a very beautiful concert house there,” continues Darr. “Berlin at the Pierre Boulez Hall, [28 November] is a beautiful venue, kind of like a theatre in the round, beautiful acoustics and very intimate, it holds about 700 or 800 people; there were other venues, a church in Zurich [22 November]. I mean each place was – the Luxembourg Philharmonie [24 November] – special unto itself, it all went so wonderfully well.”

Awards were not slow to come for Lloyd in 2023 either, in July, for example, Darr was able to wittily post on Facebook that, “Charles was the youngest and the oldest in the span of two weeks,” referring to how he was the youngest of the three recipients of the Lifetime Achievement award from the Jazz Foundation of America – Dave Grusin was 89 and Clarence Avant was 92 – and how he became the oldest-ever recipient of the Artist of the Year award from DownBeat magazine.

“It was interesting that when he was in his mid-20s, maybe 1963, I forget which precise year it was, he was named DownBeat Artist of the Year, after being Rising Star the year before,” reflects Darr. “This past year he was DownBeat Artist of the Year at the age of 85, and I think the only man of that age who has won that, but it was not for the span of the work across his career, but the current work he has been doing.”

This would have acknowledged the wonderful reviews the Trio of Trios project was attracting last year, as well as memorable releases from the immediate past, such as 8: Kindred Spirits and Tone Poem, all on Blue Note.

Charles Lloyd | Celebrity Series of Boston

With the release of The Sky Will Still Be There Tomorrow approaching, Lloyd remains as dedicated as ever to his mission.

“I know from my vantage point,” says Darr, “from all the years I have known Charles, I know that early on he wanted to change all of the wrongs in the world through the beauty of music, and realising he couldn’t do that was when he went away to work on his sound.

“I know he wanted to make a contribution; I feel that he does make a contribution and he looks at it as being in service. In service to humanity to try raise the level of people’s perception through the inspiration of sound and through direct contact with one’s heart, and that continues to be his inspiration”.

She continues: “He still loves deeply what he is doing, the travel is very tiresome and exhausting and doesn’t get any easier, but he still looks forward to each performance.”

Duty is a heavy but honourable burden to carry. There is no coasting, no easy ride on the path Lloyd has chosen since humanity is non-negotiable and in these straightened times, honesty and purity of purpose are elements of human endeavour to be embraced.

“There are a lot of folks in the world who have much more sensitivity than they’re given credit for,” Lloyd says. “They come into my little song and I am touched by that. I have kinda refined my sound so not to be a botheration to the planet, I want to make a contribution. That’s what I am trying to say, I have got to continue to go deeper into my work; as Booker said to me, it’s all about character.”

Biography - Charles Lloyd

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