Composer and multi-instrumentalist Charles Lloyd has been a standard-bearer for a resolutely free and modern jazz since the 60s, fusing it with a variety of traditional musics springing from Indian and European folklore. During the 70s, the deeply spiritual musician developed an interest in transcendental meditation, devoting himself to teaching and traveling throughout Europe, while also putting his talents at the service of musicians performing in spheres far from jazz. Returning to his first love at the dawn of the 80s after meeting pianist Michel Petrucciani, Lloyd discovered a new verve as the subsequent decade opened, recording a series of albums for famed label ECM that were unanimously hailed by the critics and consolidated his considerable reputation.
Charles Lloyd was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on March 15, 1938. He was given his first saxophone at the age of nine. He first discovered an interest in jazz as a teen, but mainly played blues. Working as an accompanist, he won his spurs playing alongside such legendary artists as Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King and Bobby Blue Bland.
In 1956, Lloyd left for California in order to deepen his understanding of classical music at the University of South California, where he would earn a Master’s degree. At the same time, he earned his stripes performing in Los Angeles jazz clubs alongside the cream of West Coast musicians including Billy Higgins, Charlie Haden, Bobby Hutcherson and Don Cherry.
In 1960, Lloyd was summoned to replace Eric Dolphy as musical director of Chico Hamilton’s group. He took the opportunity to showcase his talents as a composer and arranger. Four years later, he had a new musical address: Lloyd spent two fertile years in the Cannonball Adderley Sextet, which he still describes as having played a key role in his development.
Lloyd the leader
In the same era, CBS signed him to a record deal. His first two releases, Discovery and Of Course! Of Course!, allowed the musician to distinguish himself on saxophone and flute, accompanied by such high–profile musicians as pianist Don Friedman, guitarist Gabor Szabo and drummer Roy Haynes.
Lloyd’s career as a bandleader took off thanks to Dream Weaver, recorded in 1966 with a solid quartet featuring a promising young Keith Jarrett on piano, Jack DeJohnette on drums and Cecil McBee on bass, replaced the following year by Ron McClure. Mainstream popularity followed. A memorable–and remarkable–performance at the Monterey Festival in 1966 was immortalized on the album Forest Flower: Charles Lloyd Live at Monterey, which sold over 1 million copies. In its wake, the group packed venues usually reserved for rock stars, was welcomed by prime European festivals in Montreux and Antibes and went as far as performing in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
At the dawn of the 70s, while enjoying an enviable level of popularity, Lloyd dissolved his ensemble and distanced himself from the music scene. Finding refuge in Big Sur, a famed haven for artists, he developed an interest in transcendental meditation and dedicated himself to teaching. According to some sources, Lloyd spent some time in Europe, while also putting his talents at the service of musicians performing in spheres far from jazz, including the Beach Boys.
An unexpected encounter with Michel Petrucciani brought Lloyd back to his first love in the early 80s. The young French pianist so impressed Lloyd that he decided to help bring Petrucciani to greater exposure and a larger audience. In 1982 and 1983, the two musicians toured Europe, the U.S. and Japan as the heart of a quartet that recorded two live albums.
Return to the summit
After overcoming some health concerns in the mid-80s, Lloyd found a renewed verve as the following decade opened: at famed European label ECM, he discovered a deep affinity with such musicians as Geri Allen, Billy Higgins, Cedar Walton, Zakir Hussain and Jason Moran, to name but a few, recording a series of albums that were unanimously hailed by the critics and consolidated his considerable reputation. His discography includes the celebrated Canto (1996), Voice in the Night (1999), Sangam (2006), Athens Concert (2011) and Hagar’s Song (2013).
Since his remarkable return to the summit in the late 80s, Lloyd has visited the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal on several occasions. In his first appearance in 1989, he took the Spectrum stage with a quartet featuring pianist Bobo Stenson, bassist Palle Danielsson and drummer Jon Christensen. Lloyd returned to the Festival in 1994, 2001 and 2005. In 2013, he performed three concerts in various formats in the Invitation series, and was presented with the Miles-Davis Award.