Charles Lloyd

2015 NEA Jazz Master
Charles Lloyd headshot
Photo by Dorothy Darr
Music Credits: “You've Changed”, from Hagar’s Song, performed by Charles Lloyd and Jason Moran, ECM, 2013. “Hagar’s Lullaby”, from Hagar’s Song, composed by Charles Lloyd, performed by Charles Lloyd and Jason Moran, ECM, 2013. Wild Man Dance Suite, Charles Lloyd, Blue Note, 2014 “Sangam,” from Sangam, Sangam Trio, composed by Charles Lloyd, ECM, 2006 “Love Dance Supreme,” from Which Way Is East, composed and performed by Charles Lloyd and Billy Higgins, ECM, 2004 Forest Flower,” and “Voice in the Night,” from Forest Flower,  composed by Charles Lloyd, performed by The Charles Lloyd Quartet, Atlantic, 1967. “Passin’ Thru” from Man from Two Worlds, Chico Hamilton Orchestra, composed by Charles Lloyd, Impulse!, 1993. “Goodbye Charlie” from Cannonball Adderley’s Fiddler on the Roof, Capital Records, 2003. “Got the Blues” from B.B. King: The Early Years. Bofm Ltd, 2009. Charles Lloyd:  I’m in service. It’s a mystical thing for me. The Creator has always blessed me with music. Jo Reed:  That’s 2015 NEA Jazz Master, saxophonist, flutist and composer Charles Lloyd and this is ArtWorks, the weekly podcast produced at the National Endowment for the Arts. I’m Josephine Reed. The word legend is thrown around a lot but Charles Lloyd is the real deal as much of a musical innovator today as he was 50 years ago. Lloyd’s fierce improvisational skills, his interest in fusing jazz with non-western musical styles and his utter musicality has established him as one of the key figures who’s expanding the language of jazz whether playing standards, avant-garde or world music, Lloyd’s emotional elegant playing opens his fellow musicians to a deepening creativity as it also captivates a wider audience. But while it’s a music that blossomed in the north it has its roots in the south. And Lloyd’s belief that the music was deeply connected to a spiritual growth. Charles Lloyd:  I was born in Memphis and there was this rich heritage all around me in these great creators. And I just always didn’t understand the world, the mechanics of man’s inhumanity to man and all of that kind of stuff and how we treat each other and the planet and all of that. But I found in sound I could make a better world, so I was always a sound seeker who strived to create my own world. So music was my inspiration and consolation and it’s a quest for freedom and wonder. I never can get it but I get close and I have to continue to go forward. Jo Reed:  What made you pick up a saxophone to begin with? Charles Lloyd:  The saxophone was all around me and I heard these great players in my town and they had been influenced by Lester Young and Charlie Parker and that instrument resonated with my soul. I wanted to be a singer, but I didn’t have a voice for it. And so I still wanted to be expressive and the saxophone called me. I had a difficult time getting my parents to get me one and finally an uncle from Chicago brought me a saxophone. Jo Reed:  Charles Lloyd took to the saxophone and the saxophone took to Charles. It was his great fortune and ours that he met a musician who understood what the young talented boy needed. Charles Lloyd:  I had a great mentor when I was about nine years old. I played an amateur show and I won first price and then standing in the wings was this great genius of a pianist Phineas Newborn who became my mentor and he said I needed lessons bad and he took me around the corner on Beale Street to a great musician, Irving Reason [ph?] and I began to take saxophone lessons. I grew up in a time when giants roamed the earth and so by the time I got to New York I had the benefits of being around lots of great musicians. Being a sound seeker the mysticism of sound always touched me so deep. See my mother when I was three, four, five, she was leaving me with all of these relatives and these people and it was very discombobulating and it was a botheration to my nervous system. So getting the saxophone has been a great help to me. And I recommend music to young people because I’m still high from what I got a as a youth in Memphis. I had been born in the-- and _______ had probably played the cello. I think I started listening to Bartók string quartets in high school with my dear friend Booker Little. Jo Reed:  You mentioned Booker Little who went to Manassas High School. Charles Lloyd:  Yes, he did. Jo Reed:  Which is like a who’s who of jazz greats at Manassas. Charles Lloyd:  That’s true, too. Jimmie Lunceford started the music program there the great Jimmie Lunceford. Jo Reed:  And George Coleman, who is another jazz master. Charles Lloyd:  George Coleman, Hank Crawford, all of these people. Speaking of George Coleman he also helped me when I was a young man at Manassas. He lived around the corner so we would go to his house and he would help Booker and myself. He was a real Santini. Do you remember that film?  Yeah, George was like that. He would make us get up at four o’clock in the morning and do our calisthenics and practice and like that but he didn’t have to get Booker up. Booker got up at four anyway in practice and I’d pick him up about six thirty, seven o’clock and we’d go to school. He had been practicing about three hours. Jo Reed:  When you were a child in Memphis, however complicated that was there was also your mother’s house, which was a big house and she would let rooms to jazz artists who came through town which had to have been really such a gift for you. Charles Lloyd:  <laughs>. Yeah, that was mecca for me. There were two theaters, the Esquire Theater and the WC Handy Theater in my community of Orange Mound [ph?], that’s where we lived. And a lady who ran the theater she knew my mother had a large house and there weren’t hotels of quality for these musicians. And so Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton and Count Basie, these bands would come through and they would stay in various homes in the community and they would stay with us. And I couldn’t wait for them to get up in the morning so I had questions. I would pounce and they were very kind to me. And they saw that I was bit by the cobra. But to Johnny Hodges credit, the great Johnny Hodges and Harry Carney they told my mother to not let me be a musician to make sure I would be a doctor or a lawyer because they said this stuff is too hard. By that time I had no way to turning back. <music. Transcription resumes 0:06:26> Jo Reed:  When you were in Memphis and you were younger and playing you were playing the blues. You played with Howlin’ Wolf. You played with B.B. King. Charles Lloyd:  Bobby Blue Bland, all of those guys. Rosco Gordon. I played with all of the guys who created the blues, that tradition. And playing with these blues guys was very powerful stuff because I heard it. I knew what it was to a degree. I was too young to know totally what it was because women would be pulling these guys’ pants down and attacking them, their vitals. I mean they’d be on those guys. I didn’t know about that part but I knew what they were bringing because my grandfather had a large farm in Mississippi. And all of those guys, those blues guys they came out of the Deep South and I remember McKinley Morganfield, that’s Muddy Waters, he just got off the tractor one day and left Mississippi. <music. Transcription resumes at 0:07:44> Charles Lloyd:  There’s something about the cry, you know, the moan. There’s something in there that touches deep. So the blues thing affected me greatly and I got the cry still in my horn. Sometimes I say that I’m blues man on a spiritual journey because I’ve had all of that apprenticeship with those masters and I had the apprenticeship with great jazz masters and I witnessed them. Duke Ellington and those people it was just amazing stuff. The richness from whence I come still informs me. Jo Reed:  Charles Lloyd moved to Los Angeles in 1956 and graduated from the University of Southern California. Charles Lloyd:  My folks wanted me to go to med school, pre-med, so I signed up like that. But I went to a jam session shortly after I was there and I met Billy Higgins and Gerald Wilson and a lot of great musicians. So my mother said, “Well, you know, whatever you want to be, be the best at it and we’ll support you.” And I took that to mean to be the best me that I could be. Jo Reed:  During this time in California Lloyd played in clubs with Higgins, Don Cherry or Ned Coleman and Eric Dolphy among a host of others. He also played in Gerald Wilson’s big band and then in 1960 Lloyd joined forces with Chico Hamilton. Charles Lloyd:  All of my peers Scott LaFaro and Ornette left Cali and I was there and I couldn’t handle it but there was a great sage, Buddy Collette who played in the studios. Buddy started with Chico. They started the group with Fred Katz and those guys and Jim Hall. And Eric Dolphy was with Chico Hamilton and he was leaving to join Charles Mingus and Chico called Buddy Collette and said, “Can you come help me?” And Buddy said, “No, but I know a guy.”  Buddy recommended me to Chico and that was my railroad ticket out of Cali and I got to New York. Jo Reed:  Charles Lloyd made a mark on the band bringing guitarist Gabor Szabo and becoming the ensemble’s music director and composer. Charles Lloyd:  They had great music but the problem was I was a cadet by that time and I had to soar and fly. I like to soar. That was during the time of Sonny Rollins and Coltrane on the tenor and they were really lifting it up. And I was an alto player and I switched to tenor because I liked my alto playing better than anyone else’s and that’s not good for a young person. But over on tenor Coltrane and Sonny Rollins would put a hurt on me. That was inspiring for me because I like what’s the word? Becoming, being and becoming. And so I went with Chico and I said I’m leaving because I’ve got to stay here in New York and he said, “No, don’t leave. We’re going to change-- you come and be the music director.” <music. Transcription resumes at 0:10:58> Charles Lloyd:  When I was with Chico I was there for three-and-a-half years and I wrote a lot of music and it was great for me because I got to be a pilot without the expense of the botheration of keeping the books and all of that stuff, you know. I could just do pure music. Jo Reed:  Well, talking about working together in harmony you and Gabor the alchemy that you two had. Charles Lloyd:  And he was Hungarian. See that thing, see whatever you’re looking for is looking for you, the Bartók thing from high school and then Gabor. He heard Roy Rogers and he heard Voice of America, Willis Conover playing jazz. Gabor came over and I turned him on to Ravi Shankar and Coltrane and so he started bending notes and he had all of that gypsy stuff from over there. <music. Transcription resumes at 0:11:56> Charles Lloyd:  Gabor and I had a very deep tenderness thing. Jo Reed:  New York City was the center of the jazz world in the early 1960s filled with new music and old friends. Charles Lloyd:  My timing was good. It was a rich community of musicians and mecca and I got there. That’s New York City, Gotham, I got there just in time and it was wonderful and there were all of these places where you could hear great music all of the time and play with musicians. And so when I first got to New York I checked into this Alban Hotel [ph?] where Lester Young lived and it was a musician hotel across the street from Birdland. So what happened was Booker happened to be playing that night, it’s again the blessings, downstairs at Birdland and I went to hear him and he said, “Where are you staying?” And I said I’m staying across the street at the Alban.  He said, “No, you’re not. You’re coming home with me.” So he took me home with him up on East 92nd Street across from the Y up there and he began to unfold the tablets to me and he told me that I was about to jump into the fast lane and he said, “It’s about character.” And that haunted me. Jo Reed:  Charles would record more than a half dozen albums with Chico Hamilton including “Passin’ Thru” and “Man from Two Worlds” albums whose music was arranged and written almost entirely by Lloyd, but Charles Lloyd was moving on. Charles Lloyd:  Cannonball Adderley came around and wanted me to join his group. He had more box office appeal. I don't know what that was all about but he wanted me-- he loved my playing and he said, “I want you watch you grow and develop because I know you’re going to be one of the greats.” That was something because Cannonball’s wonderful on the saxophone. So I was living in New York. Chico was still living on the West Coast at the time. I was with Chico but we didn’t work a lot. It was really rough. Covered wagon, you know, you’d go to Pittsburg, you’d go to all of these little towns for ten cents a dance. So I left Chico. Cannonball came and that was presentation. Once you joined you, you were going to play your music so that was fine for me. And I decided that I would go with Cannon. <music. Transcription resumes at 0:14:23> Charles Lloyd:  I played with him for a year-and-a-half and that was a wonderful experience because Joe Zawinul was playing piano, Sam Jones and Luis Hayes. And they were playing at such an intensity level. I was impressionistic, you know, at Chico. And so I had to step up because those guys were _______. Jo Reed:  One year later in 1965 Charles Lloyd formed his own legendary quartet with Jack DeJohnette, Cecil McBee and Keith Jarrett. It was one of the best jazz quartets ever. No one had ever heard music like theirs. Improvisation informed by free jazz, different cultural cadences and impressionistic harmonies and people everywhere took notice. <music. Transcription resumes at 0:15:37> Charles Lloyd:  We were playing some little club in San Francisco called El Matador and these guys came from a group called The Committee. They were like Belushi [ph?] and those guys Second City in Chicago in the Committee Theater in San Francisco. And they would come to the El Matador after their theater. They come down and they’d just come hear us. They loved us every night and the guy said to me, “There’s place over there called the Fillmore.” And they went and told Graham about me and invited me one afternoon, Sunday afternoon to play for a half-an-hour, an hour-and-a-half they wouldn’t let us of the stage and Santana said he was at the front of the stage saying, “Free the people, Charles” and stuff like that. <music. Transcription resumes at 0:16:21> Jo Reed:  The Charles Lloyd quartet was considered the first crossover band. It was the first jazz group to play at the Fillmore. They often shared stages with rock heavy hitters like The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin. Their album, “Forest Flower” was one of the first jazz albums to sell a million records. It was a music that spoke to traditional jazz audiences as powerfully as it did to the children of rock. In 1967 Lloyd was voted jazz artist of the year by Down Beat magazine. And that same year he made headlines when the quartet became the first jazz group from the United States to play in the USSR by invitation of the Soviet People rather than through government sponsorship. Charles Lloyd was at the peak of his career. <music. Transcription resumes at 0:17:21> Jo Reed:  But he also had great discontent, some of it caused by drugs which he called “tragic magic.” And he was also galled by the rank commercialism of the music business. But mostly he yearned to reconnect with his spiritual path. So in 1969 Charles Lloyd disbanded the quartet and walked away from his career. Charles Lloyd:  I just think that the understanding of commerce and profit is too skewed. I left New York and I came to Malibu and that was 30 years ago and I came looking for spiritual life. I got off the bus. I was living down in the village. These guys from Canada were big fans of mine, friends Robbie Robertson and those guys, the Band, Levo Helm and stuff. They started playing whit Dylan.  They had moved up to Woodstock. I knew them before they played with Dylan but they liked blues and all of that stuff. And I met them when I was with Cannonball in ’64. And I was up visiting Robbie in Woodstock and we went over to Dylan’s house. So Dylan comes up to me and says, “Robbie says you’re going to move to the west coast.” He said, “Don’t go out there. That place is going to fall into the ocean.” And I said, well, so bet it. I’m getting out of here. I’m hatting [ph?], catch the first thing smoking. You just have to follow your own bells. I did jump into the fast lane and got run over by all of those mac trucks but I pulled myself together and I got up. That’s the thing in life, we may fall down a lot or we had this ability to make these mistakes but we also have to learn from them and to go forward and you get up and you don’t want to go back in that same rut. Jo Reed:  For more than a decade Lloyd lived a quiet life in Big Sur pursuing his inner journey. But in 1981 18-year-old French jazz pianist Michel Petrucciani literally came knocking on his front door. Charles Lloyd:  There was this pianist who played with me. Petrucciani came over from France and the elders had always helped me. I don’t take drugs. I can come back. So I took him around the world a couple of years to get him started. So I got Michel started. He was doing his trio thing going around the world. But then I was bit by the cobra again. You know, if you’re bit by the cobra you have no way of being other than blessed. Jo Reed:  For the next few years Lloyd performed intermittently but in 1988 after a serious illness, he rededicated himself to music and once again began pushing at boundaries, experimenting in terms of instruments, musical sources and collaboration like starting a trio with tabla Zakir Hussain who also happens to be a national heritage fellow. Charles Lloyd:  I had never heard Zakir play. This is a decade or more ago. I got a call from John McLaughlin [ph?] that they were playing down at UCLA and he wanted me to come down to hear them. John McLaughlin is a dear friend and a wonderful artist and a great musician. And I knew of Zakir Hussein. And when I went down to see them I couldn’t stop hugging Zakir. We made this instant bonding but I heard him and what I heard was the deep blues. I heard a source music coming out of him. He was beating those beats out with such soulfulness. It took me back to Howlin’ Wolf. <music. Transcription 0:21:25> Charles Lloyd:  And we get together and we play and we have a group Sangam and that started out as a tribute to Billy Higgins a great master. Jo Reed:  Well, you mentioned Billy Higgins and I’d love to talk about him. Charles Lloyd:  He was so-- he would sit here and we’d play here in the living room. And he’d look at out on the water and he’d see all of those intervals out there and we’d talk about that for days. He stayed up here for a week and his health was failing. He’s another holy man like Booker was. But here’s the other thing, Higgins was a “tragic magic” guy for most of his days but he cleaned up and started a school down there in South Central and taught kids so he gave back. And when he left town, when he ascended, Max Roach called me and said, “How are you?” I said well, I’m having a rough time. So I was talking to Max and I started crying. So he called back the next day and told Dorothy, he said, “I’m coming.” He was 77 at the time. He came out to L.A., flew out and we offered him hospitality to come up here and visit with us. He said, “No, I just came out to pay respects to Billy.” I said, did you always love him?  He says, “Straight through.”  You know, that touched me so deeply. And he got back on the plane and went back to New York in the same day.  Phew, I couldn’t do that. Jo Reed:  “Which Way is East” the CD that you made with Billy. Charles Lloyd:  That’s how it got the title. Jo Reed:  Talk about it. Charles Lloyd:  He kept asking which way is east all of the time so he could do his prayers. Jo Reed:  It was just you and he. It was a duo. How did that come together? Charles Lloyd:  He said, “Well, _______ I can do things with you I can’t do with others.” And he said, “We’ve got to do something.” So he has these guys that take a big truck and bring-- fill up this living room which is not small fill it up with instruments. He had all kinds of instruments from all over the world and he had all kinds of drums. For a week we just went at it. And I hadn’t played alto-- he hadn’t seen me play alto since I was a teenager. So I lined up my instruments because I knew he was going to be coming. I had my bass flute and I had all of the instruments and I played piano, he sang. We were just having a conversation with this music. <music. Transcription resumes at 0:24:03> Charles Lloyd:  We had no thoughts of sending it out into the world. Geri Allen was playing piano with me. Master Higgins left May of 2001. Geri Allen was playing piano with me during that period.  I had played that for the band and she said, “You must release this. People must hear this music. They must hear it.” So Dorothy produced it and made it happen. Jo Reed:  You did a duo also which is rare. Duos are very rare and you did one with Jason Moran as well, “Hagar’s Song.” Charles Lloyd:  The thing about duos is that you take your close off. You don’t have no base or drums to help you and protect you. You’re kind of naked. Jason and I he’s a young man with an old soul and he can climb up into the Hyperion’s with me. So the first time I met him was back stage a Carnegie Hall. He and Eric Harland grew up together in Houston. And I went into Eric’s dressing room to say hello to his mother who had come up for the concert. And Eric introduced me to Jason and Jason said, “Your music touched me to my backbone.” And that’s a southern thing and I know what that means. And so Eric called and said, “Jason wants to play with you.” And I said I thought he has his own band. He said, “Well, he does but he wants to play with you.” And I said, oh, welcome. So Jason came aboard and that was 2007 I think. <music. Transcription resumes at 0:26:17> Jo Reed:  With “Hagar’s Song” you have “Hagar’s Suite” and some standard tunes as well. You have both. Charles Lloyd:  Well, that’s a part of my life. I grew up with those songs and most times I don’t tell a musician what we’re going to play before we play it, you know, when I record. Jo Reed:  When you record you don’t. Charles Lloyd:  No. We just go in and do it. Jo Reed:  Charles Lloyd continues to keep on pushing and thriving. On April 14, Blue Note Records will release his sixth movement, “Wild Man Dance Suite” which will have its North America premiere in the Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on April 18. Charles Lloyd:  I had this commission from Poland to write a suite of music. They offered me the Polish Symphony. They offered me all kinds, whatever I want I can have. This is a continuous suite for like 80 minutes. I work slow. So once I got started the beautiful thing was I couldn’t stop. And there was movement that I thought wasn’t complete so I didn’t take it with me. I came back and checked that movement out and it was pristine. It was wonderful. And now I’m so thrilled that I took it back up and now we play it too. <music. Transcription resumes at 0:27:51> Charles Lloyd:  And so I think that the ineffable is what comes out of the music in that sound. What I’m trying to do with this experiment of this life is to take this boy and clean him up and shake him out and stuff like that and make him face the mirror of his inadequacies and keep playing until the horn. And then I noticed that if I shake out more dust and stuff, then the sound gets a little better. Jo Reed:  Thank you for giving me so much time. And, again, many, many congratulations. Charles Lloyd:  Thank you all for recognizing me. I might have-- I was told that if you have the goods and you live away in a cave, that the world will beat a path to your door. I haven’t found that but at least you all found me and that’s a great honor because I’m in awe of this tradition that I come from. It’s a great blessing for me. <music. Transcription resumes at 0:28:52> Jo Reed:  That is 2015 NEA Jazz Master Charles Lloyd. Charles Lloyd and the other 2015 Jazz Masters will be honored with a concert and ceremony on April 20th at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City. You can get tickets at And if you can’t make it to New York, don’t worry, the NEA is webcasting the event live. Go to for details. You’ve been listening to ArtWorks produced at the National Endowment for the Arts. I’m Josephine Reed. Thanks for listening. #### End of charles_lloyd_podcast_final_soundcheck_040215.mp3 ####

The saxophonist/flutist/composer talks about expanding the tradition and language of jazz.