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NEA Jazz Masters: Charles Lloyd


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This is a good year for jazz saxophonists from Memphis, Tennessee. Like his fellow Memphian George Coleman, who is three years older, Charles Lloyd (born 1938) has been named a 2015 Jazz Master of the National Endowment for the Arts. Along with Coleman, pianist-composer-arranger Carla Bley and Chicago club owner and entrepreneur Joe Segal, Lloyd will receive his NEA Jazz Master award next April in a Jazz At Lincoln Center ceremony in New York.

Among Memphis musicians who mentored and encouraged Lloyd when he was a youngster were pianist Phineas Newborn, Jr., and Willie Mitchell, the musician and producer credited with shaping the Memphis rhythm and blues sound. Lloyd played as a teenager with Coleman, Harold Mabern, Booker Little, Hank Crawford and Frank Strozier, among other young Memphis jazzmen who went on to important careers. He did a stint with B.B. King—something else he has in common with Coleman—and one with Bobby Blue Bland. After high school, Lloyd moved to Los Angeles and majored in composition at USC. He got to know Buddy Collette, Harold Land, Eric Dolphy and Ornette Coleman, sometimes jamming with them.

His professional experience included Gerald Wilson’s big band and club work with Dolphy, Billy Higgins, Scott LaFaro, Ornette Coleman and Bobby Hutcherson. He became music director and principal arranger for drummer Chico Hamilton’s popular Quintet, then spent several months with the Cannonball Adderley Sextet. Not long after he left Adderley to form his quartet in 1965, his album Forest Flower, with Keith Jarrett, Cecil McBee and Jack DeJohnette, sold more than a million copies. His album with Gabor Szabo, Ron Carter and Tony Williams, Of Course, Of Course, was a major critical achievement. Through the late sixties, the Lloyd group was a huge success with jazz listeners as well as fans of the rock music that was taking over popular music. They played frequently on college campuses. Ira Gitler wrote in The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz: “Related stylistically to Coltrane, Lloyd was one of the few who successfully reshaped many elements of the avant-garde music of the ‘60s into a more commercially palatable form of creative expression."

Then with his fame at its height, in 1969 Lloyd disbanded, moved to Big Sur on the northern California coast and concentrated on spiritual development. When he resumed performing in the early 1980s, it was frequently with the late pianist Michel Petrucciani. Spiritual matters and his long interest in forms of music from other cultures manifested themselves in several albums for the ECM label. His recent music has featured collaborations with drummer Billy Hart, Greek singer Maria Farantouri and pianists Bobo Stenson and Jason Moran.

Here is Lloyd with the quartet he has headed since 2007: Moran, piano; Reuben Rogers, bass; Eric Harland, drums. The piece is his “Sweet Georgia Bright,” written in 1964.

Next time: Joe Segal, winner of the 2015 NEA Jazz Master award for jazz advocacy.

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This story appears courtesy of Rifftides by Doug Ramsey.
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