By Chris Wong
Tenor saxophonist Charles Lloyd arrived in New York City on Sept.
9, two days before he was scheduled to begin a weeklong engagement
at the Blue Note jazz club. The next day, during an interview with
the New York Times, Lloyd said the world needs more "tenderness."
His words turned out to be prophetic. The catastrophic attack on
the World Trade Center took place the following morning.
the days before and after the attack, Lloyd and his wife Dorothy
stayed at a friend's townhouse in Greenwich Village. It's near St.
Vincent's Hospital, where many of the WTC victims have received
treatment, and not far from ground zero in downtown New York. "To
be here and to experience it, it really humbles you," says
Lloyd, on the phone from that brownstone in the Village. "You
come to know that tomorrow's not a given for any of us."
Lloyd considered cancelling dates on his quartet's North American
tour, which includes a Sept. 25 concert at the Vancouver East Cultural
Centre. But he decided to go ahead with it. Response to the group's
performances at the Blue Note, where the ensemble ended up playing
the weekend after the devastating blow to America, confirmed the
need for affecting music. "We had huge thanks from people saying
how healing [the music was] and how much they were touched by the
music. So I'm a believer that it's helpful to experience that."
It's not surprising to hear how listeners reacted. Since emerging
as a major jazz instrumentalist in the '60s, Lloyd has played and
composed with a depth of feeling that's spiritually powerful. The
horrific events in New York intensified that power. At the same
time Lloyd is dealing with another loss-the death last May of a
close friend, the great drummer Billy Higgins. "He had such
a big spirit, and no matter who he was playing with, he had this
elevation to the degree that it was a magic carpet ride that he
put you on. You could hurt yourself trying to get more air to keep
playing because you just felt so good when you played with him."
At 18, Lloyd began playing with Higgins, who performed on more
than 700 recordings, but the friends didn't record together much
until the '90s. Higgins played on Lloyd's Voice in the Night. In
December 1999, Lloyd led sessions in Los Angeles including Higgins,
Abercrombie, pianist Brad Mehldau and bassist Larry Grenadier. The
sessions resulted in The Water Is Wide, a beautiful album of ballads.
ECM Records has since released Hyperion With Higgins, which features
more up-tempo tracks from the L.A. sessions.
On Hyperion With Higgins, Lloyd engagingly projects both exuberance
and meditative introspection. Higgins, playing on one of his last
recordings, sounds vibrant even though he was ailing. As for the
others, who also convey extraordinary inspiration, Lloyd says they
understood that his music is about "the dance." What does
he mean by that? "It's just like, at a certain level, the whole
thing of the universal and the way that the rhythms of the universe
work. When you're in tune with your true nature, you can go out
there on the edge and dance."
For Lloyd, the dance began in his hometown of Memphis, where he
played with blues greats like B.B. King before moving to L.A. After
establishing himself as a strong sideman, Lloyd formed his own quartet,
which included future stars Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette. The
group gave a killer performance at the 1966 Monterey Jazz Festival,
documented on the classic Forest Flower.
Despite achieving immense popularity at a time when rock was drowning
out jazz, Lloyd completely retreated from the music world. "I
had dreams and aspirations of changing the world with music, and
of course I didn't do that. So at the age of 30 I went away into
the forest and lived in Big Sur. After having incredible experiences
playing the music all over the world, I decided to try to change
myself and to work on my sound and go deeper into my spiritual life.
I think, fortunately, that has been a strengthening process for
In the early '80s, pianist Michel Petrucciani convinced Lloyd to
leave Big Sur and they performed together. Later, Lloyd played with
top European musicians like pianist Bobo Stenson. In Vancouver,
where Lloyd hasn't performed since 1995, he'll play with Abercrombie,
Grenadier and drummer Billy Hart.
At the age of 63, Lloyd remains passionate about making creative
music. "I'm loving music more than ever. As a young man I thought
I'd never be doing this when I got to be 40 or 50. I thought this
was a young man's work. Well I'm just beginning to find the deep
beauty that resides in the music and how the music dances on a lot