A Chat with Charles Lloyd

Photo: D. Darr

Sasha Matson: Good morning from Cooperstown, home of baseball. Do you follow baseball?

Charles Lloyd: I played first base. I'm left-handed.

Matson: Does this new album, The Sky Will Still Be There Tomorrow, feel special to you?

Lloyd: It does indeed.

Matson: Tell me a little about how you view the sound.

Lloyd: My dear friend and mentor Joe Harley is always around me, and he's been my sound mentor for years. I started out on Heathkits and graduated to Marantz. He's a wonderful sage. He's always there for the music. He's a sound seeker, as am I. When I was a little kid, the old guys used to hear me playing, and they'd say, "Junior, all those notes don't mean anything unless you have a beautiful sound." I immediately started working on long tones, and I think it has helped me.

Matson: Joe told me when he first got to know you, he was able to fix you up with some good gear.

Lloyd: Yes, he got me with the audiophile guys, and they provided me with lots of Audio Research stuff and other different brands. The problem with sound for me is that I play live on the stage nightly, and when I listen to speakers, I'm always trying to climb up in there and find that sound. Because there's something about playing live, that nothing quite gets there. I don't call myself a gearhead, but I love beautiful sound and transparency. I've been listening to the new recording, and it sounds good even at low volume levels, which was shocking for me, as I'm usually trying to turn something up, to get closer.

Matson: You gave Joe Harley that great nickname, and it stuck.

Lloyd: That's right, I named him "Tone Poet."

Matson: Kevin Gray is another guy we both know.

Lloyd: Yes, he's another master. I love people who love what they do. They help us get closer. People have been writing to us about how they love the new music and how moved they are. I'm saying that sonically, the elixirs resonate, and people are touched by that.

Matson: About the music: I see images of water in some of the titles. I think there's a fluid quality to your playing. Are nature images something you consciously think about in your work?

Lloyd: I'm a Pisces, a water sign, and I'm drawn to water. That quality comes through. I'm a nature lover. I grew up on my grandfather's farm, 1600 acres in Mississippi. He had huge orchards, his own world. Dorothy and I live in nature, with acreage. When we moved to where we are now, outside of Santa Barbara, people used to tell us we were too far out of the village. For many years, we lived in Big Sur, with no neighbors. The eternal verities.

Matson: I was thinking of Dylan's "High Water Everywhere." The water's rising, things like that.

Lloyd: Speaking of Dylan: In my earlier period, we were neighbors in the Village. Once I was visiting with him up there in Woodstock, and he said, "Robbie [Robertson] tells me you're going to move back out to the West Coast." And I said, "Yes." And Dylan said, "I wouldn't go out there—that place is going to fall into the ocean." He's been very sage in lots of things, but in this case, I didn't listen. I moved to a house in the Malibu Colony on the beach. And one day I look out my living room window, and there was The Band in front of my house, being photographed with the sea in the background. So I went out and said, "What's going on guys?" And they said "Well, Bob brought us out here; we're all out here now." So much for listening to the Sage.

Matson: I first heard you play at the Berkeley Community Theater in Berkeley, my high school auditorium, with a young Keith Jarrett on the piano. What do you take away from that whole psychedelic music explosion in the Bay Area?

Lloyd: All those guys in San Francisco were big fans: Steve Miller, The Airplane. [Jefferson Airplane] drummer Spencer Dryden used to play with me in L.A. before he went up to San Francisco. All those bands wanted to be on Bill Graham shows with us. They had their own community, and they all fell in love with us, with Keith and Jack [DeJohnette]. That was a wonderful time. Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh—we were all sound seekers. That was a heady time.

Matson: This current band: Drummer Brian Blade is new. What is it about him that you connected with?

Lloyd: Brian knows how to walk on water; he's got the magical touch. The whole recording was magical; we were blessed. I just got drunk with what we were doing. It was warm and wonderful.

Matson: Your playing now is so strong and relaxed. Whatever you're taking, I'll have some of that!

Lloyd: [Laughs] Like in Round Midnight [the 1986 film], there's a guy at the bar who passes out, and the guy next to him says, "I'll have what he had." Thank you, that's very kind of you. I love all the great saxophone masters: Bird, Trane, Lester. The thing about Lester Young is that he was such a poet. Lester Young died on my 21st birthday, and I had this mystical thing: When he left town, I had this feeling inside that Lester said, "Okay, let's see what he can do with a song." Like a benediction.

I live with my heroes. J.S. Bach; when I discovered him, it was like he and Charlie Parker had this synchronicity, playing and improvising. I love all that stuff—even Wagner. All the French cats; it still gets to me. If I had been born in Vienna, I'm sure I would have been a cello player. But I'm in the South, and I got this saxophone, and there's Lester Young standing over my shoulder, down near New Orleans, a river town. I was born in Memphis. You mentioned that water thing: The Pacific Ocean is there for me—it's in my front yard. I get moved by all that. Then I'm looking at the world, and I want to make a contribution.

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