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Charles Lloyd: Crossing the Waters Wide

C. Andrew Hovan By

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AAJ: What was the impetus for forming your first quartet in the mid-'60s?

CL: What happened was I was a young man in New York and actually I had met Keith Jarrett in Boston and Jack DeJohnette was living in New York. The first group I actually took on the road was with Gabor and Albert Stinson and Pete LaRoca. And I got a call on the road from Keith Jarrett. He found me somewhere and said that he was playing with Art Blakey, but he was unhappy and he said he wanted to play with me. I said then, "When I get back to New York give me a call and we'll get together." And Jack was always bugging me to play with him. Jack had been playing with Jackie McLean and he'd always come around to my gigs and he was kind of rough and loud. He'd say, "Baby, I wanna play with you." He'd call me at four o'clock in the morning and say, "Man I gotta play with you." I'd say, "Well, you're going about it the wrong way." So finally I gave him a chance and of course he turned out to be very tasty. The first time we "hit" with that formation, with Keith, Jack, and Cecil, was at the Left Bank Jazz Society down in Baltimore and the seas opened up and the people testified and it seemed to be the right chemistry when I put that band together. Cannonball was always singing the praises of Europe and I was interested in trying the European thing and so we made some tours with very little to no money. But, it built fast and people took to us and by '66, when we played Antibes, people went crazy. Then after playing Monterey in '66 and recording Forest Flower, then I went to San Francisco. There was a group there kind of like Belushi and those guys on Saturday Night Live called The Committee Theatre and they used to come around to hear me play every night and they loved our group. They told me there was this place called The Fillmore and they told Bill Graham about me and he invited me over one Sunday afternoon and Muddy Waters and Paul Butterfield were playing. I was supposed to play a half hour set and they wouldn't let us off the stage for about an hour and a half and then Bill started booking us. You know, the Grateful Dead and the Airplane wanted to be on the bill with us.

AAJ: After the great run of success with your quartet in the '60s, you were much less visible during the following decade. What endeavors were you involved in during that period?

CL: By the end of the '60s I was at a place where I had to regroup and take those lesson to heart that Booker Little had taught me. So I went back into the woods, studied the sacred tablets, and got deep off into studying all the spiritual traditions that I could. I was trying to work on my character, as Booker had told me, because he left at such an early age and one never knows when one is going to be called home like that. My home has always been in the music and it was just a chance to work on myself and Big Sur was wonderful. My nearest neighbors were a mile and a half on either side and I had many years of quiet solitude. I didn't know how long it would take, but I knew I wanted to get deeper into my spiritual life.

AAJ: What brought you back onto the jazz scene in the '80s?

CL: This little guy, Michel Petrucciani, showed up there and that was very strange to me. But the elders had always helped me when I was a youngster, so I took him around the world for a couple of years and got him started. Then I tried to go back to my retreat, but by then I was bitten by the cobra again and I had to play the music. I had a near death experience in '86 and after that my health returned, so I got involved with Bobo Stenson, this pianist from Scandanavia.

AAJ: Tell us about your most recent recording project, The Water is Wide.

CL: Everybody worked so selflessly and I have nothing but praise and for me it was a great joy making this recording. I'm very high from it and the high is a genuine one now that comes from the simplicity of the Creator bringing grace to this life that's been one of ups and downs and struggles, but I've always tried to be honest in my pursuit. I hadn't played with Larry Grenadier, but then when we started playing, Larry and I brought it and he was like the crown crest jewel for me because he was discovery. It was such a delight and so touching. To hear Brad Mehldau play so touchingly and so beautifully and so simply and deep on the recording and to have served this recording, it's just a wonder. The thing about John Abercrombie is I get to hear him every night on tour and it's a special thing and then, of course, to play with Master Higgins—he lays the magic carpet out there. He's got moves you can't even see and it seems minimal but that's the game, getting back to simplicity. You can feel him and he just lifts you up and how could you not soar? And this recording is not something I'm trying to do "show biz" with or anything like that. You probably will never hear this formation together because everybody does what they do but it's just for me a special out of time offering that I wanted to offer.

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