The critical consensus is that Charles Lloyd has never sounded better. As he enters his 76th year, the depth of his expression reflects a lifetime of experience. Lloyd has a legendary history in the music world, and could certainly be in a position to slow down and rest on his laurels. But looking back has never been of great interest to this tender warrior; this seeker of beauty and truth. “Go forward,” is his motto, as he keeps shifting to a higher, well calibrated gear.
His concerts and recordings are events of pristine beauty and elegance, full of intensely felt emotion and passion that touches deep inside the heart. This is not entertainment, but the powerful uncorrupted expression of beauty through music. When music vibrates, the soul vibrates and touches the spirit within. "Mr. Lloyd has come up with a strange and beautiful distillation of the American experience, part abandoned and wild, part immensely controlled and sophisticated." —The New York Times.
Charles Lloyd was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on March 15, 1938. Like New Orleans, 400 miles to the south on the Mississippi, Memphis has a rich river culture and musical heritage saturated in blues, gospel and jazz. Lloyd's ancestry of African, Cherokee, Mongolian, and Irish reflects a similar rich culture. He was given his first saxophone at the age of 9, and was riveted to 1940's radio broadcasts by Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington. His early teachers included pianist Phineas Newborn and saxophonist Irvin Reason. His closest childhood friend was the great trumpeter Booker Little. As a teenager Lloyd played jazz with saxophonist George Coleman and was a sideman for blues greats Johnny Ace, Bobby Blue Bland, Howlin' Wolf and B.B. King.
Classical music also exerted a strong pull on the young Lloyd. In 1956 he left Memphis for Los Angeles to earn a degree in music at USC where he studied with Halsey Stevens, a foremost Bartók authority. While his days were spent in academia, Lloyd spent nights getting educated on the job in L.A.'s jazz clubs, playing with Ornette Coleman, Billy Higgins, Scott La Faro, Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, Eric Dolphy, Bobby Hutcherson and other leading west coast jazz artists. He also was a member of the Gerald Wilson big band.
In 1960 Lloyd was invited to become music director of Chico Hamilton's group when Dolphy left to join Charles Mingus's band. The Hungarian guitarist Gabor Szabo and bassist Albert "Sparky" Stinson soon joined Lloyd in the band. Hamilton's most memorable albums for Impulse Records, Passin’ Thru and Man from Two Worlds, featured music arranged and written almost entirely by Lloyd, and during this period of prolific composing he was also finding his unique voice as a saxophonist. A memorable collaboration took place between Lloyd and the Nigerian master drummer Babatunde Olatunji, with whom the saxophonist played when he wasn't on the road with Hamilton.