Saxophonist and composer Charles Lloyd has been a strong and important voice in the jazz world since the late 1950s. This freewheeling, fascinating unauthorized biography—based on twenty years’ worth of interviews—covers the extreme ups and downs of an uncommonly eventful life, often in the musician’s own words.
The story begins in the heated musical milieu of Memphis in the Forties and Fifties, where Lloyd grew up with Phineas Newborn Jr. and Booker Little and cut his professional teeth as a teen playing with such blues giants as Howlin’ Wolf. After high school, he moved to Los Angeles, where he attended USC and began to work with the Gerald Wilson and Chico Hamilton bands, Scott LaFaro, Gábor Szabó, Don Cherry, and others. Following a notable stint with Hamilton’s ensemble, contributing compositions and arrangements as well as playing, Lloyd joined Cannonball Adderley’s band and moved to New York. There he worked with Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Richard Davis, Henry Grimes, Roy Haynes, and many others.
In the mid-Sixties, Lloyd put together a landmark quartet, showcasing the young Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, and Cecil McBee. It skyrocketed the saxophonist to fame—recording best-selling albums, winning Down Beat’s 1967 Artist of the Year, and becoming the first jazz musician to play the famed Fillmore auditoriums. But just as suddenly, Lloyd vanished from the scene in the early Seventies, embarking on a fifteen-year spiritual quest. During this hiatus from the jazz world, spent in Big Sur and Santa Barbara, he occasionally worked with the Beach Boys and other pop musicians.
To the delight of many, Lloyd reappeared in the early Nineties, recording for the ECM label, fronting a series of impressive bands featuring pianists Bobo Stensen, Geri Allen, Brad Mehldau, and Jason Moran; drummers Billy Higgins and Billy Hart; and other luminaries. Recent groups have included an eclectic array of performers, including Bill Frisell and Zakir Hussain. Lloyd’s music is now stronger than ever, as is his career, with acclaim coming from both critics and the public. In 2015 he received a NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship and signed with the Blue Note record label.
“In his words no less than his music, Charles Lloyd has long been a storyteller with a seeker’s heart. Joe Woodard captures his unique voice in this balanced and empathetic book: part profile, part testimonial, and a valuable resource for anyone looking to understand one of jazz’s great living mystery men.”
“Charles Lloyd is an American original and about as enigmatic as a functioning human being and successful musical artist can be. Josef Woodard has untangled Charles’s reminiscences and life lessons and put them into a linear path that tells the story of a remarkable life. Charles’s voice—from his colorful Memphis use of English to his vulnerability to his ego to his love of life—comes through intact. Everyone who knows Charles is richer for the experience; this book expands that constituency.”
“Few writers have enjoyed such sustained access to Lloyd or earned his trust to such an extent, and the result is a fascinating portrait of a singular figure. Part biography, large part first person testimony, the picture that emerges of Lloyd is a complex mosaic: a musician nurtured by the love of music yet ill at ease with the business surrounding it; a man whose love of nature/meditative reclusion seems at odds with the demands of constantly touring the world; a man guided by spiritual concerns yet with an abiding interest in real estate. Of course, no personality can be captured by such facile reductions, least of all Lloyd… [N]ot until now has Lloyd’s personal story—his inner cogs—been so thoroughly subjected to analysis within such a career-spanning narrative.”
—Ian Patterson, All About Jazz
“[I]t’s hard to imagine any authorized volume providing richer perspectives on one of jazz’s living visionaries…. It’s a fascinating tale, and Woodard tells it in an equally fascinating style….Woodard has performed a service here, distilling not just Lloyd’s story but his vision.”