Charles Lloyd is one of the great originals in jazz. He grew up in Memphis, where he learned jazz from players such as George Coleman and Phineas Newborn but also apprenticed with bluesmen like B.B. King. He moved to Los Angeles, developing a solid craft foundation on both saxophone and flute at USC. In 1961 he joined the popular Chico Hamilton Quintet. After a yearlong stint with another popular group of the day, the Cannonball Adderley Sextet, he went out on his own and formed a quartet that included two relative beginners, drummer Jack DeJohnette and pianist Keith Jarrett.
Forest Flower, a live recording of this quartet's performance at the 1966 Monterey Jazz Festival, became one of the best-selling jazz LPs ever and made Lloyd a star of the love-in generation. The group opened for some of the leading rock acts of the day and toured all over the world, including Poland, where I heard them as a teenager. This kind of success rarely comes to jazz musicians, but it did not satisfy Lloyd's spiritual needs. He withdrew from public performance and went into seclusion. As he put it many years later, "I had dreams and aspirations of changing the world with music, and of course I didn't do that. So at the age of thirty, I went away into the forest and lived in Big Sur. After having incredible experiences playing 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 me."
This retreat certainly allowed the saxophonist to hone his technical skills, but opinions differ on the influence that this meditation had on his music. The bland, soulless albums that he put out during the 1970s are best forgotten. In 1982 he teamed up with Michael Petrucciani, a teenage European pianist who had just moved to the United States, and once again began to make creative music. The two live recordings that document their short-lived quartet show Lloyd back in the saddle, full of energy and tender passion. The rich tone on both tenor saxophone and flute, the dedication to melody, and the exuberant emotionalism that had been characteristic of his playing from the start were all abundantly intact and have remained so since.
The Charles Lloyd Quintet, playing at the Michigan Theater on Thursday, November 13, includes two magnificent ex-Detroiters — bassist Robert Hurst and pianist Geri Allen — as well as guitarist John Abercrombie and the extraordinary drummer Billy Hart.