Charles Lloyd Interview
A Conversation with Charles Lloyd
by Paula Edelstein
Charles Lloyd is a masterful musician whose roots have been firmly planted in success through years of strong performances and his global reach. We spoke to him about a few of the concepts associated with his new release Life Every Voice, and here’s what he told us. So Listen Up!
PE: Hello and thank you for the interview. It has been reported that the motivation for LIFT EVERY VOICE was brought about by the events of Tuesday September 11, 2001. How did you stay focused throughout that week in order to still play the gig at the Blue Note Club?
CL: It would be completely and utterly wrong to say that the events of 9/11/01 “inspired” me to record LIFT EVERY VOICE. That was a devastating experience. To this day, it is difficult to speak of. It changed our lives dramatically, and by doing so informed the emotional content of the recording.
We walked the streets of the Village where we were staying. It was an eerie place to be, no cars – just foot traffic and emergency vehicles. There was an overwhelming atmosphere of community and caring. We were all trying to make sense out of it, to understand the whole picture.
When we were asked to open at the Blue Note on Sept. 14th, it was hard to keep it together. I think we did OK for the first set, but I got pretty spun out during the second set. The audience, however, got a feeling of uplift… there were tears and laughter. The first song I played that night was “Rabo de Nube,” by Silvio Rodrigues. I had just received the music from Cuba before I left home. The melody went straight to my heart, and the lyrics say, ” If I could tell you what I would like to be, it is the tail of a cloud, a clear rain that would come down and wash away your tears and sorrows.” There was someone from Paris in the audience who came up to me and thanked me for playing that song. The next two nights we managed to dig in and lift the music to a higher plane.
PE: The CD includes a dynamic mix of the Charles Lloyd musical mindset, public-domain spirituals, pop/rock songs, protest, R&B, folk songs, and Ellingtonia. By its very definition, the songs on LIFT EVERY VOICE describe the feelings felt by mostly anyone who has the capacity to love and express themselves or are still shaken by such a tragedy. In your heart of hearts, do you think there is still a chance for the world to live in peace despite the fact that such evil people walk planet Earth?
CL: I always try to look to the positive rather than focus on the negative. This is a time on the planet when not only human beings but also Mother Earth need healing. Whatever service I can do in my small way to help that healing, it is my honor and privilege to do so. This is a time to restore love and respect.
PE: You’ve assembled a top-notch ensemble of musicians including Geri Allen, guitarist John Abercrombie, bassists Marc Johnson and Larry Grenadier, and drummer Billy Hart. The result is one of the most unusual and deeply spiritual recordings in your remarkable career. How difficult was it for you to get this special group of musicians together– especially since they all have such busy schedules?
CL: Schedules are difficult – we recorded on two different days. One day in January 2002 at the end of a west coast tour. It was a short recording day; I think we went from 1 pm to 5 pm. That first day was with Geri, Larry, and Billy Hart. Then we scheduled a return day in February with John, Marc, Geri and Billy.
PE: Is this the touring group also?
CL: We rarely tour as a quintet, only for special events. We were to have had a concert at Royce Hall last November with the quintet, but there was a flaw in the organization’s calendar and it will have to be rescheduled. This March we have a west coast tour with an LA appearance at the Jazz Bakery on the 14th. Since the UCLA date won’t happen for some time, I wanted to be able to share this music with my Los Angeles listeners. Geri Allen will be with me, as well as an incredible bass player that I started working with last summer – Robert Hurst. And, my newest addition is a young drummer Eric Harland. He just did a week at the Blue Note with me – his talents are just starting to bloom. Ironically, he was part of the midnight jam group that was at the Blue Note during the week of 9/11. That is where I first heard him. I see and hear in him the same love of the music that Master Higgins had.
PE: What is the story behind your original composition “Hymn to the Mother?”
CL: “Hymn to the Mother” is to Mother as Deity. Mother of the Universe. It is to Mother Earth who continues to support us and bless us with her beauty everyday.
PE: “Blood Count” and “Beyond Darkness” which feature you on flute are also a provocative blend of emotion and meditative contemplation. Most notable is the fact that each disc ends with something meaningful: “Hafez, Shattered Heart” at Disc One’s close and one more lengthy meditation, followed by an up-tempo release, and “Prayer, the Crossing,” ends Disc Two. Do you consider LIFT EVERY VOICE your masterpiece?
CL: Well, I think that each song has meaningfulness. Only “Beyond Darkness” has flute on it. “Bloodcount” was Strayhorn’s last composition that he wrote in the hospital before he left town. Hafez was a Persian poet many centuries ago, but his writing brought me solace in the months following 9/11. I wanted to pay tribute to him. Like all sages, he had a message of universality. “Masterpiece?” That is a concept for others to contemplate. I never think of my work in those terms. I am always looking forward to the next expression; there is much I am working on to improve my work.
PE: Thank you so much for this interview and we’re looking forward to your safe return to the West Coast and also to the splendor and peace of the way it was. Where can your fans find your West Coast tour dates?
CL: My tour dates are always listed on the ECM website which is ECMrecords.com It will show both North American and European dates. Our west coast dates are March 14, 15, 16 Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles; March 18-23 at Yoshi’s in Oakland and March 24th at Kuumbua in Santa Cruz.
PE: Keep in touch with the great Charles Lloyd at www.ecmrecords.com.