ECM’s recent release of Charles Lloyd’s first five recordings for the label, made between 1989 and 1996, made me remember a vivid encounter I had with Lloyd at WKCR in May 1994, while he was in residence during at the Blue Note supporting his then new-release (and 3rd for ECM), titled The Call. I’m posting the full transcript of that session and a much more restrained and less discursive encounter a year later, when he was in NYC to support ECM date #4, titled All My Relations.
Charles Lloyd (Out-To-Lunch, May 11, 1994):
[MUSIC: “Brother On The Rooftop”]
TP: Billy Hart was the drummer, on top of just about every move Charles Lloyd makes on The Call [ECM] and probably every note you’ll be playing this week, I’d say. Yes, Charles Lloyd?
CL: All over me like a wet blanket.
TP: How long have you and Jabali been hooked up in this particular…
CL: In this incarnation, what happened was that he heard that I was leaving Cannonball, and I was putting my first group together… This is Jabali telling me. He said he that he was in Washington, D.C., playing with Shirley Horn, I think, and he said, “Oh, I want to be in that group.” And somehow, Jack De Johnette called me at 3 in the morning and said, “I want to play with you, man.” So somehow, Jack’s bodaciousness and… People said, “Well, don’t get Jack because he’s too loud” and stuff, but he turned out to be one of the most tasteful ever. Jabali said that he was supposed to be in the group, and I didn’t understand the rhetoric until he and I started playing together recently in the last year or so. It’s like they used to talk about love and stuff like that, you know…
TP: How about the other guys in the band, Bobo Stenson and Anders Jormin? Your hook-up with them, a few words about their musical qualities.
CL: That’s a little strange in the sense that in the early Sixties, late Sixties, I had to go to Europe… You know, America, the beer tavern thing, and I couldn’t get the music to fit right and stuff like that, and when I was trying to play, oftentimes they thought I was too much of a cadet or something. And I went to Europe, and the people testified, and they liked the music. And there were these little kids in the audience in Stockholm, you know, youngsters, but they just loved the music so much. And I didn’t realize that that was the group with Keith Jarrett and Jack De Johnette and Cecil McBee. We played in Stockholm, like, non-stop, and you’d have to claw your way to get out of the place and stuff like that. People…they were just so hungry for the music, you know. And these little boys, years later they came around, and… We were playing at the Seed, and essentially what happened was that… You know, the Vikings came over here way before Chris Columbus, and they took their butts back home. You know, they didn’t try to claim some stuff that people was already living on. Those guys heard the music, and they were fearless, and they loved it, and I couldn’t… You know, I couldn’t deny the universal living room. Bobo is for me one of the best pianists on the planet, and Anders is right there also, always selflessly serving the music.
And I always have to have an orchestra, you know, like people who are just dedicated to the full service of the music. Because I grew up loving Mingus and Duke and Monk, you know, Lady Day and Trane, just all this beautiful music, the Five Spot, and I was out in California with Ornette and stuff, I was in Memphis with Booker Little… Phineas Newborn saw me at an amateur hour show and said, “Boy, you need lessons bad.” So all that kind of stuff…
TP: Well, let’s organize a bit, and…
CL: I can’t organize!
TP: Well, I’ll try to do it.
CL: Oh, okay.
TP: Maybe we can hook up. You were talking about Memphis, and you came up in Memphis at a time when there were many special musicians all around the same age performing. Talk about those days and those experiences a little bit.
CL: It was very powerful, because we knew at a very young age that nobody could touch our stuff. I don’t know what it was, but there was something in the water or something, maybe the Mississippi flowing through, and Mister Armstrong south of there, coming from there and stuff. My father went to school with Jimmie Lunceford. You know, Jimmie Lunceford taught at our high school before…
TP: Which high school was that?
CL: Manassas. Manassas is where all the bad cats went. Now, there was Booker Washington, where Phineas went, but that was an earlier age. Phineas was older than us, you know. But Manassas, man, there was… Just check. During my time period, there was Frank Strozier, Harold Mabern, George Coleman had gone to school there, Hank Crawford had gone to school there. There were a lot of musicians you’ve never heard of. There was another pianist in Memphis named Charles…oh, man, why can’t I think of Charles’ name?
TP: Charles Thomas.
CL: Charles Thomas. Thank you! Anyway, he played like Bud Powell in those days. And I keep asking Harold and James Williams about him.
TP: He played at Bradley’s here in New York about a year ago. James Williams set that up.
CL: Did you hear that?
TP: I did.
CL: Well, man, I would like to hear him play. Because he was beautiful, and he was tall and elegant, and he had this kind of refinement and this aggressiveness on the stuff. He was always dropping half-steps on cats, you know, and if he didn’t like the way a cat played, he would just half-step him to death and just get him off the stage.
So we came up… George was kind of like a Santini. Do you remember that film?
TP: The Great Santini?
CL: Yeah. George was kind of like that task-master, you know.
TP: Elaborate a little bit.
CL: Well, George, you know, he just was like that with all of us. There was a trombone player, I can’t remember his name, but I remember we had to learn “Cherokee” in B-flat, and then we called it and George played it in A the next time, and he’d call it in E, and you just… You’d say, “Man, just learn ‘Cherokee.’” He’d say, “Fine, let’s play it in E right here.” And George would play it real fast…
TP: I think he’s still doing that to people.
CL: Right, I know. But quiet as it’s kept, I think that was an interesting university that he ran. But when I go really back, earlier, I have to look at Phineas, because there I was, like, ten years old, playing on an amateur show. Phineas Newborn comes backstage and says, “You need lessons bad,” takes me around the corner on Beale Street, sits me down at the feet of Irving Reason(?), who is a beautiful alto player, who is here in the city somewhere, or was. They played in Bill Harvey’s orchestra, sometimes society…
I just love Mandela now. How many of us can do 27, you know what I’m talking about, and come out with that kind of graciousness and bigness, and just say “Freedom for everyone.” I’m still dreaming of an ideal.
But back… Phineas…playing with him as a kid… So after I took these lessons, later on Phineas had me in his father’s band. You know, played over in West Memphis, Arkansas, at the Plantation Inn, Mister Morris Berger’s place, okay, and we’d play for dancing and stuff like that. But amidst all of that we’d be putting stuff in. And then there were gigs with people like B.B. King. Bobby Blue Bland was one of the first gigs I ever had. He was a singer. He was not featured. It was Roscoe Gordon’s band. You ever heard of Roscoe Gordon?
CL: Mmm-hmm. Well, anyway, Roscoe Gordon played good, and he had some hits around there. So you’d come hearing all this blues stuff. My grandfather had lots of property down there. There was a man named Mister Poon, you know, and he used to play the guitar, and my cousin and I used to hear him play a blues, the Robert Johnson kind of stuff, and we’d jump up and scream and do somersaults and stuff like that. So I knew real early I was supposed to be a musician.
But getting back to George, he was interesting in the sense that… First of all, Phineas was very big and tolerant. He gave us lots of love and encouragement. George did the Santini, a hatchet-chop. If you didn’t have the stuff together, you know… The trombone player I was about to tell you about, Harper, he was playing, and he turned around and George was putting the evil eye on him, you know, the ray. So he turned around and looked at… He said, “What was that change right there?” George said, “What about all those other changes you just missed? Don’t be asking about that change.” So George was right there, you know.
And Booker Little was my best friend, and he and I would meet at Thunderbird Pass every morning, and we’d go to school, and Booker… We’d get up at 6 o’clock and practice until about 8:30 or 9, then we’d get a permit to come to school late, and… Like that. We just were on it. We just loved the music. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to go on so much about Memphis. Do you have a specific question?
TP: Well, I think you answered it. Why don’t you talk a little bit more about your relationship with Booker Little.
CL: Man, could I. See, Booker was the incarnation of… Pardon my lyrics, but he was a wise man. He died… I think we buried him, he was 22 or 23. I can’t think about that, it hurts so much…
See, here’s what happened. Booker was a saint and a sage. I mean, in the full sense of the word. He was a holy man. Okay? Now, that doesn’t mean that he didn’t like the barbecue sauce, and the ladies were all over Booker. But he had a way of… Booker just had a graciousness, and everybody wanted some of Booker. I remember one… Anyway, I could tell you about that, but it’s not for radio play, so… I like radio, though. It’s confessional. And I love the city, I love the energy… Anyway.
So Booker and I were in Memphis, okay, and we were playing, you know, we heard Bird and Diz, and Dewey when he was Dewey, before he put a dress on—and we loved that music. It just turned us on so much. Later, Booker came to… He went to Chicago, you know, with Frank… He followed Frank and those guys to the Chicago Conservatory. And I either was going to go to Juilliard or the University of Southern California. I chose Southern California, because I loved Bartok’s music, for some strange reason, and they had a professor there, Halsey Stephens, who Bartok was his specialty. And I don’t know, somehow I… A kid gets a weird kind of notion on this stuff. So I went to school there.
But later Booker came through with Max Roach, and that was really inspiring. In those days I was playing with Bobby Hutcherson, Ornette, Don Cherry, Billy Higgins, Scott LaFaro… Now, this is interesting. In Memphis I was in the right place at the right time. It was always pregnant with elixir and all these bad cats were just playing their buns off. Forget Albert(?). He’d be standing around the corner, peeping, wishing he could be a fly on some of that! Jamil Nasser. Jamil said that we remember him as an iceman… I was a swimmer, I used to win prizes and stuff like that, and I quit swimming because I wanted to learn to play the saxophone. I love the saxophone!
So anyway, when I got… Then I got to California, and I wanted to learn all there is about music. They only wanted to show me about three hundred years of Europe. That’s cool, but what about, you know, all this other stuff? And they didn’t have no elixir ration for that. So I found out my tribe, you know, in these people I just mentioned. There was the Coal Man, Ornette, and stuff like that. He had the Studebaker that went backwards and he ran over his saxophone, and that’s why he later got the plastic one because it ran over the other one. Sorry.
TP: I never heard that one.
CL: After a jam session one day, you know, he backed up… Do you remember those Studebakers? You couldn’t tell the front from the back. I don’t remember the years. But some car aficionados could call in. So pardon me, I’ll be brief here; I’m sorry about this verbal diarrhea.
What I’m trying to say is that I love the music, I’ve always loved it, I still love it.
So there in California I had all these great people I told you about. I also played in Gerald Wilson’s Big Band. There are a lot of people I don’t mention. For example, I forgot to tell you about Willie Mitchell in Memphis. I played in his band. Do you remember Willie Mitchell? He produced Al Green, man, and all that stuff. I played with Rufus Thomas and all these people, too.
TP: So you had a whole range of experience.
CL: I had a whole range of experience.
TP: You were playing in almost every genre of the music, with a full cultural experience.
CL: Yes. And in the high school band, you’ve got to come in contact with Bach and Brahms and stuff like that…
TP: Who was your high school band teacher?
CL: Matthew Garrett. Matthew Garrett! I hear this girl Dee Dee Bridgewater, that he’s her father. Now, I can’t research all this because I’ve been in hiatus for years. I’m not in hiatus, obviously, now. You can check. I’m just zooming, because you know, pshew, I’m home. So happy to be home. I like the woods, you know, for a minute, but I stayed too long in the woods. You know what I’m talking about? Like, remember that t-shirt, “heading out for the woods.” So I had to check that out. But that’s the way I am. When I go into something, I just go knee deep. Sorry. I get drowned.
TP: Who were you listening to in formulating your sound as a young musician?
CL: Well, I’d stay up all night listening to Yardbird Parker, you know, Mister Parker. I knew that he flew through the air with the greatest of ease any time he wanted to, and he lived in luxurious penthouses in Manhattan and had people driving him all over the place, you know, and anything Mister Bird wanted to do, everything was cool, you know. So Bird was my main hero, because think about the… I mean, this stuff came up later about Superman, flying… Bird was my hero when I was a little kid. And of course, I loved Fats Navarro. I mean, I heard all this stuff. And Mister Hawkins and Prez and Lady Day. Coming up, all that just moved me so much. I sat at the feet of Mister Hawkins here in New York. He wasn’t so much into talking; it was just like the saint would impart something to you with just the ray, you know, just looking at me. I’ve got a photo to this day (I’ll send you a copy of it) backstage at the Vanguard, and I’m sitting at his feet, and he’s just looking at me, and like he’s just elixiphizing me with all this stuff.
So I’m just blessed to be a part of process, you know what I’m saying? I’m not at all any good. I want you to know that. I’m not the dust of the dust of their shoes. But I love this music. And I’ll tell you, sometimes the little stuff gets out of the way, and the music comes through, man, and I’m home.
TP: We’re speaking with Charles Lloyd, who is laying a lot of information on us…
CL: But let me tell you just quickly about Booker. Then when I got to New York… Because we found in California that a pineapple hits you on the head, and another day goes by. Well, what is that? And you’ve got to drive about nineteen years to get to the gig or something like that, and then the gig was tired. I played a wedding with Billy Higgins, Don Cherry, a pianist named Terry Trotter, maybe Scott LaFaro was on bass. Anyway, we get to the gig, and we couldn’t wait to play, you know, because that’s what we loved doing. And we said, “LA-DA-DU-DO, BALEEDLE, DA-DUT,” [ETC.] You know what that is, “Doctor Jackyll.” So we don’t get that far at that wedding. The father said, “Please, please, please stop. I’ll pay you. Here’s the money. Don’t play any more. Please stop.” You know, that’s the type of stuff we had to come up against. So we knew we had to get to New York. Fortunately, Ornette came to New York and was playing at the Five Spot non-stop, and that was an encouragement for all of us. So slowly, slowly… Eric Dolphy left Chico Hamilton and joined Mingus’ group, and Eric recommended me to Chico. I joined Chico. I was playing with Bobby Hutcherson then. I had a bad group with Bobby Hutcherson and Scott La Faro, and I’m trying to think of who was playing drums with us at that time. There was a lot of great drummers in California. Lawrence Marable. There was…
TP: Frank Butler maybe?
CL: Frank Butler! Yeah, oh, man! Frank Butler told the judge… The judge said, “Frank, you got to do five years.” Frank said, “I can’t do that much time, your honor.” He said, “Just do the best you can, Frank.” I’m sorry. We laughed as kids. That’s not laughable now. But his real message was, you know, if you don’t make five, Jack…
But I don’t like a society or a system where… I want everybody to be able to rise to their full potential. I mean, on the for-real side. I don’t like impediments. So we’ve got to find some way to make this thing a level playing field, where everybody… The big fault of the whole thing… See, this music is the music of freedom, okay. It’s the music of enlightenment. It’s the music of transformation. It’s a music of wonder. I don’t know what this media thing is all mis-used for. I come to town, man… You invite me to your show, and I see nobody else wants to talk to me. That’s cool. I don’t want to talk to nobody anyway. All I want to do is do the music.
However, I am a servant. Okay? I am a part of this process. I sat at the feet of Mister Hawkins, the father of the modern tenor saxophone. And they tell me, “Well, Mister Gumball and them cats don’t want to say nothin’ to your stuff because, you know, it’s not presentable,” or maybe it’s not… Well, quiet as it’s kept, man, it’s their tradition, and not only that, it’s all of our traditions. And this music is a music of full-on uplift played by great creators. It does something to you and for you that gets you up in the morning with the right attitude of just, “Yes, how are you,” and you be kind to each other, and you learn to love yourself and the higher principles and eternal verities — and quiet as it’s kept, change your character if you get deep off into it. So I don’t know what this pablum is all about and all this useless information and stuff like that. You’ve got the computer and the chip and all that stuff, and it moves faster than the speed and stuff… Well, this music has always moved faster than the speed of light.
When I got to New York, Booker was here, and I came down the first night, man, and Booker was playing with Eric and Roy Haynes and stuff at Birdland. I went downstairs, man, and it was just… I was just home. I knew I was home. And Booker took me to his pad. He was living up on East 92nd Street then, across from the Y; you know the Y up there. Booker sat me down and he said, “Man, it’s different now. We’ve kind of gone into different camps. But the thing is that you’ve got to be living about truth, and you’ve got to be sincere, and you’ve got to be straight with yourself and people. And this music, we all loved it, we’ve always loved it, but here we are. Just keep working on your character. Your music is great.” And man, I was dipping and diving. Booker was on his way out then. His health thing was in decline. But he was imparting this wisdom.
Well, man, I got just hit with all of that, and I am a part of that. Please pardon my lyrics, and I’ll be quiet, because it’s about playing the music. But I do want to say that there is something behind this music, and I live in adoration of that, because we are spirit, and this material thing… Nobody gets out of here alive, and we ought to find a way where we can all dance here.
I blew a fuse as a young man. That’s why I went away into hiatus, because I blew a fuse. Because I just thought… I wanted to change the world with music. I realized I’d failed at that. So I said, “Hey, I’d better change my character, as Booker said, straight up.” And Mom’s love at home is real important. That really helps kids, you know. So I’m really for education and for the uplift of the thing. But music, man, in our lives, we really need it, and we aren’t getting enough of it. What you do here and what’s happening in some other places gets to us, but it’s just too little, brother, and it may be too little, too late, unfortunately. But God bless you for what you’re doing.
TP: Well, everybody’s got to put down only what they can put down, I think. And I think what we should do is listen to some recent music by Charles Lloyd, then we’ll return for more conversation.
[MUSIC: “Monk In Paris”; “Imke”; “Figure In Blue (Memories of Duke)”]
TP: Talk about your experiences in New York in the 1960′s. How has it changed for you coming back here?
LB: Well, I moved here in 1960 (as I said, I replaced Eric Dolphy with Chico Hamilton), and I first stayed with Booker Little, then later I stayed with Frank Strozier. Because when you’re a young musician, you know, and haven’t heard Bird, and Bird living in the penthouse, it took a while… I didn’t have the penthouse together, so they let me sleep on their sofas, you know, for a while. Then later… Fortunately, I was a composer, so I had some kind of publishing thing where I got an apartment at 1 Sheridan Square in the Village. So that was good for me. So I lived there.
And my experiences were incredible, because all my old friends from California were here. Ornette, Eric was here, all of Ornette’s group. Scott La Faro was here, who was my best buddy. You know, he used to drive a car like Steve McQueen. Looked like him, too. Same thing, he would drive through anything. It’s unfortunate he went out in a car accident, too.
But my experience here was very… There was just music everywhere. Bill Lee had this Citroen, you know; we’d all pile up in that, and we’d go from Birdland down to the Jazz Gallery to hear Monk, and then we would go to the Five Spot to hear Saint Newk, and then we’d go over to the Half Note, and then we’d come back up to the Vanguard, and then we’d go back uptown. It was kind of like that. Harold Mabern and stuff… We’d just stay up all night and laugh, and we’d go to movies during the day, and we’d practice and we’d play. It was just living for the music, the Holy Grail romantic notion of that. That’s what it was like.
It was a simpler time, in a way, and I think there was also… Everybody was deep off into the study and the pursuit of the music. There wasn’t commerce or anything like that. It was just purely for the love. Of course, it was a simpler world and a simpler time.
TP: Was there a political or ideological component to what was happening in the music, or was that laid onto it by observers from the outside, would you say?
CL: I think this music has always been (how do you say?) dealing on such a level that it encompasses everything. So I would be remiss if I would say it was only just… The purity of the pursuit was one that made your scholastic or your scholarship thing… You had to know everything about it. And New York does teach you that there is something indestructible in the spirit, and you’d better get to that fast. So the question of was there a political aspect or was that laid on it… Of course, we knew that…
Shirley Horn said, “Ten cents a dance. That’s what they pay me. Gosh, how they hurt my toes, fat guys and sailors” — you know. So we were kind of… I love Shirley Horn down there. I wanted to sing my little trumpet solo with her, you know, but I just… I mean, my sax solo. I remember Dewey used to play down there, and she would sing that “Ten Cents a Dance.” Oh, man, it used to just make me cry in tears and stuff.
We were all optimists. We hoped for a better world. And for some reason… To answer your question, frankly, at a certain point, I just blew a fuse and had to go away and try to heal, you know, and to change my character to be able to… I had the indestructibility sutra down where I could live in my lifetime with that; I knew what that was about. But I still believe that there was a way that I could transcend the madness, liberation amidst the chaos. And with the music, I wanted to bring something of inspiration and consolation to sisters and brothers and sisterettes and brotherettes around the world.
So for me, I think that on the level that you’re speaking, when you talk about the political arena, I would say that we’d better deal with the spirit. Because it’s a spiritual quest. That’s what we really are here, and he who is stepping on who, or who is first and who is last, I mean, all that is misplaced thinking. I think if we have a world… I mean, obviously… You know, I wanted to marry Lady Day when I was ten years old, and protect her and look after her. So what can I tell you about any of this, you know?
TP: Let me ask you about three musicians who you’ve mentioned in the course of our discussion, and who you came into contact with. In California, you hooked up with Ornette Coleman, and knew him and heard him, and Eric Dolphy as well. And many people, of course, saw a certain analogy between your approach and John Coltrane, who you’ve also talked about. And indeed, you also mentioned, when we were off-mike, spending a week at the feet of the Ellington band in Antibes. So I’d like some reflections from you on each of those musical entities.
CL: We’re very fortunate that Ornette is still alive today. I love him very much. He for me was someone who was very great in my life. I was an alto player, and when I moved to California to go to college, I was very intense…and there were lots of jam sessions around Los Angeles those days. Incidentally, I didn’t mention Ellis Marsalis. He was out there in the Service at El Toro Marine Base, and he would come up, and we’d jam a lot. He had the Santini School approach to life also, as you can see from his siblings [sic]. Essentially that’s a great school to come from, because in a way…it prepares you for half-steps, you know.
Getting back to these folks you asked about. Ornette was… I can’t put words to him, because… We used to argue a lot, because my approach and his approach… I used to say, “Ornette, you can’t read and you can’t do this,” and he said, “You know, you can play the saxophone, but that don’t have a whole lot do with music.” So we would have approaches like that. I was a kid, you know… One day, Ornette and I stopped arguing. Because he walked from his house over on Jefferson over to my house over on 36th Street at S.C., and he brought his horn. He was going to follow all of the… He actually solved the universe for me that day. He came over… It was a very enlightening experience. I have to tell you about Thelonious, who also gave me… Thelonious is the one who sent me away into hiatus. Remind me if I go too far on that…
But Ornette came over to my house one day, took his alto out, didn’t say a word. He played the lowest note on there, a low B-flat, his B-flat, which is concert D-flat or something. (I’m not here trying to be pedantic.) He played the lowest note on the horn, then he played the highest note. You follow this? Low note, the highest note. Then he came up a half-step to the next to the lowest note, then he played the next to the highest note. You following this? He did this on the whole saxophone! He compressed the instrument (you understand?) from the lowest to the highest, and he kept bringing each of them up. But what he did was, he alternately played each. He played the low B-flat and he played the high F, and then he played the C, and then he played the E, and he kept compressing it. But what he did was, he did it in a nanosecond. He said, WWHHOOMMPP!
And so, we never argued about music any more. I just said, “Okay,” and I prostrated, and from then on we didn’t have to deal with that. And he opened me up to something, which was the organicness of the music. Because I had come from that school where…the Santini school from George Coleman and Ellis and stuff, about not going across the line, you know, and Ornette had blurred the line. And it turned out that I was very entrancillated [sic] with all that. (Pardon my lyrics. I have to make up words. Because I don’t think that it’s adequate for musicians, especially.)
And Eric also… Now, there’s someone who Eric comes from that’s very important who is still also alive. That’s Buddy Collette. I don’t know if you know him. This is very beautiful, and I’m very touched. I lived at this place, 1 Sheridan Square, and I’m with Chico. Remember when Mingus had the concert at Town Hall with the big band, way back then. Well, Buddy came to town because Buddy was his Gil Evans. Buddy was orchestrating and doing all the stuff. Because Mingus had that Corvette, you know, with the Confederate flag and his bass sticking out of the green Corvette, riding around the Village, and Mingus would park his Corvette anywhere, and nobody would mess with his space. Believe me. Nobody. Even the dudes today, they may… I can’t speak… I can only speak in our lifetime, okay. You can’t say what it would be, because now some other son may cut your foot off or something, or your left (?).
But anyway, Eric was very beautiful and very scholarly. He came through Buddy, though. Buddy is a very sweet, compassionate man.
Then when you ask about Trane, I don’t know what to tell you about him. I loved him also so much. He for me embodied so much. You know, like, Bird discovered the atom train, smashed it, you know, and it was kind of like… So much beauty of tone, lyricism, swing. I mean, you talk about it. Trane embodied it all! When I think about the saxophone, I start thinking about Prez and Coleman Hawkins and Big Ben and Don Byas, you know, all of that. And I’ve just come up, and there’s so many great tenor players, Newk… But you know, Trane for me…you know, it was something very special. Again, it was that sage, that saintly quality, you see. Because I always hooked that up with these musicians. For me, they were guiding us and leading us, and they were talking about it all. I just had great adoration for him.
And when people say, well, that I sound like him or something… Man, I wish I did! What I’m saying is I loved him so much, and I take that as a compliment. However, time has borne out that… I think I have grown to have a sound and an approach that certainly comes from all those great masters…
But again, getting back to Trane, he profoundly affected me, as did the others. Ornette also.
TP: Do you remember first hearing him? And Ornette.
CL: Dig this. Do you know where I first heard Trane? This is very interesting. I first heard him in 1955 with Dewey, and they were playing at Jazz City in Hollywood. I had gone to California to interview for the University of Southern California. This is interesting, because he played in starts and stops. He would play a little bit… Then Dewey also was doing the Santini thing of sending him off the stage! He was being hard. You know how Lady Day…I mean, Dewey could be a nice bunch of guys… So he was sending him off the stage, and all kinds of nonsense like that.
But I just kept following him. Then I remember they made that record, remember “Stablemates” and all that stuff, and I was listening to that, and it was like…it was so… It was so fulfilling. You know? It was so rich. It was so much quality and so much beauty, and his search and his aspiration. All I can say is that I always had that in me. When I wasn’t good as a little kid, I still had the great search. And that thing we definitely had in common, a great spiritual quest. And he definitely… As I said earlier, I’m not the dust of his shoes. But sometimes all these great masters come through and they bless me with this special benediction, and I feel really uplifted.
TP: You asked me to remind you to say a few words about Monk, and also Ellington if we have time.
CL: Oh, I’ll be real quick. Okay. The thing about Monk was, I was playing opposite him at the Village Gate, and he would kind of dance around the walls and stuff. You know that beautiful dance he used to do? And Nica, the Baroness, you know… By this time I was a precocious kid, you know, like youngsters can be. I thought I knew everything. I’m in my late twenties, I had the group with Keith Jarrett and Jack De Johnette and Cecil McBee. So we were playing at the Village Gate. So I had a special thing in my rider that I had to have fresh orange juice, no more than six hours off the tree, and that kind of nonsense, you know. I was trying to be a brutarian or something like that. So Monk would come in, he’d be checkin’ Junior out…
Incidentally, one other thing I have to tell you quickly is, before I joined Cannonball I had an invitation from Monk’s manager to come and play with Monk. He called me on the phone and said, “Why don’t you go to Monk’s house and play with him.” I said, “I’d love to.” He said, “Well, Monk wants you to play with him.” I said, “Well, great. Have him give me a call.” I didn’t understand intermediaries in those days. So somehow I didn’t get to do that.
But anyway, we were backstage at the Village Gate between sets. So I told Nica, “Nica, when Monk comes here, please tell him not to drink the orange juice because it’s tainted tonight.” So Monk comes in and she said, “Thelonious, Thelonious, Thelonious, Charles said don’t drink the orange juice, it’s tainted, it’s tainted!” And he didn’t pay any attention to anybody, he’s just dancing. So finally he gets over by the pitcher of orange juice, he picks it up, and he kind of dances over by me, and he just goes [GLUG-GLUG-GLUG...”] — he gobbled the whole thing down. And he looked straight into my eyes and he said, “Tainted, huh.” I was reading a book at that book called Milarepa, a hundred thousand songs from this Tibetan saint. He would take poison and turn into soma or elixir. So I said, “I’m not ready.” It was getting to be time for me to leave.
The thing about Duke, I was in Antibes, and Harry Carney and Johnny Hodges, they just took me to their feet, and they took me to Sidney Bechet’s gravesite over there, and they gave me an initiation that remains with me to this day. And Duke told me that if I keep stirring the soup that one day I’d have something. They just gave me love and conviviality, you know, and again, they transformed something.
TP: Made you feel very connected also.
CL: Oh, man! And Mister Carney was…both of them were so beautiful.
* * * *
Charles Lloyd – (5-31-95):
TP: Last year you came up for an Out To Lunch, and we spent a long time talking about your early years in Memphis. It was a fascinating show. It seems to me that the title of this release and the liner notes all refer to Memphis…
CL: That’s only because of your show. [LAUGHS]
TP: You tell some of the similar stories. A few words about what’s behind this record and how you conceived it. And why would you say it was because of that particular show that you’d start thinking about Memphis?
CL: I was humoring you.
TP: Oh, thank you.
CL: No, Memphis, it’s in Egypt, and it was someplace that formed me and informed me. I heard Bird, you know. That’s so great, man. I have to get up so early in the morning, like 8:20 in the morning, to check Bird out on the air. That’s wonderful, to be on the airwaves. No other city does that!
TP: Where did you hear Bird in Memphis?
TP: Oh, did you say you heard Bird in Memphis, or you were hearing him this morning?
CL: I hear him every morning. I get up. Even when I play at the Blue Note I’ll still get up to hear the music. And when I was a little kid, I’d go to bed, and Bird wouldn’t come on the radio until midnight, because this kind of music wasn’t played during the daylight hours on the radios at that time. So I’d have to stay up all night and fool my mother that I was nuts, that I was asleep, and I’d wait for Bird to come on, and I’d soar. So it’s always been like that.
TP: Well, you were around the music from the beginning, because I gather your mother had a rooming house…
CL: No, she didn’t have a rooming house. It was just one of her girlfriends, you know, worked at the theaters and knew that these musicians, these great artists, needed accommodations on a very (?) level. So my Mom had a nice home. So Lionel Hampton and a few people stayed there.
TP: Well, you have vivid memories, expressed in the notes, about seeing the musicians in Lionel Hampton’s band as a youngster, and being very impressed.
CL: Oh yeah.
TP: And hanging out with Quincy Jones, approximately a peer of yours.
CL: Well, he’s got a little more mileage on the chassis than me. But we were precocious little kids, you know.
TP: Has this been a busy year for you? Have you been doing a lot of writing, thinking, performing? You said you just got back from 20 concerts in Europe.
CL: Yes, I just played 20 concerts in about a month in Europe. So I would probably normally be a basket case. But there’s something strange about this music. You kind of get energized or something. Something happens where it goes beyond the physical situation. Because that travel and all that stuff can be quite arduous, but when you get to play the music and get people to be so touched by it, it’s always been very beautiful for me.
TP: It’s a different band this week.
CL: This is true.
TP: You have Billy Childs and Santi DiBriano. A few words about the members of the band.
CL: Well, the tour was with a group that I’ve been recording with, with Bobo and Anders and Billy — with Jabali there. Coming back home, there were problems in bringing the guys over this time, because two of the guys live in Sweden, and Billy lives in New York — and I’m not quite sure where my home is.
Billy Childs is someone that I’ve been observing over the years, and he makes recordings and such that I can’t quite… I think he has large talent that’s something… and in the wildness of my music I can bring something out in him. I’m taking on a challenge here. Santi, of course, comes from Jabali’s world, and Jabali recommended him very highly, as did Billy Childs. But Billy I think has a very large talent. And I like pianists, as you probably know; of course, drummers I love. So I have always tried to develop something, some rapport there. Billy’s instrument is normally too clean, but I think playing with me it will get a little more ragged, you know.
TP: Well, let’s hear some more music from All My Relations. You said that today you want to speak in more or less sound bite chunks…
CL: Well, no. I just thought last time I kind of probably OD’ed the airwaves with this verbiage, and I really love music, and so I thought, “Gee, Ted will probably…” And the listeners, they want to hear music. I got this kind of monotone on the Memphis thing…
TP: Well, dynamics are everything, and we’ll be contrasting here. So let’s hear a little piece from All My Relations…
CL: You mean I’m not being rambunctious today or something?
TP: You’re fine just the way you are.
CL: I don’t want to control this, Ted! You know?
TP: Let’s hear “Little Peace,” a flute piece…
CL: Little Peace. That’s my dear friend, Booker Little, you know. Booker Little Peace.
TP: You knew him from Memphis. A few words about him before we play it.
CL: Great sage, great saint, beautiful soul, died at 23, or at least left the body at 23. In Memphis we played together in various bands. Phineas Newborn was a real focus for us, or was our big mentor, and all the other string of tradition that you already know about. Booker had something very special. When I first arrived in New York in ’60, I joined Chico Hamilton; Eric Dolphy had left and gone with Mingus. I checked into Prez’ old hotel, because I have some fascination with Prez and Lady Day, as you well know. Booker said, “no, you can’t stay there,” and he took me home up on East 92nd Street with him, and he talked to me long into the night about the eternal verities and about character building and all kinds of things that we never really talked about in Memphis. It was like he was a wise man then and ready to… He had made his peace. And to this day I’m still moved by my relationship with Booker Little. Very profoundly so. He was a real… I still hear that saintliness and that sage thing in all of this music, because obviously, you know, this mad hassle, gymnasium world that we all live in, you realize that these music-makers have brought so much great beauty into the world. So that’s what happened for me. And then Booker put the other thing on top of it. He brought the spiritual value home, and was really… I also think that when he died, he was the most advanced on his instrument for me. I loved him very much. And it’s kind of strange that Max lost Clifford and Booker.
You know, when Booker left Memphis, he went to Chicago and he stayed at the Y, and he met Sonny Rollins there at the Y, who was doing a kind of sabbatical in Chicago at that period in time, and also he met Clifford and Max and all. He loved Clifford so much. And when Clifford died, Booker, who was very young then, a teenager, he said, “Why couldn’t it have been me?” I mean, how many of us have that kind of compassion or such a big soul?
So I was touched by someone who was extremely profound. If people sometimes ask… I remember once Freddie Hubbard asked someone, “Where is Charles Lloyd?” He said, “Oh, don’t tell me. I know he’s out there in the woods, meditating or something.” But the point is, Booker and a lot of these sages, like Monk and Milarepa and all of them, sent me packing. And I try to bring something back now.
[MUSIC: "Little Peace", "Thelonious Theoniyus"]
TP: I assume from the title of this album that these compositions have many layered meanings to you, and many references. So a few words about “Thelonious Theonyus.”
CL: But they have many layers. I would spoil it by coming in there, putting meringue and stuff on it.
TP: That’s true.
CL: I like my mangos. I still like barbecue sauce, but I put it on corn and stuff like that. Corn on the cob, you put some barbecue sauce on it.
TP: When was the last time you had that?
CL: From my garden, you know, when the season is right. I have stuff in season. I have a nice garden. Have you ever had really fresh mulberries off the tree?
TP: No, never.
CL: They’re so sweet, man, but you’ve got to get them really true. I just love mulberries. And you wouldn’t think of that, you know, when you think of Mulberry Street. You wouldn’t get all extaterated, you know…
TP: While we were on microphone, you were talking about hearing Booker Little with Eric Dolphy and Blackwell at the Five Spot. You succeeded Eric Dolphy in Chico Hamilton’s group in the 1960′s? Were you friends in Los Angeles?
CL: Yes, we were. We played in Gerald Wilson’s Big Band together.
CL: Oh! Yeah, I’m sorry, man. Monk was very important to me. He had something extremely special, and I’m glad that his music lives on in the airwaves of all of our hearts. He taught me a lot. We used to play opposite each other at the Village Gate, and I told you about the orange juice story ages ago.
TP: I guess you did.
CL: And Milarepa. But you know, he’s just so deep and so pregnantly powerful with his silent night stuff, that I just loved him very much.
What were you asking me about?
CL: Now, Dolphy… See, there’s a guy behind all of that. Buddy Collette was, like, Dolphy’s teacher. Now, Buddy Collette is a very special cat. Now, Buddy Collette also was Mingus’ teacher. Buddy Collette is a very strange individual in that he has not only persevered, but he has sort of…how do you say… He has made peace with himself in the world. He even went and did studio work out there for years. But what I’m trying to say is… I’m now looking at this thing that we stand on all the shoulders of all these greats. Like Lao Tzu was hiking one day, and the guy with plague was happening, and he had all this stuff on his back, and he said to Lao Tzu, “Old man, is this all you got away with?” — and Lao Tzu was walking with his walking cane at about 80, you know. So he said, “Yes, precisely.” It’s like a larger nation can always… But it doesn’t work that way in politics.
You asked me about politics last time. I thought that was such a wrinkle. Who is not touched in their lifetime by the adversity and the strangeness of the whole mechanics of greed and all that…you know, racism’s grandmother and stuff. So enough said on that. I’ve dealt with it, see.
Becoming an elder, the kid in me is still… We’re all ecstatics at birth. We have that possibility. So what I’m trying to say is that somehow this music is always… I remember I always had this tricycle. Like, I was maybe 3, and I’d be riding it around really hard, and I remember my Mom would yell outside, “Charles, Junior, what are you doing on the tricycle?” I’m trying to get rid of the third wheel. Because I wanted to leave Memphis, you know. But I had to meet Phineas and all that kind of stuff.
But anyway, what I’m trying to say is that the ecstatic in us… There’s something about this music. It’s a music of wonder, played by these great creators. It’s just… I think we live in a world where people don’t get to hear… The music, it’s sort of… It’s like what happened to me when I was a kid. I’d have to wait until midnight to hear it. Now there’s so many layers of Pop stands and Coca-Cola refreshment places or something, that you can’t get to the real Matuki. You know what I’m saying.
TP: In the liner notes, you referred to a teacher named Irvin Reason.
CL: Irving Reason. I talked to you about him last time. He and Don Cherry, I’d say, were together. They met each other in the Tombs and talked about those days in Memphis.
TP: You played a lot of blues when you were in Memphis also.
CL: I still play the blues.
TP: Again, I’m referring to the very informative liner notes. If you buy All My Relations you get to hear a kind of compressed version of our show last year.
CL: Yeah, you inspired it. Then they said to me, “You’ve got to write a book now.” Then this publisher ran up to me in Italy recently, and he read the liner notes, and he said, “Oh God, these are incredible. I must have the rights in Italy. I must have the rights.” They over there doing programs on the indigenous people who lived over here way before these people, Columbus and these cats, came over here claiming to be discovering stuff.
Where are we, brother?
TP: ”I’m always playing the blues,” you said. You and a lot of the musicians you came up with in Memphis really cut your teeth on those type of gigs.
CL: Well, those were the gigs, but that wasn’t what we were really aspiring to. You understand? It’s sort of like a guy has to do a day job to do his thing. I mean, nothing against the Blues, but the Blues was so… I wanted to play up in Mitchell’s Hotel with Bill Harvey’s band, with Irvin and all the cats, Louis Smith, Booker Little’s older cousin. I did play in Phineas’ father’s band when Phineas and Calvin were in the band. I played in all those groups. Willie Mitchell had a big band that played like Dizzy’s big band, you know, and that was a precursor to Gerald Wilson. Now, Gerald is from down there, around Memphis also. So there’s something that happens.
But you see, although I am from down there, the Modern thing in New York, it filters through my song, because I came here… I always knew I had to get here. But I had to take the detour, the pineapple hit me on the head en route to go to California, and then we all finally got here. But that was quite wonderful when we got here… See, giants roamed the earth then. It was a simpler time in some ways, simpler in the sense that the neighborhood and the community and the musicians, there was some real simpatico. Ornette and Eric and I had been together in California. Billy Higgins and I played together, and we used to love to play… You know, Billy Higgins and I still play together sometimes, man. It’s come back after all those years, and it just makes me so thrilled.
TP: You said you were going to be performing with him this summer, with Dave Holland on bass.
CL: Billy Higgins and Dave Holland and myself, we’re going to play some music together. That should be interesting.
Working with you is like another chance to tell the truth, you know?
TP: What was the Chico Hamilton experience like for you?
CL: Why do you go there? Why don’t you talk about my dreams? My dreams are actually bigger than my memories, quiet as it’s kept. If you think I’m just a memory lane cat…
TP: No, not a bit. I’d feel a little awkward saying “What are your dreams?”
CL: No, I’m not going to talk about those. But the time thing that you bring up, you see, there is no time, if you look at it from a pull-back… You know, if you pull back and look at it from a macro level, the time thing gets squashed. The music happens, there is no time. It’s the eternal verities and all that stuff, getting back to Booker and that.
What was it like playing with Chico? I was a young man, and I wrote all this music, you know, and I had a place that I could play it!
TP: A good workshop.
CL: A good place to play it! I got cats to play it with me and stuff like that, and Chico was very open to it, because… Like that, you know? Then one time we were playing in Canada, and Miles came onstage in Montreal, and he said, “Here’s the cat who stole your band!” [LAUGHS] I hadn’t stolen his band! We were having a good time. Chico is very brilliant. Look who he had in his group. He had Buddy Collette, he had Eric, he had different cats in the group all the.
TP: Gabor Szabo, Arthur Blythe.
CL: Gabor Szabo. People don’t understand. Gabor had a little twang. I liked that. He heard the gypsies over there in Hungary when he was a kid.
Oh, man, time is ticking away, Ted. Don’t do this to me, man! Play some of the music. Look, here’s what you do. Play “Piercing The Veil,” “Hymn To The Mother,” and then you play “Evenstide.”
TP: Well, we have to be off at 3. So I can only do one.
CL: Well, this is a university, so you do have your freedom. And universities are places where you can put ideas in the air. We all need education, we need love, we need this home thing happening, and it’s important to hear the music in spite of all those filters that go on that keep the music away from the people.