Jazz: Searching for that perfect sound

Of all the stars appearing at this year's Oris London Jazz Festival, which begins today, no one rivals the enigma of the American saxophonist Charles Lloyd. Phil Johnson meets the crown prince of hippie jazz in his elegant California condo.

If his name isn't familiar, that's because Charles Lloyd more or less retired from playing in public in 1969 and spent much of the next 20 years cultivating his garden - both literally and metaphorically - in California's Big Sur. He re-emerged briefly in the early 1980s, when the then unknown French pianist Michel Petrucciani sought him out, and later, after a life-threatening emergency operation in 1986, Lloyd, now 59, started to record again. Over the past few years he has produced a brilliant series of five albums for the German company ECM, with the same European quartet that will accompany him in London.

It's easy, though, to forget just how much of a star Lloyd once was. In the late Sixties, his quartet - which featured pianist Keith Jarrett and drummer Jack DeJohnette - became the most popular jazz group ever, performing at Bill Graham's Fillmore in San Francisco alongside psychedelic light-shows, the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin. Their album Forest Flower, recorded at the Monterey Festival in 1966, was a big hit and Lloyd became the crown prince of hippie-jazz, his out-size Afro and silken robes representing the acceptable face of improvisation in an era when jazz was badly out of fashion. The Beatles attended his concert, he was profiled by Time and Harper's Bazaar and he toured Europe to huge acclaim, becoming the first American jazz act to play at a Soviet festival. Ten days before the Russian tanks moved in, the Lloyd quartet played Prague.

Now Lloyd lives in Montecito, near Santa Barbara, where I visited him last week, at the beach-side condo where he has a studio. Here he practises his sax and swims underwater to perfect his breath control. He also collects classic furniture. When I recognise the two Charles Eames armchairs that decorate the small flat, he's flattered. "You're hip to furniture?" he says. "Man, I've got to show you the house!" He drives me in his Mercedes up the hill to where his wife, the artist Dorothy Darr, has designed their new home, which is, well, awesome. A French architect is supervising the laying of a rustic limestone floor; ancient Peruvian doors - displaced by an earthquake - have been inserted into new enclosures, and a crane has been used to plant mature palm trees in the Alhambra-like courtyard. Lloyd takes a detour to show me the Hindu temple built by the Vedanta sect nearby, and flashes a fancy sign to the nun praying there. The Theosophist's guru Krishnamurti settled in nearby Ojai, and Lloyd is very, very, spiritual.

Lloyd walks me through the site, pointing out the furniture stored in the garage. There are more Eames armchairs, a sofa and a bed, and a stack of the designer's plywood chairs, alongside several Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chairs and sofas and a pair of Marcel Breuer's Wassily armchairs, alongside much else. "My aesthetic goes to that Modernism thing," Lloyd says. "I started buying years ago and this woman in a showroom in San Francisco in the Sixties, she pulled my coat, you know? I asked how much something was and she said, `It's all relative young man, come back when you're rich.' "

As befits a southerner from Memphis, Lloyd has impeccably courtly manners. His appearance is extraordinary too, a mixed heritage of African, Mongolian, Cherokee and Irish ancestry emphasising the many shades of grey that divide black and white. As a youngster in Memphis, he played blues with BB King, Bobby Bland and Howlin' Wolf before leaving to study music at the University of Southern California, and then moving to New York, where he joined the bands of Chico Hamilton and Cannonball Adderley. After forming his quartet and experiencing their success, he decided to quit, he says, because of grief. "It was a time in my life when my mother had just died and some of my friends had died. My closest friend in high school, Booker Little (the trumpeter), had died when he was 23, and that weighed on me. I felt that I wanted to know what was behind all this and I had this spiritual quest that was calling me so I just got off the bus. I was living in the fast lane too - you know what I'm saying? - and I just felt the need for solitude. The business came to me and said, `Well, now we want to put you in arenas,' but I wanted to follow my inner muse. I didn't want to be soap powder."

According to the writer Ian Carr in his biography of Keith Jarrett, there were also disagreements over money when the other members of the quartet found out just how much Lloyd was making from their lucrative college gigs, and how little of it he was passing on to them. Who knows, but maybe Charles was spending it on furniture. "I went away into retreat," Lloyd says, "and Dorothy built a lovely Japanese country house in Big Sur, and I continued to play but not in public."

Ever since, he has dedicated himself, above all else, to his sound. "If you haven't got a beautiful sound you can forget the other shit," he says. "That's number one. I obviously have all these heroes and people always say Coltrane but they miss the tenderness of Lady Day (Billie Holiday) and Pres (Lester Young), and all this other stuff." Billie Holiday - whose portrait can be glimpsed on the sleeve of his latest album - is Lloyd's most abiding obsession. "I hear it like she's singing beyond earthly beauty or romantic love," he says. "For me, she's in prayer, that tenderness and lyricism and shit. My whole thing is about sound and I'm hoping that one day I'll be able to make a sound that says it all, and I can just put that fellow back in his case and go walking up in the mountains!"

Charles Lloyd and his quartet play the Royal Festival Hall, London SE1 (0171-960 4201) in a double-bill with McCoy Tyner and his trio on Monday.

Lloyd's latest album, `Canto', is out on ECM

The essential Charles Lloyd 1938: born, Memphis, Tennessee 1956: played alto sax in bands led by BB King and Bobby Bland 1961-64: switched to tenor sax and joined Chico Hamilton's group 1964-65: played with Cannonball Adderley 1965: first quartet, recorded Discovery (Columbia) 1966: quartet with Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette and Cecil McBee. Dream Weaver, Live at Antibes, Forest Flower, In Europe (all for Atlantic) 1967: Live at the Fillmore (Atlantic) 1971: Waves (A&M), with fellow TM enthusiasts the Beach Boys 1982: Montreux '82 (Elektra Musician) with Michel Petrucciani 1989: Fish Out of Water (ECM), with European quartet 1997: Canto (ECM). The latest and best of five ECM albums

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Sport
Yaya Touré has defended his posturing over his future at Manchester City
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
News
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
news
Life and Style
beauty
Sport
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

    £60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

    Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

    £75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

    Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

    £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice