A Dreamer in Sound

By Steven Libowitz   |   March 14, 2023
Charles Lloyd plays his 85th Birthday Celebration at the Lobero on Friday, March 10 (photo by D. Darr)

Charles Lloyd reported that he wasn’t in good shape when we connected by phone last week. But it wasn’t a physical issue ailing the octogenarian saxophonist-composer who back in the late 1960s enjoyed one of the first million-selling jazz albums. It was a spiritual sadness after hearing that Wayne Shorter had died overnight. 

“We were good friends and colleagues,” Lloyd said, recalling an hours-long jam session the two participated in an L.A. hotel, when both bands they belonged to were in town at the same time decades ago. “He was five years my senior, but he was younger than springtime, a genius with a big imagination and a big heart.” 

While Lloyd’s fame was not as sustained or extensive as Shorter’s, the jazz great has carved out a more than respectable career that has seen him play with jazz artists of all ages over the years – emerging from the hilltop home in Montecito he has shared with his photographer wife Dorothy Darr for almost 40 years, with a new burst of creative energy at once contemplative and soulful. 

Lloyd’s next hometown gig at the Lobero on Friday, March 10, celebrates his 85th birthday five days later as part of the theater’s 150th anniversary. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation: 

Q. Does Shorter’s passing have you thinking of your own mortality? 

A. We’re all just passing through. This is not our home – you can’t build a house on a bridge, and we could be called home at any time. So what I have to do is continue to live in the now and realize that I’m blessed to be a music maker in this lifetime. I’m aware of the temporality of so-called life on the planet, so I try to work on my character and work on my sound. I’ve got experience, but I still have that beginner’s mind, that Buddhist thing of being able to see the freshness all the time. I meditate and I try to stay out of folks’ way, and I like the quiet and solitude I have been blessed with here in the mountains where I can do my work. I’m motivated to continue to go deeper into my art form, which has been a quest all my life. 

You’ve put together a special trio to play with for the concert at the Lobero. Some old friends in pianist Jason Moran and bassist Larry Grenadier, but also a new face in the great drummer Brian Blade, who has won Grammys during his time with both Chick Corea and Wayne Shorter. 

It’s an amazing voyage to go on with Brian, who is probably the greatest living young drummer, an extremely sensitive percussionist. We’ve had mutual love and respect for each other over the decades but have never played together before. He’s flying in from Shreveport (just for the concert). It’s a very special formation, a holy group coming together for the night, which I think will be deep and quiet and sensitive. I’ve written lots of new music. Now it seems it will be dedicated to Wayne. 

Playing at the Lobero has become almost an annual affair for you, and I know how much you love the history and acoustics. I’m imagining it has extra meaning to be playing there again. 

I’m told that I played the Lobero more than any other artist, which really means something to me when you look at those photos in the green room of people who have performed there over the years. When I came out here (to California) from Memphis and New York, I thought that with the beauty of music, I’d be able to change the world. That was my dream … We’re more polarized than ever … but I’m still a dreamer in sound. So, I just try to bring forth some deep truths, these elixirs of the infinite, with love and gratitude and grace and humility, to share with our hometown folks, and maybe meet in a place where I touch other people on the journey.

Visit www.lobero.org for tickets and more information


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