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Charles Lloyd: Going out on the high wire every night. Q&A - PDX Jazz Festival 2016

By ROBERT HAM // He's always been all over the musical map and at 77 there are no signs of stopping.

Charles Lloyd is one of the last of the old guard of jazz musicians still standing. But if that notion is troubling to the 77-year-old saxophonist and flautist, he certainly isn’t letting it show. Nor is he letting his age slow him down any. In the past five years alone, he’s released a bevy of amazing work that explores his interest in Greek traditional music, the canon of work by Ellington and Gershwin, and ‘60s pop icons like Bob Dylan and the Beach Boys. That’s not even mentioning his sharply rendered original compositions. And each album features a markedly different lineup, proving his abilities to meld his horn and flute playing to virtually any setting. Lloyd returns to the PDX Jazz Festival this year with his regular quartet (drummer Gerald Cleaver, pianist Gerald Clayton, and bassist Joe Sanders) to delight us with selections from his 2015 album Wild Man Dance, but also promises to go wherever the mood of the night takes him. OMN caught up with Lloyd in the midst of his busy touring schedule to answer a few questions about his long career and current sounds.

See him at the PDX Jazz Festival on Friday, February 19, 7pm at the Newmark Theatre, tickets,

I recently picked up a copy of your 1967 album Journey Within and was reminded of a period when jazz bands, blues bands, and rock bands would often share the same bills. That's something that rarely happens anymore except at big festivals. Why do you think that is?

This is a good question to ask the artistic directors of the festivals. I remain open to all kinds of invitations. Last June I performed at Bonnaroo, WOMAD, and David Byrne's Meltdown in London with "Atomic Bomb, Who Is William Onyeabor?" The musicians and audience alike had a great appreciation for the jazz tradition I brought to an unconventional jazz presentation. In September I was invited by Dave Matthews to perform with his band. We all had a great time together.

Is that something that you miss - that kind of cross pollination?

I think it still happens. On my new recording I Long to See You you can hear my group with Bill Frisell, Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland playing alongside the pedal steel guitar of Greg Leisz. Willie Nelson and Norah Jones are perfectly at home guesting on two of the tracks.

I want to ask about a couple of interesting influences that have marked your last few albums. One of them has been Greek music and instruments. Can you talk a bit about your interest in those sounds?

I have a long friendship with the Greek singer Maria Farantouri. We had dreamed of doing a project together for over a decade. Her voice and history are unparalleled, she introduced me to some traditional and contemporary Greek music. And through my compositions, she made a foray into jazz.

You've also played a couple of Beach Boys songs on recent releases. I know you worked with them in the past but what keeps you returning to their work 40+ years later?

Brian Wilson's genius for harmonies.

You collaborate with so many different musicians. What qualities do you look for in someone that you choose to perform or record with?

We go out on the high wire every night in exploration. I look for other explorers who are willing to take the journey with me without detailed explanations.

What is your process of writing new material? Is it something that is built out of improvisation or a melodic idea that drops in your lap?

There is not a recipe for the pancakes I make. The inspiration might come when I am out for a walk among the poppies or swimming underwater.

What do you think you know now that you didn't when you first started playing music in the '40s?

Life is school and I am learning new things every day. I have beginner's mind. The music is in the now - I might have a sketch in mind, but it is not until I step on stage, pick up my horn and feel the vibration of the audience, that I actually know what we will perform. 

Listen to "Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream (Featuring Willie Nelson) from Lloyd's latest album I Long to See You.


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