There's no national treasure title to honor artists in the United States. If there were, multi-reed player Charles Lloyd would surely be among its inaugural class.
The 80-year-old saxophonist launches Stanford Live's 2018-19 season on Friday, Sept. 21, with his band The Marvels, featuring special guest singer/songwriter Lucinda Williams. Bing Concert Hall audiences will hear for themselves just why he is as quintessentially American as the jazz he plays. His messages of global unity and civic activism, heard in both his music and on-stage remarks, convey a spiritual message that's as much a part of his artistic identity as his soaring tone on tenor saxophone, flute or Tibetan oboe.
Born in Memphis, the longtime Santa Barbara-area resident was steeped in the city's rich southern musical scene. Learning from the esteemed late pianist Phineas Newborn and playing with the likes of jazz saxophonist George Coleman and B.B. King and Howlin' Wolf on the blues side, Lloyd was well-prepared when he headed west to study classical music at the University of Southern California.
The Southland's vibrant jazz scene was just as welcoming to the affable instrumentalist, and he was able to collaborate with late future legends such as vibraphonist and Montara fixture Bobby Hutcherson and alto saxophonist/musical pioneer Ornette Coleman. He joined drummer Chico Hamilton's band in 1960 and half a decade later was leading his own groups, including a classic four-piece with pianist Keith Jarrett, double bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Jack DeJohnette.
The quartet's meditative yet pulsing live recording at the 1966 Monterey Jazz Festival became an instant classic. The success of "Forest Flower: Charles Lloyd at Monterey" and the late Bill Graham making Lloyd the first jazz booking at the famed Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco ensured that he and the quartet were part of the expansive popular music scene of the late '60s.
"So many memories of the Bay Area where to begin?" Lloyd told the Weekly in an email. "Back in those days, the Grateful Dead and I performed at the Rock Garden, a music club on Mission, for a week.
"A couple of years ago, Dave Matthews invited me to perform with him as a special guest at his concert at Mountain View, which brings us closer to Palo Alto and Stanford," he continued. "There is so much history here. I love the intimacy and acoustics at the Bing Concert Hall. It is a beautiful space to perform in."
Lloyd made his Bing debut back in the summer of 2015 as part of a special Stanford Jazz Workshop concert with guitarist Julian Lage, pianist Aaron Parks, double bassist (and Stanford alum) Larry Grenadier and drummer Eric Harland. He returns with The Marvels, the latest of three rotating bands he leads. This quintet features electric guitar wizard Bill Frisell, first-call pedal steel player Greg Leisz, Santa Cruz resident Reuben Rogers on bass guitar and Harland behind the drum kit.
After a period of self-imposed musical exile in the '70s, Lloyd played with European musicians and continued to explore international musical styles through the '90s.
Lloyd's New Quartet, which includes Harland and Rogers, has been together since 2004.
"As with any marriage that has longevity, the challenge is to keep communication and creativity fresh and open," Lloyd said. "We all love to explore and have great trust in each other."
The latest exploration came in the form of The Marvels, in which piano was exchanged for a twin guitar approach, and Rogers switched from double to electric bass. The group released its debut album, "I Long to See You," on the famed Blue Note label in January 2016. It featured guest vocals from Willie Nelson and Norah Jones.
Williams sat in when the group played UCLA a couple of months later, and the six ended up releasing a surprise single of Bob Dylan's "Masters of War" (which was performed at that Royce Hall concert) in January 2017. For the band's follow-up, "Vanished Gardens," released in June, Williams' vocals can be heard on four of her own songs plus Jimi Hendrix's "Angel."
"This is an unconventional connection ... an unprecedented collaboration," Lloyd said, when asked about the creative connection between him and Williams. "We don't talk a lot about what we are going to do with a song. It's more intuitive with a lot of trust in one another. We both come from a place of authenticity, and I think you can hear that in the music.
"The voice not only adds another instrument to the ensemble, but with Lucinda, we also have a great poet singing to us," he said. "The lyrics are a major force in establishing the mood and flow of a piece. I find myself amazed at how deep and revelatory her imagery is."
Freelance writer Yoshi Kato can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What: Charles Lloyd & The Marvels with Lucinda Williams.
Where: Bing Concert Hall, 327 Lasuen Mall, Stanford.
When: Friday, Sept. 21, 7:30 p.m.
Info:Go to Stanford Live or call 650-724-2464.