Charles Lloyd began playing the saxophone at the age of 9. Pianist Phineas Newborn became his mentor, and took him to Irvin Reason for lessons. Lloyd worked in Phineas Sr’s band, and from the age of 12 worked as sideman in the blues bands of B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Johnnie Ace, Bobbie “Blue” Bland, and others. His closest friend in high-school was trumpeter, Booker Little. In 1956 Lloyd moved to Los Angeles and earned a Master’s degree from the University of Southern California. During this period Lloyd played in Gerald Wilson’s big band and he also had his own group that included Billy Higgins, Don Cherry, Bobby Hutcherson, and Terry Trotter. Lloyd joined Chico Hamilton in 1960, though the band was known for playing “chamber jazz” at the beginning of Lloyd’s tenure. His influence as a composer and a player quickly pushed it in a more progressive post-bop direction especially after Hamilton asked him to be the group’s “music director.”
Through 1965-1969 Lloyd led a quartet with pianist, Keith Jarrett, bassist, Cecil McBee (later, Ron McClure), and drummer, Jack DeJohnette. The quartet’s music was an interesting fusion of straight-ahead post-bop, free jazz and world music which quickly caught the attention of both jazz fans and critics. They also achieved a fair amount of crossover success with young rock fans and became the first jazz group to play at The Fillmore. Lloyd’s album Forest Flower, Live at Monterey, became a big commercial hit, largely on the strength of the title track. Other noteworthy albums include Dream Weaver, Soviet Union, and In Europe.
In 1970, after the quartet disbanded, Lloyd moved back to California and entered a state of semi-retirement. He practically disappeared from the jazz scene, but can be heard on recordings with the Doors, Canned Heat, and the Beach Boys. Occasionally during the 1970s Lloyd played with The Beach Boys; both on their studio recordings and as a member of their touring band. Upon his recovery from a near death experience in 1986, Lloyd decided to rededicate himself to music. He started performing occasionally in 1987 and 1988.
In 1989, Lloyd reestablished an active touring schedule and began recording for ECM Records. The first ECM release was Fish Out of Water with Bobo Stenson, Palle Danielsson, and Jon Christensen. The ECM recordings showcased his sensitivity as a ballad player and composer.
Lloyd maintains an active recording and tour schedule. His “new” quartet with Jason Moran on piano, Reuben Roger, bass and Eric Harland, drums is well matched with Lloyd’s creative and adventurous spirit. They have two recordings on ECM, Rabo de Nube (2008) and Mirror (2010).