IN THE MOMENT

When I come upon Charles Lloyd near his studio by the sea at Bonnymede, he’s leaning back in his chair, facing the sun, eyes closed, allowing the elements to wash over him. In a way, that’s how you often find Lloyd, even when he’s on stage blowing in his saxophone; he seems to be somewhere else at the same time, some higher plane that allows him to access places that transcend space and time.

It’s been that way for at least 40 years, too, ever since Lloyd – amply aided by a quartet introducing pianist Keith Jarrett and percussionist Jack DeJohnette – crashed through barriers with a live concert recording made at the Monterey Jazz Festival that became one of the first jazz albums ever to sell a million copies. To boot, the album introduced jazz to mainstream rock audiences. Now 68, Lloyd has lived in the hills above Montecito since the early 1990s, when he re-emerged following a self-imposed exile in the 1970s brought on by his near rock star status in those hectic and heady days as jazz’s West Coast savior. And, he’s released a series of albums lauded by both critics and audiences for maintaining integrity while setting bold new directions.

His regular concerts at the Lobero Theatre – four in the past six years – have become cause for celebration among jazz purists. Lloyd returns to the venerable venue on September 15 with his current quartet featuring pianist Geri Allen, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland one night prior to the big anniversary gig at Monterey.

Q. How long have you had this place by the ocean here?

A. Oh, a long time. I’m drawn to the sea. So I have a studio here where I can come and work in solitude. There’s no one ever around. I like solitude to recharge my battery and get a different perspective. Also, so much is blooming and blossoming up on the hill that my allergies act up and I need to come down here to get away.

Santa Barbara has been a beautiful place for healing for me. It’s a place for transition between my retreat in Big Sur and entering public performance again. The scale works for me. In Big Sur, it’s huge overpowering nature, and not much in humanity. There’s sixty miles of coastline and just five hundred families, so it’s very sparse. Then when I looked for a space around here I looked up on the hill. People said you don’t want to live out there – it’s too far from the village. I thought, “Great!” Dorothy (his wife and manager, Dorothy Darr) built this wonderful nest up there. So I do have my solitude there, too.

These concerts at the Lobero and the following night at the Monterey Jazz Festival are timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of your recording “Forest Flower” there, and 25th anniversary of playing here.

Yeah, they tell me I’ve been making this music for forty years, but I don’t know anything about that. Steve Cloud reminds me that I’ve played Lobero nine times, the first time twenty-five years ago. I played here in the sixties on double bill with Buffalo Springfield. But I don’t know the phases of the moon. I know the music. I don’t measure things. With music, space and time move out of the way and you’re in the now. I’ve learned to live in that moment, and practice surrendering to it.

OK, but it must bring up some memories, doesn’t it?

This may shock you, but my dreams are bigger than my memories…People have been asking, Will I play “Forest Flower”? I rarely play it because it’s so long ago. But this event is about that recording, and the winds of grace are always blowing. If I set my sails high and if the breeze is right maybe the flower will bloom again. But I don’t know and I don’t want to mislead anyone. They were originally asking me to reunite the quartet itself. But we’ve all gone out into our lives, on the same path but different avenues. This is the orchestra I’m playing with now and I adore it as much as I did from the first.

You’ve talked about how wanting to change the world was part of what drove you to those years of retreat in Big Sur, and since, nearly throughout your life. Is that struggle between finding your place in the world, changing yourself, and reaching acceptance part of what defines you?

I have two modalities. One is introverted, quiet and meditative. Then I have this outward expression that comes out in my art form. I realized that trying to change the world would just burn me, but it also spurred to me to change myself. Instead of becoming so egocentric I wanted to be more spiritual, which led me to become divine-centric. We’re all children of the infinite; we’re not the appearance of who we are. The lesson of life is to let go of the attachment, peel that onion and let it dissolve into the sea – right out there. I practice that everyday. It gives me great nourishment and strength, charges my batteries so I can go forth with activity.

Your most recent CD was recorded live at the Lobero, the first commercial disc every to be made there.

I love that old adobe theatre. That’s a great honor for me. I have big respect for the past and big eyes for exploration…. I record many of my performances but I live here and I thought all the forces were coming together that night, and that we would be blessed. And we were. I don’t go with expectations, but I do feel a certain happiness here. I had a very special concert.

You’re 68 now, an age when people slow down or think about retiring. Have you thought about that at all?

Do I look like I’m slowed down? Do I look dull and dead? Are those pineapples hitting me? Am I sitting on the chaise? Is my baseball cap turned the wrong way? You know what it is, man – I don’t think age has anything to do with it. I’m of the notion that we live many lifetimes. Maybe this one if I do it right I may dance on up to the other shore. I’m trying to deal with my karmas and finish up here in the service of the music.

So when I start dancing around age, I don’t feel in no way tired, but I don’t think He brought me this far to leave me behind either. I don’t know how else to say it.

The music speaks directly to me. These words, they mean different things to different people. I don’t know how to paint with words. But here’s what I can say: I’m really growing whole. That “old” stuff doesn’t apply. I’m growing whole.