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At 80, Saxophonist Charles Lloyd Finds Enlightenment in the Groove

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Dorothy Darr
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Saxophonist Charles Lloyd, who turned 80 this year.

"I've been drunk with music all my life," Charles Lloyd muses, "and it's been my spiritual path. And the times that I was knocked off my mooring, I just found a way to get back up."

Lloyd, a coolly venerable tenor saxophonist, flutist and composer, has famously been here and gone and back again. Fifty years ago, around the time he was named Jazzman of the Year by DownBeat magazine, he abruptly dropped off the scene, in search of equilibrium. He found it along the rugged California coast, where he established a new life, full of healing and contemplation, before rekindling his relationship with the spotlight.

He celebrated his 80th birthday this year — and released an acclaimed album, Vanished Gardens, featuring singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams with his band The Marvels. In this episode of Jazz Night in America, we'll get a taste of that collaboration, along with choice moments from Lloyd's recent appearances at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

And we'll join Jazz Night producer and writer Alex Ariff as he pays a visit to Lloyd's home and sanctum in the mountains near Santa Barbara, Calif. We'll hear portions of their conversation, as they sit on a bench near the ocean, touching on ancestral legacies and present realities. "I'm an elder now," Lloyd says almost tentatively, as if still making peace with the idea.

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, Nate Chinen is editorial director at WBGO and a regular contributor to NPR Music.
Alex Ariff has big ears. A musician first, he straddles the worlds between performance/songwriting, media production and storytelling. Alex earned his B.A in Music from Florida State University where he fell for all facets of jazz music, history, and culture. He went onto earn his M.A. in Jazz History and Research from Rutgers University-Newark. It was during this time that Alex began working at WBGO, where he currently works as a producer on Jazz Night in America. Outside of WBGO, Alex enjoys lapsang souchong, bike rides, and playing with his band The Wali Sanga.