Between 1998 and 2003, I interviewed the late saxophonist David S. Ware several times. He had made his debut on Columbia in 1998 with Go See The World, and I visited him and his group in the studio when they was making the follow-up, 2000’s Surrendered. In addition to four Ware originals, that album included versions of drummer Beaver Harris‘s “African Drums” (which Ware had first recorded as a duo with Harris, on the drummer’s 1977 album of the same name) and Charles Lloyd‘s “Sweet Georgia Bright,” from 1967’s Charles Lloyd in the Soviet Union.
Ware had a great admiration for Lloyd, not only as a composer and player but as an ambassador for jazz. In the late ’60s, Lloyd managed something few jazz musicians ever have: he gained the admiration of rock audiences, selling a shit-ton of records in the process. Two of his albums, Love-In and Journey Within, were recorded live at the Fillmore West in San Francisco, where his quartet was opening for the Butterfield Blues Band—the first jazz group ever to play that venue—and another album, Forest Flower, went platinum.
Ware wanted to make similar moves with his quartet. When his album Cryptology was one of four out-jazz releases (the other three were Charles Gayle‘s Kingdom Come, Matthew Shipp‘s Circular Temple, and a reissue of John Coltrane‘s Live in Seattle) bundled together for the lead review in a 1994 issue of Rolling Stone, his dream seemed to be coming true. It didn’t, sadly, for a variety of reasons ranging from unadventurous booking agents to Ware’s long-standing health problems, though the quartet did open for Sonic Youth once in New York and was very well received.
It’s hard to say why Charles Lloyd‘s group was able to bridge the gap between the rock and jazz audiences between 1966 and 1968. Part of it is certainly the music they made: While they weren’t playing standards, they weren’t going as far out as Coltrane or Cecil Taylor or Albert Ayler were during the same period. They were exploratory, but not so much so that listeners walking in cold would be repelled. Many of their pieces had strong, memorable melodies, and as much groove as swing. This was certainly true of “Sweet Georgia Bright.” But there’s plenty of jazz that listeners not typically disposed toward the genre could easily appreciate…but don’t. Somehow, the stars aligned for Charles Lloyd and his band during the two or three years they were together.
They capitalized on it, too, make no mistake. Between 1966 and 1969, Lloyd and band—pianist Keith Jarrett, bassist Cecil McBee (and later Ron McClure) and drummer Jack DeJohnette—made eight albums for Atlantic Records: Dream Weaver, Forest Flower, The Flowering, In Europe, Love-In, Journey Within, In the Soviet Union, and Soundtrack. Only Dream Weaver was a studio date; all the others were live recordings, mostly featuring music unavailable elsewhere. Almost all of them are currently out of print in the US, though they’ve recently been remastered and reissued in Japan.
Here’s a half-hour video of the Charles Lloyd Quartet from the TV show Jazz Casual, hosted by critic Ralph Gleason.