The beauty of a jazz musician lies not only in their talents as a keeper of time, space, improvisation, and the sacredness of the art form, but also in their ability to be a chameleon. They can change color and even form with such ease and grace that you find yourself on a ride through the spectrum of human emotion.
Your guide? Saxophonist, flutist, composer and arranger Charles Lloyd, and he’s joined by a few fellas he calls “The Marvels.”
The 2016 International Music Festival presented by Musical Bridges Around the World commenced “Jazz Invocation” on Friday, Feb. 12 on the elegant stage of Trinity University’s Laurie Auditorium. The journey starts in America, the birthplace of jazz, but takes audience members on an all-expense paid whirlwind sonic trip through many countries, with four concerts remaining over the next week. You can find the Rivard’s coverage of the full lineup here.
While eager San Antonians awaited the Marvels in the auditorium, the invocation for me began on the Green Level of Laurie, my old stomping grounds as a saxophonist with the Trinity University Jazz Ensemble.
“Been playing with Charles for 13, going on 14 years now,” Harland said, playing cool with his Houston Texans cap in all black matching his hip get-up of the same hue. “We play in a few different ensembles together.”
Aside from his traditional quartet with pianist Jason Moran, Lloyd calls Harland his drummer in two other groups: The Greek Project with a lyre player and female vocalist from Greece, The Wild Man Suite with Gerald Clayton and a Hungarian dulcimer player.
“And this is the newest version, Bill (Frisell) introduced us to a sound that can go electric,” Harland said, loosening up and laughing a little bit as he threw it around with Rogers. “Me and Reuben felt called to that originally, that’s what brought us down.”
Harland referred to Lloyd as the “Master of Vibe,” for his ability to create a new space and makes something beautiful emerge from it. “He’s a sort of guru on how to describe something, very crafty with his vernacular,” Harland said. “We’ll record something in the studio and call it one thing before, and then we’ll leave and (Lloyd) will rename it something completely new!”
Rogers confessed that there’s a certain level of “Jekyll and Hyde” with each band. “The fundamental is creativity and groove, it’s what people look for and so many musicians have their way of doing it,” he said. “It’s all the same for me, when I actually get on the bandstand, I don’t think of it any different.”
Speaking from a foundation of rhythm built on nearly 20 years, Harland and Rogers agreed resoundingly that the deeper the relationship, the deeper the groove. “You can always make the best music when you’ve played with people for a while,” the men said, almost in unison.
The same men who confessed to signing up for“selfless jobs on stage” a long time ago, have learned to develop a fluidity of communication and resonance. Harland and Rogers created a constant and perfectly understated foundation for Lloyd and the rest of ” The Marvels” for about 90 minutes of music that pressed the fullness of the human experience into the jazz vibration.
No time for small talk, Lloyd jumps right in and majestically orchestrates. Magically, he looks completely relaxed and in the pocket, while incredibly engaged and calling the shots with the thrust of an elbow or wiggle of the hips. He allows everything to dissolve and grow and fade and glow as necessary, even howling like a coyote when the mood calls for it…this mood calls for Lloyd dancin’ round, hobblin’, shaking, bobbin’, in a sorta “Cosby” fashion with his funky Monk beanie and jazzman-meets-Lennon glasses. Lloyd shines just as brightly when he opens the space for the guitar men, Frisell and Greg Leisz, to strut their stuff with a calmness that belies the complexity and craftiness of their soul upon steel. Everything breathes into its fullness as Harland and Rogers just keep chuggin’ away, delicately falling into almost nothing before the bring the sound back and effortlessly let the tune expire, just like the notes coming from Lloyd’s horn.
Understanding the intimacy of musicians playing together and how that lends itself to a higher groove made it easier to feel connected to the individuals as humans, not leaders in the jazz pantheon before purple lights.
“We do a lot of master classes for schools, (Rogers) was out there last Sunday at Northwestern working with kids,” Harland said. “We are making sure that it just doesn’t stop here, the lineage of music travels on.”
Rogers confessed that over the past decade he’s given about 20% of his time to teaching, and the education of young people. “It’s ingrained in our being now, not just performing but the teaching aspect,” he said. “Over the years we have developed some good chops, and we are very privileged to be able to give back.”
Rogers waxed sentimental about visits to his native Virgin Islands, where he travels back to annually, if not more often, to share his gift. “They have a mentoring program, I have the opportunity to work with musicians from elementary to college, it’s a really beautiful thing for me to do,” Rogers said, smiling as he thinks of his old school hallways, and how life has come full circle. “It’s about giving back to my alma mater, that’s the stage we’re in right now.”
Calypso groovin’, Rogers is in heaven leading the way, Lloyd dancing again now playing maracas like a blissed-out angel, childlike and wild in frenetic motion, oftentimes appearing as if he doesn’t have awareness of what’s going on other times on point with his shakey shakes…the gift of this music is in its ability to transport. Upon closing one’s eyes, the all-encompassing, yet nurturing, sound of Lloyd’s horn works so delicately with the ensemble, let’s you lift off sublimely into another world. As you breathe, so too does Lloyd, powerfully digging into the depths of his soul to speak quietly in ear as you meditate, and at the next moment unleash a world of wild passion that howls and tests the body’s extremes of sensation. After all, didn’t we come here to feel?
Fitting that “The Marvels,” with such a generous group of men, ended up kicking off the festival for an organization that prides itself on giving back, and in the same vein of Harland and Rogers. While they are perhaps best known for their community concerts, Musical Bridges is expanding their program that gives back to youth. “With ‘Kids to Concerts’ our mission is to expose kids to music from all around the world through live performance,” said Diana Tatu, executive administrative assistant for Musical Bridges. “Concerts are aligned with testing standards so they’re learning about math and science through rhythm and engineering.”
The program is already in play at 50 schools across San Antonio, while another 116 schools are on the waitlist. “We’ve been getting some funding from City Council project funds, part of the reason we could expand to more schools,” Tatu said. “We are trying to do our best to bring this to many schools, and with more funding we can probably hire more ‘Kids to Concerts’ staff, as well as afford the artistic fees for more musicians.”
Tatu relishes the opportunity to bring this program to our city, and is grateful for the opportunity. “You really won’t realize how much of an impact this has on the kids until you see it,” Tatu said. “It’s really hard to measure the impact without seeing it firsthand.”
As Lloyd uttered the final note through his flute, and offered his gratitude once more with roses in hand from the Musical Bridges’ staff, some attendees began to leave. Others, like Emily Hildebrand, stuck around to feel the fuller vibration left by Lloyd and company in the auditorium. “This music is playing in our home, our kids are exposed to it, which is important because it creates critical thinking in your child,” Hildebrand said. “As a Gifted and Talented teacher, I am concerned about the level of creativity in schools, I don’t think it’s addressed enough.”
Hildebrand and her husband Jacob, didn’t bring their little one to the show but there were few individuals in the audience who were under the age of 30, much less 10.
“Music touches every part of humanity: emotionally, spiritually, intellectually,” Mr. Hildebrand said. “It is a reflection of being a human being.”
Click here to read about Musical Bridge programming opportunities, available to individuals of all ages through 2016 International Festival Week and ongoing “Kids to Concerts” programs.
*Top Image: Charles Lloyd is an American jazz musician who primarily plays tenor saxophone and flute. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone