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Santa Barbara Film Fest Spotlights a Living Legend

Montecito resident Charles Lloyd is the subject of a documentary by wife Dorothy Darr to be shown Sunday at the event, now in its 11th year.


With both humility and hubris, the Santa Barbara Film Festival unreeled its first film in 1985. Artistic director Phyllis DePicciotto launched the festival with high hopes and seed money from the city, which was keen on off-season tourism. The goal was to become a fixture in the global festival circuit.

Surviving to see its 11th annual affair, the festival has, in a sense, arrived. Though it has yet to attain status as one of the world's great film festivals, the event is securely on the map.

One of the more intriguing features of the festival, and one with a local angle, is the premiere Sunday of a documentary on legendary jazz saxophonist Charles Lloyd. "Charles Lloyd: Memphis Is in Egypt," at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, was made by Lloyd's wife, Dorothy Darr, and is a revealing, mosaic-like portrait of the artist.

From Lloyd's signature nonlinear way of speaking, to scenes in rehearsal, sound check and performance, and with archival footage and photography interspersed, the hourlong film conveys both present-tense excitement and a sense of history.

Reel life will yield to real life. Darr and Lloyd will be at the museum after the screening, and on Monday night at SOhO in Santa Barbara Lloyd's quartet will make its first local appearance in three years. The band, with the great, under-sung Swedish pianist Bobo Stensen, drummer Billy Hart and bassist Jeff Littleton (filling in for Swedish bassist Anders Jormin), will go on to play at Catalina's in Hollywood for a six-night stint starting Tuesday.


One gray morning last week, Lloyd and Darr talked from the hillside property in Montecito that they have called home since the late '70s. As Lloyd spoke, filmmaker Darr, not one to miss a video op, set up the camera.

Darr has worked in various facets of the arts, as an artist and designer, and overseeing Lloyd's work and travels. This film marks her debut in the medium. And she learned as she went.

"It's seat-of-the-pants kind of work," Darr said. "But it's an interesting medium, and I'm excited about working more in it. I like the documentary form, just as I like reading autobiographies or well-written biographies."

"In making a film, you have to consider a number of things. Along with what the content is, how do you fit that content in? Then you have to decide how much information do you want to give out.

"I would find it fascinating just to go from rehearsal song to song and hear the conversations and exchanges between musicians, to witness the evolutionary process in building a piece of music. But so many questions come up and I would have to make an assumption that most people know who Charles is, but not so much where he came from. I wove it in and out. Hopefully, it's not too confusing."

Then again, Lloyd's career has been confusing and hardly conventional, by jazz standards.

Speaking about the title of the film, Lloyd said, "The notion is, there is a sphinx in Egypt with pictures of birds. Bird (Charlie Parker) was conceived in Memphis. Are you hip to that? Now, that alone is worth the price of admission. I'm interested in universality and sources."

Born and raised in Memphis, Tenn.--with a heritage that includes African-American and Cherokee ancestors--Lloyd came to Los Angeles in the late '50s to attend USC. While there, he linked up with musicians such as drummer Billy Higgins and Ornette Coleman.

Lloyd remembers his early days in Los Angeles fondly. Bassist "Scotty Lafaro was my best friend. He would drive like Steve McQueen--looked like him, too," he said. "Crazy at the wheel. And then, when I was at USC, I played with Shostakovich. We did his Fifth Symphony and he conducted us. We made this heavy eye contact."

Lloyd's first publicly notable gig was with Chico Hamilton's band, and later Buddy Collette recommended him for Cannonball Adderley's group. But it was with Lloyd's own celebrated quartet, with a young Keith Jarrett on piano, Jack DeJohnette on drums and Cecil McBee or Ron McClure on bass, that the saxophonist achieved wide public recognition.

Lloyd's own ecstatic post-Coltrane playing style--and his willingness to incorporate R&B and non-jazz elements into his music--made the band popular on a scale normally reserved for pop groups. The quartet sold records by the millions, played on bills with rock bands, and was one of the first groups to visit Russia.


And then, at a career zenith around 1970, Lloyd retreated from the limelight, becoming one of jazz's disappearing acts. He felt he needed solitude and spiritual renewal, and went to Malibu and then to Big Sur. At the urging of Beach Boy Mike Love, Lloyd came to Santa Barbara to get involved with the short-lived Love Songs production company. He's been here ever since.

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