Editor's Note: Old Friends

Snapshots from six years ago.

| Utne Reader September / October 2007

A bruise-colored sun drops into a chilly September night. Inside the 1,000-seat theater, a West Coast quartet conjures balmy surf. For well over an hour, long, languid phrases float past on a swing. Lonely hearts bask in the blue hue. Lovers huddle in the balcony. The ghosts of vaudeville do a soft shoe on the 90-year-old rafters.

A storm starts to rumble in slow as saxophonist Charles Lloyd's wizened face goes slack, save for the wrinkles around his eyes, shut tight to focus.

Bill Walton-tall and wizard-thin, he rocks in a circle as though his pelvis were greased, a shower of notes singing, burping, hissing, and howling through the bell of his rust-flecked horn. The drummer kicks his kit into another gear, throwing right-hand jabs at an oversized cymbal. The guitarist, crouched tiger-tight on his swivel stool, shakes his head as if he's just heard something out of the wild, for the very first time. The bassist is reduced to laughter, slapping the strings instead of his knee.

Lloyd ends it on a high-pitched wail. He nods, strolls stage right. The house hits its feet, stomps, screams, and whistles. Palms are crimson from clapping; no one is ready to let the outside world wash away the luster.

The '60s sensation--a Haight-Ashbury icon, one of the first jazz musicians to go platinum--returns to the spotlight. He's carrying a photograph, shot a year before at a little-known club in the rear end of a strip mall. In the black-and-white candid, Lloyd has his arm around storied drummer Billy Higgins, among jazz music's most recorded sidemen. They are backstage moments after a volcanic late-night set, leaning into each other, laughing like teenagers.

Six months after the portrait was taken, Higgins would die of pneumonia while awaiting a liver transplant. He was 64.
Lloyd holds the photo up to the crowd, says it's beautiful, like his brother, then places his hand over his heart and pats it twice--in gratitude, in peace.

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