Currently one of the most influential and highly regarded saxophonists on the international circuit, Lloyd grew up in Memphis, where he split his time between the circle of jazz musicians centred on pianist Phineas Newborn and trumpeter Booker Little, and the city's hard-edged rhythm-and-blues scene. His first professional jobs were in the r-and-b world, playing with the likes of B B King. But after moving to study composition in California, he focussed more fully on the jazz world, and particularly its more modern styles.
He took Eric Dolphy's place with the drummer Chico Hamilton, and this brought Lloyd to national attention, not least because he took on the musical direction of the band. When he left to join Cannonball Adderley's sextet it wasn't long before his first tour to Britain took place, on a union exchange with the Beatles, for their first American tour. The Adderley band made a famous television broadcast for the BBC during its UK visit, in which Lloyd is featured.
In 1964 he also began recording with his own band, first mainly featuring guitarist Gabor Szabo, but before long settling into a quartet with Jack DeJohnette, Keith Jarrett and either Cecil McBee or Ron McClure on bass. This band played many giant rock venues, and began to take jazz to new, younger audiences, who adored Lloyd's charismatic style and Jarrett's long excursions into free territory. For three years until it broke up in 1969, this was one of the highest profile jazz groups in the world, and its albums for Atlantic are now highly prized.
Charles then went into semi retirement on the California coast, meditating and composing, until he teamed up with Michel Petrucciani, with whom he toured and recorded in the early 1980s. At the end of that decade, he resumed his full international career, starting out with a band based on his new label ECM's regular rhythm team of Bobo Stenson, Anders Jormin and Billy Hart, but soon broadening his musical circle to include such players as Marc Johnson, John Abercrombie, Brad Mehldau and above all the drummer Billy Higgins, until Higgins's death in 2001.
He has continued to record, and to experiment with unusual instruments, including the alto flute, the Tibetan oboe and the tarogato. He combines the attack, phrasing and speed of Coltrane with a meditative quality of his own, and his trademark is to hold the tenor saxophone out to the side, much as his one-time mentor Lester young would do. His recent bands have included pianists Geri Allen or Jason Moran, and he has also experimented with world music and jazz fusions, playing concerts with tabla player Zakir Hussain.