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RoJaC - Robert's Jazz Corner Cover page of Downbeat July 13, 1867

Charles Lloyd in Russia: Ovations and Frustrations

by Ira Gitler
Down Beat, July 13, 1967, p. 15

"I can't describe it in words," said Charles Lloyd of the fantastic eight minute and 20 second ovation he received from a transported audience at the Tallinn Jazz Festival. "I played my experience from Memphis [his birth-place] up to then," he said, describing the intense energy he put forth in his performance. "There was so much stress leading up to it that it exploded."

Following a 50-minute set consisting of Days and Nights of Waiting (an unintentionally appropriate title) by pianist Keith Jarrett, and Tribal Dance, Love Song to a Baby, and Sweet Georgia Bright by Lloyd, the Estonians exploded too. Despite the entreaties and shouts of the festival officials ("We are not children. Please sit down!"), the applause thundered on. "They hid our drums so we couldn't do an encore," said Lloyd. Finally, a half-hour intermission was announced to restore calm. Live modern American jazz had come to the Soviet Union for the first time.

Actually, Lloyd had almost played in Tallinn in 1966. A taped concert broadcast of a Lloyd performance in Helsinki, Finland, was picked up by Russian jazz fans. Thinking he was still in Finland, they attempted to invite him to the Tallinn, Leningrad, and Moscow festivals, but he had returned to New York by this time. In 1967, an advisory group of Soviet jazz writers, Yuri Vikharieff and Alexei Batashev among them, persuaded festival officials to invite Lloyd, who received a letter that he would be welcome as a tourist.

The Lloyd quartet: Jarrett (seated), McClure, DeJohnette, and Lloyd

His manager, George Avakian, who had been to Russian three times - the last time being with Benny Goodman in 1962 - termed it "an official unofficial invitation." Ten days before departure, they received a phone call informing them that "no foreigners will be allowed to play."

"When we let our contacts know that we weren't coming because of this," said Avakian, "we got an official confirmation cable." Expenses and salaries for the musicians were to be taken care of by the Citizen Exchange Corps, a private U.S. organization, but it couldn't be arranged. They ended up paying for everything but the meals and hotel rooms in Tallinn themselves.

From the time Lloyd and his quartet (Jarrett, bassist Ron McClure, and drummer Jack DeJohnette) arrived in Tallinn, there was stress and strain. Lloyd heard comments about the step-up in the Vietnam conflict, and at the same time he was not getting consistent information about whether he was to play or not. The comments irritated him because, as he put it, "I was talking about music, which transcends governments. To me, music is supreme."

After an off-again, on-again routine, replete with bureaucratic excuses and cries of scheduling difficulties, Lloyd was asked to do a clinic or a workshop but refused, asking, "When am I going to play for people?" Then he was requested to do a television show, but the "studio" turned out to be the empty festival hall.

"Invite the people and I'll play," Lloyd told his hosts. He asked them if they were perpetuating racial prejudice by way of a prod to find out why he was receiving such weird treatment.

On May 12, the second night of the festival, the group was told they could not go on, five minutes before they were scheduled to hit. There had been no official sanction, they were suddenly told, although the event had been announced in Izvestia, the official Soviet newspaper. Avakian said they were told that it was the decision of an 11-man committee to remove Lloyd from the schedule.

A story Lloyd tells is symbolic of his time in Tallinn. Frustrated, and with lack of something to do, the quartet purchased a basketball and took it to a court in a park. "There was a rusty wire fence that had obviously been there a long time, and people used it to get into the park. We started to really get into the game. Soon four Estonians joined us. There was communication, even though we couldn't understand each other's language. The next day the fence was sewn up with brand new wire."

Finally, on Sunday, May 14, the quartet played and the tremendous impact they made is now history. Lloyd feels that the conditions the Russians have to live under keenly whets their appetites for the kind of free expression he brings forth in his music. "They appreciated my story on a level that is not verbal," he said.

From Tallinn, the party left for Leningrad. After a day of relaxation and museum-going, they were to play the following day at the Trade Union Theater of Film but were locked out. Through the auspices of the Leningrad Jazz Club they finally did play at a cafe, and caught a train to Moscow with only five minutes to spare.

During their three days in Moscow, they dined with the U.S. Ambassador and his wife, played for the U.S. Embassy staff, and sessioned at the Youth Club, where the K. M. Quartet, a local jazz group, plays seven nights a week. Appearing exclusively for members of the Moscow Jazz Club, the Lloyd quartet jammed with Russian musicians, as the multi-talented Jarrett, McClure, and DeJohnette took turns playing each other's instruments.

When their plane landed in London, Lloyd remembered, "Our bodies had arrived but our souls were still someplace else. We had been up for the greater part of 1O days."

The set at Tallinn, which Avakian called "one of the best performances the quartet has ever given," is on tape. There are provisions for its release in the U.S.S.R., and Atlantic Records has the U.S. rights.

"It was hard for me to breathe," says Avakian, describing the eight minutes and 20 seconds of standing ovation. "I had a strong sense of history. My feeling was involved with the young people of the audience. This was the music the young people wanted, not just a tour arranged by officials. My biggest hope is that we've opened a door that will stay open."

On June 1, the Lloyd quartet left on a six-concert tour that took them to London, Amsterdam, Stockholm, a state radio concert in France, the Montreux Festival in Switzerland, and the Bergen Festival - a leading classical festival - in Norway. Other possible bookings at presstime included appearances in Milan and Brussels.