Master Pianist, Visionary, Writer and Producer, James Lloyd Is Full Speed Ahead on his Shanachie Entertainment Debut CD “Here We Go” Featuring Special Guests & Tributes to George Duke and ‘The Queen Of Hip Hop Soul’
“Now feels like the right time for many reasons,” confesses pianist James Lloyd, a legend on the contemporary jazz scene, about the timing of his Shanachie Entertainment debut CD, Here We Go. Lloyd, who has shared the stage with everyone from James Brown to Count Basie, was recently on a plane that was struck by lightning and forced to make an emergency landing. The celebrated pianist shares, “I just turned 50 and realized that each day is a blessing. Tomorrow is not promised to any of us, finishing the rest of this sentence isn’t even promised. Recording my first solo album is something I wanted to complete while I’m still here.” For fans of contemporary jazz, James Lloyd is no stranger. He is a pioneering member of the groundbreaking band Pieces of a Dream (that will be celebrating its 40th anniversary next year) who, like artists John Coltrane, Grover Washington, Jr., Gamble, Huff, Patti Labelle and Teddy Pendergrass all got their start in the “City of Brotherly Love.” The city’s rich musical tradition is the foundation for Lloyd’s expansive creative vision. “I didn’t realize it as much when I was a kid, but Philly had and has a certain vibe spiritually and musically,” confides Lloyd. “I’m a product of all that I have listened to and absorbed. There’s a lot of music floating around in my head, I’m just trying to get it out and hope that it touches some people.”
Shanachie Entertainment’s VP of Jazz A&R, Danny Weiss, comments, “James Lloyd has been the heart and soul of Pieces of a Dream since its inception. This, his first solo release, is a dream come true for James, and it’s an honor for us to help him realize that dream.”
A long time in the making and a labor of love, the creation of Here We Go has been a revealing and positive personal journey for James Lloyd. “I want my fans to hear this CD and experience everything I felt in the process of making this music -the joy, sorrow, hope, reflection, reckless abandon, fun and peace.” Here We Go opens with the joyous, optimistic and uplifting title track. Fusing elements of jazz with gospel, Lloyd’s keys gracefully sail through an enchanting melody and set the tone for a satisfying journey ahead. Long time label-mate, saxophonist and friend, Najee, joins Lloyd on the breezy, hypnotic and feel-good composition “Moving Right Along.” The infectious “Play It Forward,” with an obvious play on the phrase “pay it forward,” delights with its danceable melody and catchy hook. Lloyd definitely pays it forward in more ways than one!
“Music has to breathe. Sometimes space is better than any note you could’ve played,” states James Lloyd, who puts this practice to the test on Here We Go on such memorable ballads as the tender “Granted Wish,” which was penned for James’ wife. “I began this song about twelve years ago and Teresa would often ask me to finish it. One day, I actually did. Here it is!” There is also the pensive “Almost There,” which was written by former Pieces keyboardist, Cherie Mitchell. It is the lone song not written or co-written by Lloyd. “It was originally a vocal, but I loved the song so much that I asked her if I could have it. I interpreted the melody for piano and added a touch of James Lloyd in there, and voila!” The sweat-inducing “No Holds Barred” stays true to its title and delivers a hard-driving hit featuring Lloyd’s longtime friend, saxophonist Gerald Albright. James says, “We were just going for it, digging in like there was no tomorrow.” James and Gerald met when Pieces of a Dream toured as the opening act on Anita Baker’s “Rapture” tour. James recalls, “Gerald was Anita’s bass player and on one song, keyboardist Bobby Lyle covered the bass duties while Gerald played sax. He took a sax solo and killed it! I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this bass player sure can play sax!’”
Another highlight on Here We Go is the high-octane power-funk number “Y-Town, Y-Not?,” written for Lloyd’s now home base, Youngstown, Ohio.
“Over the years, many have asked me why would I move to Youngstown, Ohio. The #1 reason is Teresa (my wife). But really, what’s wrong with Y-Town? Hence the title.” It does not get grittier and funkier than this as Lloyd calls to mind Miles Davis circa 1980s. Lloyd continues to pay homage to Youngstown with the R&B groove “Within Reach,” co-written by a talented Youngstown musician Marcellus Hayes.
Lloyd takes us to the Big Apple next with an ode to “The Queen Of Hip Hop Soul,” Mary J. Blige, called “Much O’Bliged.” Lloyd makes the keys holler on this bluesy R&B swinger. “I used a synth lead in an attempt to ‘sing’ with a keyboard how I envisioned Mary J. would have phrased it. I also wanted to be sure to have something on the CD that I could take my ‘keytar’ into the audience and have fun with.” Here We Go concludes with a fitting tribute to legendary pianist and producer George Duke called “For The Duke In Me.” “I wrote this for my friend, and idol, the late George Duke. I feel this captures one of the many facets of his musical vibe and I kinda wanted to go old-school on this one.”
For some people music is etched in every part of their being. Ray Charles once said “I was born with music inside me…like my ribs, my kidney, my liver, my heart. It was a necessity for me, like food or water.” For James Lloyd music chose him and at an early age it became apparent it would never leave him. By the time he was 16, he had already worked with iconic jazz stars Joe Williams and Count Basie. He also had the opportunity to work with legendary vibraphonist Milt Jackson, who asked the then high school Lloyd and his Pieces of a Dream band members to back him on a 6-month European tour. For better or for worse their plans were thwarted when their parents collectively said no. With a career longevity that is enviable, James Lloyd cites another musical chameleon with a big heart as his main influence. “What I learned from Grover Washington, Jr. is so deeply embedded in me. It is in every part of me every time I play,” shares James who started recording and touring with Grover in addition to working as his pianist at the age of 17.
Despite James Lloyd’s busy touring schedule, he makes time to do many of the things he is passionate about. Lloyd, who holds a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, a green sash in Lama Kung Fu and is trained in Wing Chun Kung Fu, shares, “I enjoy cooking, martial arts, movies, playing Rock Band with my wife, and shooting zombies with my brother. I love watching ‘American Idol’. It’s so refreshing to see the sheer desire and hunger the contestants have just to be on stage and have someone listen to what they have to give. EVERY musician should watch ‘American Idol’. Not to critique, but to learn so that we may forever hold on to that hunger and burning desire to display the gifts we’ve been blessed with.”