Maria Farantouri, Charles Lloyd join forces

Years ago, the doyenne of Greek song, Maria Farantouri, whispered a few folk melodies into Charles Lloyd’s ear. Ever since, the jazz legend has been interested in learning more about Greek traditional music and has even improvised on some of the tunes that Farantouri has made famous all around the world. These two great artists will be coming together on stage at the open-air Roman-era Herod Atticus Theater on Friday as part of the Athens Festival. The program will include highlights such as Lloyd’s landmark 1967 «Forest Flower,» new work by the composer and saxophone player, a smattering of ballads and a few Greek themes. For Farantouri, appearing on stage with Lloyd is a breath of fresh air «in the oppressive climate of the times.» She aims to stay positive about the Greek predicament, however, because she believes that crises normally yield new things – something she ought to know about, as she built an international reputation singing protest songs against the Greek military junta in the mid-1970s. «Everyone feels numb. Abroad and even more so here,» says the Greek singer. «Who can think about concerts in the middle of a crisis? Everyone is slashing expenses. Even [Giorgos] Loukos [artistic director of the Greek Festival] and the festival are having to adapt. So are artists. I am getting very little money for the concert with Lloyd; the money is going to the guest musicians. Of, course, they are worth it: pianist Jason Moran, bass player Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland.» Farantouri explains how she met Lloyd in Santa Barbara, California, in 2002 during a tour of American universities. Lloyd was acquainted with a Greek businessman who had helped fund some of his concerts. «He came down from the farm where he lives in near seclusion; he came to the concert and by the end we had a spiritual connection. I had learned everything about him from the other musicians at the concert and that he was a great saxophonist, equal to Miles Davis and John Coltrane.» Farantouri narrates Lloyd’s story from his childhood days in the late 1930s and 40s in Memphis, Tennessee, as she knows it. «He grew up in a brothel and as a boy he would sit in the lounge and listen to the radio. He came to know all the great trombone players and fell in love with the sound. His story is something else. It is not just interesting for the way he grew up but also for the people he met along the way. He has played with Jimi Hendrix and supported Keith Jarrett; he is a scion of jazz. From the age of 9, when he got his first saxophone, he stood out. By age 11 he was playing with great Memphis bluesmen and later with jazz bands. He went through a rough patch with drugs and alcohol, with which he became involved through his first wife, and then he was saved by his second wife, Dorothy [Darr], a Jewish painter who saw the spirituality of his music.» Lloyd found a new well of inspiration in Europe in the 1970s and 80s, when the jazz scene began to dry up in the United States and artists moved across the Atlantic to France, the UK and Italy. «His interest in the traditions of other countries was awakened on his travels,» explains Farantouri. «He wasn’t looking for a jazz singer, though. When he heard me sing at UC Santa Barbara, what caught his attention was the folk song ‘Yianni mou to mantili sou’ and Mikis Theodorakis’s ‘Kratisa ti zoi mou.’ He didn’t know anything about Byzantine music and was enthralled. He also found a lot in common between his roots and mine. For example, he was very impressed by the fact that we improvise a lot in Greek folk music.» Farantouri went on to play with Lloyd as a guest singer at a number of his appearances in Greece and also in Germany at a jazz festival. Tickets can be purchased at the Greek Festival’s box offices (Herod Atticus Theater from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. & 6-9 p.m.; 39 Panepistimiou, Pezmazoglou Arcade, 8.30 a.m. – 4 p.m.), online (up to 2 p.m. on the day of the performance) at and by phone (also by 2 p.m.) on 210.327.2000.