Over images of a young boy playing the accordion in a home movie from 1940’s America, a radio host comments on the trial that was to ruin Lloyd Miller´s life decades later in the Eighties – for charges he was innocent of.
The images of the young boy are quickly replaced with images of an Iranian TV show from the 1970’s, where a sharply dressed man named Kurosh Ali Khan is being interviewed in Farsi about his musical creation, Oriental Jazz. Music kicks in, and now we see the man presented in a video, much younger, playing the santur, a Persian instrument, accompanied by jazz. A voice begins to narrate, in the third person, the story of Kurosh, an American man who is forced by political circumstances to leave the country he’s considered his only real home for seven years. He is on his way back to America, leaving his life as a famous TV host behind him. As the voice takes us through Kurosh’s last walk through Tehran’s international airport, we see the younger man switch to playing the piano, and then the tambur.
The young boy playing the accordion, the man playing the various instruments, and Kurosh Ali Khan are all the same person - Lloyd Miller - who is also the old man reading to us from his memoirs, ‘Sufi, Saint and Swinger’, from the armchair of his living room. This story, Lloyd tells us, intertwined with his original compositions and impressive archive collection, is one of a man becoming a music virtuoso like no other, finding fame and recognition in 1970’s Iran, and who on return to his home country America, found himself to be a target of the hatred spurred by the Iranian revolution
But why is Lloyd narrating his own story in the third person? Because the traumatic events from his teen years, during which his parents sent him to a mental institution, left him wondering if he was still alive. He painfully relives his past, using the third person to detach himself from the memories, describing the shock treatments and insulin coma therapies, which led him to forget who he was. He tells us that because of his burned out brain, he never completed high school. His father went on to take a job as financial advisor to the Shah of Iran, and before the trip, his parents take him to a Mormon bishop, who hypnotizes Lloyd and informs him he will travel to a faraway land and become a successful musician, mixing Oriental music with jazz. And that’s when his Oriental Jazz journey begins.
Lloyd’s story seems stranger than fiction, and the archive film reel from a distant Iran in the 1970’s, with heavily made up women wearing their hair loose, dancing to jazz on national television, makes the story even stranger. Did it actually happen? Does Lloyd really exist? And is Lloyd’s ambitious mother Maxine really the evil influence that set Lloyd’s life on a tragic path from the start? “Sufi, Saint & Swinger” is the tragic story of a man’s unique musical talent affected and conditioned by the culture, politics, and expectations of American society from the 1950’s. It is also Lloyd’s last chance to be heard, and to be allowed to exist again.