Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


LACY, Steve

(b Steven Lackritz, 23 July 1934, NYC; d 4 June 2004, Boston MA) Soprano sax, composer. Began on clarinet, heard Sidney Bechet's '41 record of Duke Ellington's 'The Mooche' and took up soprano, the only modern jazzman to concentrate entirely on the instrument and developing his own rough-edged tone; he probably influenced John Coltrane to take it up. He began playing with dixieland groups: the mysterious and legendary The Complete Jaguar Sessions on Fresco Jazz '86 reissued two 10-inch LPs from '54 by trumpeter Dick Sutton's Sextet with Lacy; Cadence said it illustrates the close tie between traditional and avant-garde, especially in overall sound of the group and Frank Caputo's baritone sax. Lacy gave up other work to study and play with Cecil Taylor '56-7; then with Gil Evans; with Thelonious Monk '60; played on Taylor's In Transition '55 with Buell Neidlinger, drummer Dennis Charles (on Transition, later on Blue Note); own first LP on Prestige '57 with Wynton Kelly, Neidlinger, Charles: Soprano Today (aka Steve Lacy With Wynton Kelly on other labels) included Thelonious Monk's 'Work', and Lacy's interest in Monk's music continued: he played it and returned to it out of love and just to see what happened (finding a similarity with the visual rhythm and proportion of artist Paul Klee); each Lacy visit to Monk was a new listening reward. The albums included Steve Lacy Plays The Music Of Thelonious Monk '58 on Prestige New Jazz, with Neidlinger, Elvin Jones, Mal Waldron (reissue Reflections on Fantasy), with Roswell Rudd (another former revivalist) he played Monk exclusively in NYC '62-5, albums Schooldays '63 on Emanem, Epistrophy '69 on Byg with French sidemen (aka Steve Lacy Plays Monk on Affinity) and Eronel '79 on Italian Horo label (solo soprano); also unissued trio takes '61 for Atlantic and 'Ask Me Now', a duet with Charlie Rouse for two-disc Monk tribute That's The Way I Feel Now '84 on A&M, version of 'Pannonica' on trio set Disposability '65 on Italian Vik label; came back with Only Monk '87 on Soul Note. Other early Lacy albums included The Straight Horn Of Steve Lacy '60 on Candid, Evidence '61 with Don Cherry on Prestige.

He went to Buenos Aires '66 with a quartet (Johnny Dyani on bass, Louis Moholo on drums, Enrico Rava on trumpet); they were stranded there during a time of political turmoil but made The Forest And The Zoo on ESP, one of the first free jazz albums. Back in NYC '67 the USA was having its own political problems; he performed six-part Chinese Food on radio with Swiss-born vocalist Irène Aebi shouting the political parts of the Tao, Richard Teitelbaum on synths (see The Way, below). Lack of work drove him to Rome for three years, then Paris, where he was based from then on. Lacy was able to go from trad to the avant garde without touching any bases in between because he was always his own man, standing on the edge of music in total improvisation, like UK guitarist Derek Bailey or Dutch drummer Han Bennink; recording prolifically on many labels, his labour of love always rewarding musically and finally resulting in increasing fame. He was reunited with Rudd on Trickles '76 on Black Saint. Solo LPs included Lapis '71 on French Saravah label; Solo '72 on Emanem said to be his first-ever solo concert on soprano, reissued '97 on Emanem as Weal And Woe with the quintet playing anti-war 'The Woe'. Stabs/Solo In Berlin on Free Music, Solo At Mandara, Torments (Solo In Kyoto) all '75, the last two made in Japan, on Japanese and French labels respectively; Axieme '75 (two volumes) on Italian Red; Steve Lacy and Chops '76 on Quark, both made in Montreal; Straws '77 on Italian Cramps; Clinkers '77 and Ballets '80 on hat Art labels; Only Monk '85 on Soul Note and The Kiss '86 on Lunatic (made in Japan, also included Monk tunes). He often worked with reedman Steve Potts: Estilhaços -- Live In Lisbon, The Gap (in Paris), Chops (Zurich), The Crust (100 Club in London), Scraps (Paris) and Flakes (Rome), all '72-4; Saxophone Special '74 on Emanem made in London's Wigmore Hall with Bailey, Evan Parker, Trevor Watts and Potts on reeds; on 'Sops' they all played soprano. Other albums on hat Art labels: Stamps '77, Tips and The Way '79 (the latter edition of Chinese Food, by a pianoless quartet with Aebi on violin), Songs '81, four-part composition 'The 4 Edges' by the Steve Lacy Sextet '81, Prospectus '82, all with Potts; trio set Capers '79, duets Herbe de l'oubli, Snake-Out and Let's Call This '81 with Waldron. Others with Potts: Steve Lacy's Dreams '75, The Owl '79, both on Saravah; Raps '77 on Adelphi, Follies Live In Berlin '77 on Free Music, Points '78 on Le Chant du Monde and Troubles '79 on Black Saint; superb Live At Dreher Paris 1981: 'Round Midnight Vol. 1 on hat Art has two CDs of duets with Waldron.

He continued making a lot of albums on various small European labels. He contributed 'Roma' to Amarcord Nino Rota LP '81 on Hannibal; played with Bailey's group Company on LPs Company 4 '76 (duo), 5 '77 (with septet), both on Ictus. Also Chirps '85 on SAJ (duo with Evan Parker), sextet The Condor '85 on Soul Note, overdubbed Outings '86 on Izmez, Hocus Pocus '86 on Himalaya; duos Deadline '85 on sound aspects with Ulrich Gumpert. Sempre Amore '86 on Soul Note with Waldron (a revealing set of tunes by Ellington/Strayhorn); One Fell Swoop by a Lacy quartet with Charles Tyler and sextet The Gleam '86 were both on Silkheart; Momentum '87 on RCA's Novus had the sextet of Potts, Aebi (who plays cello as well as violin and vocalizing), pianist Bobby Few (b 21 October 1935; d 6 January 2021, Paris), bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel, drummer Oliver Johnson; The Door on Novus was instrumental, included George Handy's 'Forgetful' (a duet with Few) first recorded by Boyd Raeburn '45, as well as tunes by Monk, Ellington, Strayhorn, and Lacy originals. Anthem, Hot House (with Waldron) and Live At Sweet Basil were further Lacy CDs on Novus; Three Blokes on FMP had Lol Coxhill, Evan Parker and Lacy. Revenue '93 on Soul Note was made in Milan with Potts, Avenel, John Betsch on drums; Actuality '95 on Cavity Search was a new solo album; Five Facings '96 on FMP was a sextet including Marilyn Crispell and Misha Mengelberg. There were an incredible 100 Lacy releases and reissues reviewed in Cadence '76-95; the wonder is not that he made so many records but that they were of such a consistently high standard.