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Steve Lacy (saxophonist)

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Steve Lacy
Lacy in 1976
Lacy in 1976
Background information
Birth nameSteven Norman Lackritz
Born(1934-07-23)July 23, 1934
New York City, U.S.
DiedJune 4, 2004(2004-06-04) (aged 69)
GenresJazz, dixieland, avant-garde jazz
Instrument(s)Soprano saxophone
Formerly ofRed Allen, Pee Wee Russell, Pops Foster, Thelonious Monk, Mal Waldron, Roswell Rudd, Cecil Taylor, Michail Bezverkhni

Steve Lacy (born Steven Norman Lackritz; July 23, 1934 – June 4, 2004) was an American jazz saxophonist and composer recognized as one of the important players of soprano saxophone.[1] Coming to prominence in the 1950s as a progressive dixieland musician, Lacy went on to a long and prolific career. He worked extensively in experimental jazz and to a lesser extent in free improvisation, but Lacy's music was typically melodic and tightly-structured. Lacy also became a highly distinctive composer, with compositions often built out of little more than a single questioning phrase, repeated several times.

The music of Thelonious Monk became a permanent part of Lacy's repertoire after a stint in the pianist's band, with Monk's works appearing on virtually every Lacy album and concert program; Lacy often partnered with trombonist Roswell Rudd in exploring Monk's work. Beyond Monk, Lacy performed the work of jazz composers such as Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington and Herbie Nichols; unlike many jazz musicians he rarely played standard popular or show tunes.

Early life and career[edit]

Lacy began his career at sixteen playing Dixieland music with much older musicians such as Henry "Red" Allen, Pee Wee Russell, George "Pops" Foster and Zutty Singleton and then with Kansas City jazz players like Buck Clayton, Dicky Wells, and Jimmy Rushing.[1] He then became involved with the avant-garde, performing on Jazz Advance (1956), the debut album of Cecil Taylor,[2]: 55  and appearing with Taylor's groundbreaking quartet at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival; he also made a notable appearance on an early Gil Evans album.[1] His most enduring relationship, however, was with the music of Thelonious Monk: he recorded the first album to feature only Monk compositions (Reflections, Prestige, 1958) and briefly played in Monk's band in 1960[3]: 241  and later on Monk's Big Band and Quartet in Concert album (Columbia, 1963).

Europe and sextet[edit]

Lacy's first visit to Europe came in 1965, with a visit to Copenhagen in the company of Kenny Drew; he went to Italy and formed a quartet with Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava[1] and the South African musicians Johnny Dyani and Louis Moholo (their visit to Buenos Aires is documented on The Forest and the Zoo, ESP, 1967). After a brief return to New York, he returned to Italy, then in 1970 moved to Paris, where he lived until the last two years of his life. He became a widely respected figure on the European jazz scene, though he remained less well known in the U.S.

The core of Lacy's activities from the 1970s to the 1990s was his sextet: his wife, singer/violinist Irene Aebi,[2]: 272  soprano/alto saxophonist Steve Potts,[4] pianist Bobby Few, bassist Jean-Jacques Avenel, and drummer Oliver Johnson (later John Betsch).[1] Sometimes this group was scaled up to a large ensemble (e.g. Vespers, Soul Note, 1993, which added Ricky Ford on tenor sax and Tom Varner on French horn), sometimes pared down to a quartet, trio, or even a two-saxophone duo. He played duos with pianist Eric Watson. Lacy also, beginning in the 1970s, became a specialist in solo saxophone; he ranks with Sonny Rollins, Anthony Braxton, Evan Parker, and Lol Coxhill in the development of this demanding form of improvisation.

Lacy was interested in all the arts: the visual arts and poetry in particular became important sources for him.[1] Collaborating with painters and dancers in multimedia projects, he made musical settings of his favourite writers: Robert Creeley, Samuel Beckett, Tom Raworth, Taslima Nasrin, Herman Melville, Brion Gysin and other Beat writers, including settings for the Tao Te Ching and haiku poetry. As Creeley noted in the Poetry Project Newsletter, "There's no way simply to make clear how particular Steve Lacy was to poets or how much he can now teach them by fact of his own practice and example. No one was ever more generous or perceptive."

Later career[edit]

In 1992, he was the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship (nicknamed the "genius grant").[4][5]

He also collaborated with a wide range of musicians, from traditional jazz to the avant-garde to contemporary classical music. Outside of his regular sextet, his most regular collaborator was pianist Mal Waldron,[3]: 244–245  with whom he recorded a number of duet albums[4] (notably Sempre Amore, a collection of Ellington/Strayhorn material, Soul Note, 1987).

Lacy played his 'farewell concerts to Europe' in Belgium, in duo and solo, for a small but motivated public. This happened in Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, Bruges and Mons. In duo he played with Fred Van Hove, Joëlle Léandre, Mikhail Bezverkhni, Irène Aebi, Frederic Rzewski, Christopher Culpo and the dancer Shiro Daimon. This recollection is published by Naked Music, Afkikker, Ghent. In Ghent he played with the classical violinist Mikhail Bezverkhni, winner of Queen Elisabeth Concours. Two of these concerts were organized by Rita De Vuyst, his last muse in Europe, to whom he dedicated his solo CD Mother Goose solo @ afkikker. This CD is published within the book, Bone, a tribute to Lacy. He returned to the United States in 2002, where he began teaching at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. One of his last public performances was in front of 25,000 people at the close of a peace rally on Boston Common in March 2003, shortly before the US-led invasion of Iraq.

After Lacy was diagnosed with liver cancer in August 2003, he continued playing and teaching until weeks before his death on June 4, 2004, at the age of 69.[1]


As leader/co-leader[edit]

Recording date Title Label Year released Notes
1957-11 Soprano Sax Prestige 1957
1958-10 Reflections Prestige 1959
1960-11 The Straight Horn of Steve Lacy Candid 1961
1961-11 Evidence New Jazz 1962
1963-03 School Days with Roswell Rudd Emanem 1975 Live
1965-12 Disposability Vik 1966
1966-01 Jazz Realities with Carla Bley and Michael Mantler Fontana 1966
1966-02 Sortie GTA 1966
1966-10 The Forest and the Zoo ESP-Disk 1967 Live
1969-06 Roba as Steve Lacy Gang Saravah 1972 Live
1969-09 Moon BYG Actuel 1969
1969-09 Epistrophy BYG Actuel 1969
1971-01 Wordless Futura 1971 Live
1971-09 Lapis Saravah 1971
1972-02 Estilhacos: Live in Lisbon Guilda Da Música 1972 Live
1972-05 The Gap America 1972
1972-08 Solo - Théâtre Du Chêne Noir Emanem 1974 Live
Weal & Woe Emanem 1974 Partially live (1972-08)
1973-04 Flaps with Franz Koglmann Pipe 1973
1973-07 The Crust Emanem 1975 Live
1974-02 Scraps Saravah 1974
1974-05 Flakes RCA 1974
1974-09 Lumps with Michel Waisvisz, Han Bennink, Maarten van Regteren Altena Instant Composers Pool 1978
1974-12 Saxophone Special Emanem 1974 Live
1975-05 Dreams Saravah 1975
1975-06 Stalks Nippon Columbia 1975
1975-06 Solo at Mandara ALM 1975
1975-06 Torments: Solo in Kyoto Morgue 1979
1975-06 The Wire Denon Jazz 1977
1975-06 Distant Voices with Masayuki Takayanagi and Takehisa Kosugi Nippon Columbia 1976
1975-09 Axieme Red 1975
Stabs FMP 1975
1976-02 Clangs with Andrea Centazzo Ictus 1976 Live
1976-03 Trickles Black Saint 1976
Crops & The Woe Quark Records & Books 1979 Partially live (1976-03)
1976-03 Hooky Emanem 2000
1976-05 Snips: Live at Environ Jazz Magnet 2000 [2CD] Live
1976-09 Sidelines Improvising Artists 1977
1976-11 Straws strange days 1977
1976-12 Trio Live Ictus 1977 Live
1977-01 Raps Adelphi 1977
1977-04 Follies FMP 1978 Live
1977-05 Threads Horo 1977
1977-06 Clinkers HatHut 1978 Live
1977-09 Catch Horo 1977
1977-10 Shots Musica 1977
1977 The Owl Saravah 1979
Stamps HatHut 1979 Live
1978-02 Points Le Chant Du Monde 1978
1979-01 The Way hat Hut 1980
1979-02 Eronel Horo 1979
1979-05 Troubles Black Saint 1979
1979-10 Duet with Walter Zuber Armstrong
also released as Alter Ego
World Artists 1979
1979-10 Call Notes with Walter Zuber Armstrong World Artists 1980
1979-12 Capers
also released as N.Y. Capers & Quirks
hat Hut 1981 Live
1979-12 Tips hat Hut 1981
1981-01 Songs with Brion Gysin hat ART 1981
Ballets hat ART 1982
1982-01 The Flame Black Saint 1982
1982-06 Regeneration with Roswell Rudd, Misha Mengelberg et al. Soul Note 1983
1982-11 Prospectus hat ART 1983 Live
1983-02 Blinks hat ART 1984 Live
1984-07 Change of Season with Misha Mengelberg, Han Bennink et al. Soul Note 1985
Futurities Hat Hut 1985 [2LP]
1985-03 Deadline with Ulrich Gumpert Sound Aspects 1987 Live
1985-06 The Condor Soul Note 1986
1985-07 Chirps with Evan Parker FMP 1986 Live
1985-07 Only Monk Soul Note 1987
1985-12 Steve Lacy Solo In Situ 1991
1986-02 Morning Joy hat ART 1989 Live
1986-05 Solo Egg Farm 1986
1986-05 The Kiss Lunatic 1987 Live
1986-06 One Fell Swoop Silkheart 1987
Outings Ismez 1986
1986? Hocus-Pocus Les Disques Du Crépuscule 1986
1986-07 The Gleam Silkheart 1987
1986-12 Flim-Flam with Steve Potts hat ART 1991
1987-03 Dutch Masters with Misha Mengelberg, Han Bennink, George E. Lewis, Ernst Reijseger Soul Note 1992
1987-04 Explorations with Subroto Roy Chowdury Jazzpoint 1987
1987-05 Momentum RCA Novus 1987
1987-07 The Window RCA Novus 1988
1987-10 Live in Budapest with Steve Potts West Wind 1988 Live
1987-10 Image with Steve Argüelles Ah Um 1989
1987-11 The Amiens Concert with Eric Watson and John Lindberg Amiens 1987 Live
Paris Blues with Gil Evans Owl 1987
1988-07 The Door RCA Novus 1989
1989-04 More Monk Soul Note 1991
Rushes: Ten Songs from Russia New Sound Planet 1990
1990-06 Anthem RCA Novus 1990
1990-11 Itinerary hat ART 1991 Live
1991-04 Remains hat ART 1992
1991-07 Live at Sweet Basil RCA Novus 1992 Live
1991-12 Spirit of Mingus Freelance 1992 Live
1992-03 Clangs hat ART 1993 Live
1993-09 We See hat ART 1993 Live
1992-09 Three Blokes with Evan Parker and Lol Coxhill FMP 1994 Live
1993-02 Revenue Soul Note 1993
1993-07 Vespers Soul Note 1993
1994-01 The Rendezvous with Barry Wedgle Exit 1995
1994-03 5 x Monk 5 x Lacy Silkheart 1997 Live
1995-03 Packet with Irene Aebi, Frederic Rzewski Naxos 1995
1995-04 Actuality Cavity Search 1995
1995-06 The Joan Miró Foundation Concert with Irene Aebi Nova Era 1999 Live
1995-09 Eternal Duo '95 with Masahiko Togashi Take One 1996 Live
1995-09 Blues for Aida Egg Farm 1996 [2CD] Live
1996-03 Bye-Ya Freelance 1996
1996-04 Five Facings FMP 1996 Live
1997-11 Live at Unity Temple Wobbly Rail 1998 Live
1997-11 The Rent Cavity Search 1999 [2CD] Live
1998-03 The Cry Soul Note 1999
1998-07 Sands Tzadik 1998
1999-06 Monk's Dream Verve 2000
2000-10 10 of Dukes & 6 Originals Senators 2002 Live
2000-10 Apices with Masahiko Togashi and Masahiko Satoh Studio Songs 2002 Live
2001-08 Best Wishes: Live at The Labirinti Sonori Festival 2001 Labirinti Sonori 2001 Live
2001-09 Dummy - Steve Lacy Meets the Riccardo Fassi Trio Splasc(H) Records 2002
2001-09 Materioso (Monk's Moods) Onyx JazzClub 2003 Live
The Holy La Free Lance 2002
2001-10 Mother Goose, solo@afkikker in Bone: a tribute to Steve Lacy Gent 2003 [CD attached in book] Live
2001-12 The Beat Suite Universal Music Jazz France 2003
2002-05 Work with Anthony Cox、Daniel Humair Sawano 2003
2002-07 One More Time with Joëlle Léandre Leo 2005 Live
Leaves Blossoms Naked Music 2005 Live
2002-12 New Jazz Meeting Baden-Baden 2002 hatOLOGY 2003 [2CD] Live
2003-11 November Intakt 2010 Live
2004-03 Last Tour Emanem 2015 Live


  • Scratching the Seventies/Dreams (Saravah, 1996)
  • Associates (Musica Jazz, 1996)
  • Opium with Bill Dixon, Franz Koglmann (Between The Lines, 2001) – rec. 1973-76; compiles tracks from the Koglmann/Lacy album Flaps (Pipe, 1973) and the Koglmann/Dixon album Opium for Franz (Pipe, 1977)
  • The Complete Whitey Mitchell Sessions (Lone Hill Jazz, 2004) – rec. 1956
  • Tao with Andrea Centazzo (Ictus, 2006) – rec. 1976-84
  • Early and Late with Roswell Rudd (Cuneiform, 2007) – rec. 1962, 1999, 2002
  • The Sun (Emanem, 2012)
  • Avignon And After Volume 1 (Emanem, 2012)
  • Avignon And After Volume 2 (Emanem, 2014)

With Mal Waldron[edit]

As sideman[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Steve Lacy | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved July 29, 2021.
  2. ^ a b Wilmer, Val (1977). As Serious as your Life. Quartet. ISBN 0704331640.
  3. ^ a b Litweiler, John (1984). The Freedom Principle: Jazz after 1958. Da Capo Press. ISBN 9780306803772.
  4. ^ a b c Fordham, John (June 10, 2004). "Steve Lacy". The Guardian. Retrieved January 25, 2017.
  5. ^ The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. "MacArthur Fellows July 1992". Archived from the original on January 16, 2011. Retrieved June 2, 2007.

External links[edit]