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, New York, U.S.
DiedJune 4, 2004(2004-06-04) (aged 69)
GenresJazz, dixieland, avant-garde jazz
InstrumentsSoprano saxophone
Associated actsRed Allen, Pee Wee Russell, Pops Foster, Thelonious Monk, Mal Waldron, Roswell Rudd, Cecil Taylor, Michail Bezverkhni

Steve Lacy (July 23, 1934 – June 4, 2004), born Steven Norman Lackritz in New York City, 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 songs 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, Irene Aibe, Frederic Rzewski 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]

  • The Complete Whitey Mitchell Sessions (Lone Hill Jazz, 1956 [2004])
  • Soprano Sax (Prestige, 1957)
  • Reflections (Prestige, 1958 [1959])
  • The Straight Horn of Steve Lacy (Candid, 1960 [1961])
  • Evidence (New Jazz, 1961 [1962])
  • School Days, with Roswell Rudd (Emanem, 1963 [1975])
  • Disposability (Vik, 1965)
  • Jazz Realities, with Carla Bley and Michael Mantler (1966)
  • Sortie (GTA, 1966)
  • The Forest and the Zoo (ESP-Disk, 1966 [1967])
  • Roba, as Steve Lacy Gang (Saravah, 1969)
  • Moon (BYG Actuel, 1969)
  • Epistrophy (BYG Actuel, 1969)
  • Wordless (Futura, 1971)
  • Lapis (Saravah, 1971)
  • The Gap (America, 1972)
  • Solo - Théâtre Du Chêne Noir (Emanem, 1972 [1974])
  • Live in Lisbon: Estilhacos (Guilda Da Música, 1972)
  • Weal & Woe (Emanem, 1972-73)
  • Flaps, with Franz Koglmann (Pipe, 1973)
  • The Crust (Emanem, 1973 [1975])
  • Scraps (Saravah, 1974)
  • Flakes (RCA, 1974)
  • Lumps, with Michel Waisvisz, Han Bennink, Maarten van Regteren Altena (Instant Composers Pool, 1974 [1978])
  • Saxophone Special (Emanem, 1974)
  • Straws (strange days, 1975)
  • Dreams (Saravah, 1975)
  • Stalks (Nippon Columbia, 1975)
  • Solo at Mandara (ALM, 1975)
  • Torments (Morgue, 1975 [1979])
  • The Wire (Denon Jazz, 1975 [1977])
  • Distant Voices with Masayuki Takayanagi and Takehisa Kosugi (Nippon Columbia, 1975 [1976])
  • Axieme (Red, 1975)
  • Stabs (FMP, 1975)
  • Clangs, with Andrea Centazzo (Ictus, 1976)
  • Trickles (Black Saint, 1976)
  • Hooky (Emanem, 1976 [2000])
  • Crops & The Woe (Quark Records & Books, 1973, 1976 [1979])
  • Opium for Franz, with Bill Dixon, Franz Koglmann (Between The Lines, 1973-1976 [2001])
  • Sidelines (1977, Improvising Artists)
  • Company, vol. 4, with Derek Bailey (1976)
  • Trio Live (Ictus, 1976)
  • Raps (Adelphi, 1977)
  • Follies (FMP, 1977 [1978])
  • Threads (1977, Horo)
  • Clinkers (HatHut, 1977 [1978])
  • Stamps (HatHut, 1977-78 [1979])
  • Catch (Horo, 1977)
  • The Owl (Saravah, 1977)
  • Shots (Musica, 1977)
  • Points (Le Chant Du Monde, 1978)
  • The Way (hat Hut, 1979 [1980])
  • Eronel (1979, Horo)
  • Troubles (Black Saint, 1979)
  • Duet, with Walter Zuber Armstrong (World Artists, 1979)
  • Call Notes, with Walter Zuber Armstrong (World Artists, 1979 [1980])
  • Capers (hat Hut, 1979 [1981]) - also released as N.Y.Capers and N.Y. Capers & Quirks
  • Tips (hat Hut, 1981)
  • Songs (hat ART, 1981), with Brion Gysin
  • Ballets (ha Hut, 1982)
  • The Flame (Black Saint, 1982)
  • Prospectus (hat ART, 1982 [1983])
  • Regeneration, with Roswell Rudd, Misha Mengelberg et al. – (1983)
  • Change of Season, with Misha Mengelberg, Han Bennink et al. – (1984)
  • Blinks (hat ART, 1984)
  • Tao with Andrea Centazzo (Ictus, 1976, 1984 [2006])
  • Futurities (Hat Hut, 1985)
  • Deadline (Sound Aspects, 1985 [1987]) with Ulrich Gumpert
  • The Condor (Soul Note, 1985 [1986])
  • Chirps (FMP, 1985 [1986])
  • Only Monk (Soul Note, 1985 [1987])
  • Steve Lacy Solo (In Situ, 1985 [1991])
  • Morning Joy (hat ART, 1986 [1990])
  • Outings (Ismez, 1986)
  • Hocus-Pocus (Les Disques Du Crépuscule, 1986)
  • Solo (Egg Farm, 1986)
  • The Kiss (Lunatic, 1987)
  • One Fell Swoop (Silkheart, 1987)
  • The Gleam (Silkheart, 1987)
  • Dutch Masters, with Misha Mengelberg, Han Bennink, George Lewis, Ernst Reijseger (1987)
  • Explorations, with Subroto Roy Chowdury (Jazzpoint, 1987)
  • Momentum (RCA Novus, 1987)
  • The Window (RCA Novus, 1987 [1988])
  • Live in Budapest (West Wind, 1987 [1988]) with Steve Potts
  • Image (Ah Um, 1987 [1989])
  • The Amiens Concert (Amiens, 1987) with Eric Watson and John Lindberg
  • Paris Blues with Gil Evans (Owl, 1987)
  • The Cry (Soul Note, 1988 [1999])
  • The Door (RCA Novus, 1989)
  • More Monk (Soul Note, 1989 [1991])
  • Anthem (RCA Novus, 1990)
  • Rushes: Ten Songs from Russia (New Sound Planet, 1990)
  • Flim-Flam (hat ART, 1986 [1991]) with Steve Potts
  • Itinerary (hat ART, 1991)
  • Remains (hat ART, 1992)
  • Live at Sweet Basil (RCA Novus, 1992)
  • Spirit of Mingus (Freelance, 1992)
  • Clangs (hat ART, 1993)
  • We See (hat ART, 1993)
  • Three Blokes (FMP, 1992 [1994]) with Evan Parker and Lol Coxhill
  • Revenue (Soul Note, 1993)
  • Vespers (Soul Note, 1993)
  • The Rendezvous (Exit, 1994 [1995]) with Barry Wedgle
  • 5 x Monk 5 x Lacy (Silkheart, 1997)
  • Packet (New Albion, 1995) with Irene Aebi, Frederic Rzewski
  • Actuality (Cavity Search, 1995)
  • The Joan Miró Foundation Concert (Nova Era, 1995 [1999]) with Irene Aebi
  • Eternal Duo '95 (Take One, 1995 [1996]) with Masahiko Togashi
  • Blues for Aida (Egg Farm, 1995 [1996])
  • Bye-Ya (Freelance, 1996)
  • Five Facings (FMP, 1996)
  • Live at Unity Temple (Wobbly Rail, 1997 [1998])
  • The Rent (Cavity Search, 1997 [1999])
  • Sands (Tzadik, 1998)
  • Monk's Dream (Verve, 1999 [2000])
  • Snips (2000)
  • 10 of Dukes & 6 Originals (Senators, 2000 [2002])
  • Apices (Studio Songs, 2000 [2002]) with Masahiko Togashi and Masahiko Satoh
  • Best Wishes: Live At The Labirinti Sonori Festival 2001 (Labirinti Sonori, 2001)
  • Materioso (Monk's Moods) (Onyx JazzClub, 2001 [2003])
  • The Holy La (Free Lance, 1998 & 2001 [2002])
  • Mother Goose, solo@afkikker (2001) Bone : a tribute to Steve Lacy, Gent, Belgium, [2003] - CD attached in book
  • The Beat Suite (Universal Music Jazz France, 2001 [2003])
  • Early and Late, with Roswell Rudd (Cuneiform, 1962, 1999, 2002 [2007])
  • Work (Sawano, 2002 [2003]) with Anthony Cox、Daniel Humair
  • One More Time (Leo, 2002 [2005]) with Joëlle Léandre
  • Blossoms, farewell to Europe, 2002, Naked Music, Afkikker
  • New Jazz Meeting Baden-Baden 2002 (hatOLOGY, 2002 [2003])
  • November (Intakt, 2003 [2010])
  • Last Tour (Emanem, 2004 [2015])


  • Scratching the Seventies/Dreams (Saravah, 1996)
  • Associates (Musica Jazz, 1996)
  • The Sun (Emanem, 2012)
  • Avignon And After Volume 1 (Emanem, 2012)
  • Avignon And After Volume 2 (Emanem, 2014)
  • Blossoms, farewell concerts to Europe, Naked Music, Afkikker

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 (10 June 2004). "Steve Lacy". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 January 2017.
  5. ^ The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. "MacArthur Fellows July 1992". Archived from the original on 2011-01-16. Retrieved 2007-06-02.

External links[edit]