Jazz musicians love Steve Lacy.
Lee Konitz: "For as long as I can remember, Steve Lacy has represented the
sound of the soprano saxophone. Influenced by Sydney Bechet, he went on to
influence every soprano player thereafter. His music has always been very
personal (and that still is the name of the game!) and, always looking for
new ways to put things together."
Joe Lovano: "Steve Lacy is one of the most consistently creative
improvisers in jazz, a true master of music, as a saxophonist he sends me
to the woodshed every time I hear him."
Born Steven Lackritz in New York, New York on July 23, 1934, Steve
Lacy has become one of the great soprano saxophonists of all time, on a
short list that includes Sidney Bechet, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter and
In 1994, Lacy wrote an essay about his music entitled "Steve Lacy's
Findings: My Experience With the Soprano Saxophone." In the section
entitled "View From the Brink," he wrote: there are two different kinds of
jazz: offensive and defensive. If they are well played, they are both 'on
the brink,' due to the spontaneous nature and individual character of this
"I began defensively, 1950, New Orleans style, all the old numbers; then my
teacher, Cecil Scott, invited me to sit in when he played with such New
Orleans masters as 'Red' Allen, 'Pops' Foster, and 'Zutty' Singleton. Soon
I found myself working alongside these great musicians, as well as many
others from Kansas City (Buck Clayton, 'Dicky' Wells and Jimmy Rushing),
New York/Washington (Willie 'The Lion' Smith and 'Sonny' Greer), etc.
Little I knew at that time, I was constanly 'out there,' on the brink,
learning as I went along."
"Pretty soon, Cecil Taylor 'discovered' me and I 'discovered' his music.
Playing with Cecil Taylor immediately put me into the offensive mode. This
was the avant-tout garde; we were an attack quartet, (sometimes quintet or
trio), playing original, dangerously threatening music that most people
(musicians, organizers, club-owners,
and critics) were offended by, doing everything they could to hold us back
and prevent us from getting work. In the six years I worked with Cecil
Taylor (1953-59), I received an excellent education, not only in Jazz, but
also in politics and strategy."
"Later when I worked with Gil Evans and Thelonious Monk, I was constantly
beyond my depth, sometimes lost and always playing only what I could, on my
instrument, the soprano sax, itself being an instrument 'on the brink'. It
was completely in disuse when I began. Nobody could teach it to me really,
and nobody could tell me what, or how to play on it."
"In the '60s, we all went into revolutionary mode, and abandoned all
precepts (melody, harmony, rhythm and form), taking the music to the brink
of destruction, and afterwards returning to completely refreshed
traditional limits (melody, harmony, rhythm and form), but not defensively,
only driven by the search for freedom, independence (interdependence
really, Jazz being collective) and creative invention, no defense being
"Not everyone, of course, likes to live 'on the edge' like that, and there
have been very great defensive players, but the musicians that have made
the music really move and grow have all been masters of 'brinkmanship.'
Some like it hot."
Although his premier influence was Bechet, Lacy does not sound like him
when he plays soprano saxophone. The soprano is a notoriously treacherous
instrument, hard to play in tune; Bechet met this problem with a wide
vibrato that quavered over intonation problems. Lacy, on the other hand,
met it head on, developing a crystalline, vibratoless tone and staying in
tune by adjustments now made automatically, but developed by arduous work.
In the early Sixties he co-led a quartet with trombonist Roswell Rudd that
played nothing but Monk tunes; more, in fact, than Monk himself was playing
with his own quartet. He has recorded many albums of Monk compositions,
including several on unaccompanied soprano saxophone. In addition to his
Monkish activity he has developed into a noteworthy composer. Today, Steve
Lacy is a master of virtually any style, from free to Dixieland and back