Steve Lacy: Conversations by Jason Weiss

Editor (and contributing interviewer) Jason Weiss does a fine job compiling the interviews with Steve Lacy that make up the largest part of this book, the most comprehensive print treatment of the late soprano saxophonist’s legacy I’ve seen. The conversations are presented in chronological order, beginning in 1959 (less than a decade after Lacy first picked up the soprano, and a scant few years after he’d set aside his first musical love, Dixieland, for modernism) and ending just a few months before his death in 2004. Each of the various interviewers has a particular point of view or agenda. Each incites Lacy accordingly. Some emphasize Lacy’s relationship with visual art or dance. Others focus on his musical associations, especially with Cecil Taylor and Thelonious Monk. Lacy improvises on the recurring conversational themes, examining the influence of a Taylor or a Monk or a Brion Gysin from a different angle each time. In the process he adds new understanding to how we perceive his development.

The book’s second part consists of several short writings by Lacy, many previously unpublished. Part Three includes reproductions of three autograph scores, which help answer the sort of questions that interviewers typically neglect to ask. A short biographical section completes the package.

A book built around a collection of 34 discrete interviews with a single artist is bound to contain some redundancies. This does. It is, nevertheless, a more-than-worthwhile read, thanks largely to Lacy’s lifelong intellectual curiosity and gift for expression. This will appeal to those with a strong interest in Lacy’s music. It will also appeal to jazz lovers who crave insight on the creative process from the player’s perspective.