Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Steve Lacy Dies

Steve Lacy, a highly accomplished saxophonist and early member of the free-jazz school that also included pianist Cecil Taylor, died June 4 in Boston from cancer. He was 69.

Born on July 23, 1934 in New York, N.Y., Lacy is considered to be one of the great soprano saxophonists of all time. Originally a clarinet player, Lacy switched to the saxophone after hearing soprano player Sidney Bechet’s recording of “The Mooche.” During his teenage years, Lacy was schooled by artists like Pee Wee Russell, Hot Lips Page, Rex Stewart, Buck Clayton, Jimmy Rushing, Dicky Wells, Walter Page and Jimmy Giuffre.

Lacy’s debut recording was on a Dixieland album with Dick Sutton in 1954, however by 1955 Lacy had abandoned traditional styles for that of free jazz. Lacy spent 1955 to 1957 playing the new avant-garde music with pianist Cecil Taylor. The pair recorded and performed together at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival. It was Taylor who took Lacy to see pianist Thelonious Monk in 1955. Inspired by Monk’s unique music, Lacy decided to start a group that would play nothing but Monk, and in 1958 he and pianist Mal Waldron recorded Reflections, an album that has the distinction of being the first Monk recording made without Monk himself.

After hearing Reflections, Monk invited Lacy into the ranks of his band. Lacy joined the group in 1960, but only remained a member for four months. Following his brief, yet meaningful jaunt with Monk, Lacy formed a quartet with trombone player Roswell Rudd that only played Monk’s music. The quartet lasted from 1961 to 1964, after which Lacy decided to explore Europe’s music scene.

In 1966 Lacy went to Rome where he met his future wife, Swiss singer and cellist Irene Aebi. Aebi became Lacy’s steadfast companion and collaborator, and the pair traveled around South America before settling in Paris in 1969. By 1977 Lacy and Aebi had formed a regular group of musicians that included bassist Kent Carter, drummer Oliver Johnson and saxophonist Steve Potts. The group stayed together through the 1990s, and expanded to include pianist Bobby Few in the 1980s.

Lacy recently returned to the United States to teach at Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music.

Lacy has recorded dozens of albums on a multitude of labels throughout his career, and has worked with numerous musicians. He has worked on special projects with Gil Evans, Mal Waldron and Misha Mengelberg and has participated in many Monk tributes. Lacy has also set his music to works by writers like Herman Melville, Samuel Beckett, William Burroughs, Robert Creeley, Anne Waldman, Mary Frazee and Taslima Nasrin.

Originally Published