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Steve Lacy: Making the Words Swing

Steve Lacy
Steve Lacy

It was a very European ceremony. Television crews and photographers began to jockey for position at noon on the terrace of the Gran Hotel Maria Christina. Well-starched waiters dispensed champagne to the mingling guests. After welcoming remarks by San Sebastian Jazz Festival-Donostiaka Jazzaldia producer Miguel Martin, San Sebastian Mayor Odon Elorza Gonzalez presented this year’s Donostiako Jazzaldia Prize, the 32 year-old Spanish festival’s award for lifetime contributions to jazz, to Steve Lacy. The presentation of the silver-laden plaque triggered a locust-like whir of camera shutters and auto-advances. Then came the volleys of questions in rapid-fire Spanish, which Lacy gamely fielded with the aid of an interpreter. After toasts and networking, the Mayor was off to his next appointment, the media were off to file and edit, and the guests meandered off, primed for lunch.

“Now that we moved, I have enough space for this in the ‘trophy room,'” the soprano saxophonist remarked about the plaque as the honoree’s lunch party queued to be taxied to a mountain top restaurant (where Lacy slyly ordered Monkfish). Lacy was referring to the three-story house in Northeast Paris he and his wife, vocalist Irene Aebi, recently leased. Though their apartment in the Marais was the stuff of Paris jazz legends-the walls were covered with works by, among others, Kenneth Noland and Brion Gysin; the white upright piano sported red keys instead of black; instead of sheet music, art books laid open on the music stand-the air was bad, the street noise went on all night, and there wasn’t a tree or green space in sight. Yet, the move does not mark the end of an era as much as signal the beginning of a transition.

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