Steve Lacy: 1934-2004
So you can see, since we first started playing together, Monk's music was our continuum and in fact, the last music we performed together was intended to come full circle. Steve called it "Monksieland" - a Dixieland instrumentation and a free counterpoint approach to Monk's tunes. Our quartet now became a quintet, adding Dave Douglas on trumpet. As I begin to look back less than a week after Steve's passing, I see how extraordinarily lucky I was to meet Steve in our early 20's. We knew each other for the bulk of our lives and shared some deep musical moments together. It is much too soon to begin to take in the exact magnitude of this loss or the exact magnitude of the gift.
I will always love you Steve.
~ ROSWELL RUDD
Quite simply he WAS the soprano saxophone; we all know that Trane got to the horn through Lacy (playing with Don Cherry according to Steve). For that alone his contribution was immense. But it was more than that in Steve's case. He was a true artist coming out of the Beat Generation where musicians like him, Mingus, Cecil Taylor and others commonly mixed with artists from other genres and tried to combine their forces for the betterment of humanity. Steve played everything and always maintained his distinct and strong musical personality, no matter whether it was with a Russian poet or playing Monk tunes. He was the prototype eclectic, categories meant nothing to him. His playing was so concentrated and understated that it drew you in on a level different from most players, much like Bley or Desmond or Lee Konitz.
As a person though I didn't spend a lot of time with him, it was apparent that he was brilliant and generous with his wisdom. He shared a conversational characteristic that I have seen in others from that period - understatement; the use of language like music to make a point in the most direct and economical way possible, always with a sly sense of humor and irony. Steve was one of the kings of the one line answer to a query that said it all. We shared a duo concert in Italy in the '80s and for the first part I played solo to be followed by him and then a duo portion. After I finished playing (in front of THE MASTER of solo performances!!), he said:"You're playing in the corners!!" I understood exactly what he meant - 'nuff said. His presence will be sorely missed in the integrity department for sure.
~ DAVE LIEBMAN
Steve Lacy started in my life as a hero, the At Newport record with CT (Cecil Taylor), the records with Gil Evans and then the early records for Prestige under his own name, especially Evidence (1961) were essential listening for anyone with an idea to play the soprano. I heard the School Days band with Roswell at the Phase Two coffee bar in the West Village and still remember Steve's announcement after the first set to remind the audience theat "the band is pleased to play requests - we'll play any tune by Thelonious Monk". I requested "Four in One" and it was duly played (beautifully). Next I came to hear of Steve having passed through London on his way to Rome when he first came to Europe to live. He came to the Little Theatre Club and heard AMM, maybe played with Johnny Dyani and Louis Moholo. Quite soon after that came the South American adventure and Forest and the Zoo (1966) was the document. Still a hero but a little closer. Gradually we started to play on the same festivals, FMP in Berlin organised the first one I think. In 1974 Steve asked me to play on the concert in London that was issued on record as Saxophone Special, then we were in Globe Unity for a long tour together, later another tour with Company and a Kenny Wheeler larger group and in between every so often a duo concert. Steve had magically become a highly esteemed colleague and mentor. I studied his materials and still do. In the course of more than 30 years my hero, Steve became a friend. Life does not have much greater rewards.
~ EVAN PARKER
I was very sorry to hear of Steve's demise, even though I know it comes to all of us eventually. Too soon in his case in my opinion. He was a true creative force in the music world. Still underrated I believe. He was the type of musician that I always aspired to be. Someone who followed his own muse irrespective of fashion. He always had plenty of new ideas, and I found his quote from years ago about "all these people trying to play like Coltrane gives me so much room to do my own thing", a real truth and inspiration. Not an exact quote, but the meaning was that.
I always found Steve to be intelligent, focused, good humoured and open to others. A true musicians' musician, and he will be missed hugely. I am pleased to have been associated with him if only briefly. I will carry the inspiration I gained from him with me always!
~ TREVOR WATTS