Steve Lacy Remembered


Evan Parker + Steve Lacy, 1985
Steve Lacy + Roswell Rudd, 1964                                  Larry Fink©2008

Roswell Rudd: In October of 2005 (more than a year after his demise), Verna Gillis was able to mount a concert devoted entirely to Steve's music. It wasn't until then that I was really struck by the man's musical personality beyond his saxophone playing. The choices were so characteristic and original; it was as if he had been performing there with us in the flesh. Steve had /has managed to codify a sound, his sound, to the world! Every note was coming out Steve Lacy (even though much of the playing and singing was improvised). So Steve Lacy was the sound we all left in Merkin Hall that night.

Frederic Rzewski: In 1969 Steve was living in the MEV studio in Trastevere. One day I saw him coming out of a bar on Via dei Genovesi. I took out the Philips microcassette recorder I had just bought and asked, "Steve, in 15 seconds, what is the difference between composition and improvisation?" Without hesitation he answered, "In 15 seconds, the difference between composition and improvisation is that in composition you have all the time you want to think about what to say in 15 seconds, while in improvisation you have only 15 seconds." Back at home I timed his answer. It took exactly 15 seconds.

Alexander von Schlippenbach: I was lucky enough to work with Steve Lacy in a couple of projects like Globe Unity in the 70s and 80s, different groups at the FMP workshops in Berlin and a ballet- piece by Lacy entitled "Landings" which was performed at the Hebbel Teater in Berlin 1987.I have always admired his highly qualified musicianship and have learned many things from him. One of those was a special way to put chords together on the piano, by using one finger for two notes, to create a certain sound. I used this method as a convenient way to built up twelve-tone clusters that have six notes for the left hand and another six for the right hand and use them for improvising lines as well. This was an important step in my own musical development and a basic ingredient of my style today. Thank you, Steve !

Richard Teitelbaum: I number myself among those lucky ones that Steve stimulated and encouraged to create in ways they never had before. Steve first taught me to improvise in daily sessions during the long hot summer of 1967 in New York. The project was called “Chinese Food for LBJ.” In typical Lacy fashion, his concept combined and juxtaposed texts of the quietist philosophy of Lao Tzu (sung, spoken and intoned by Irene Aebi) with Steve’s soprano and my electronic sounds eliciting the horrors of the Viet Nam War.

Improvisation and political consciousness were only two of the many things one learned from Steve. Kindness, selflessness, generosity, compassion and love were among the many others.

There was also the quality of his mind. Steve possessed an intelligence that was at once poetic, yet clear, precise, penetrating, elegant, often ironic and humorous—much like his own music.

He straddled both traditional and experimental, or, as he himself described it, “defensive” and “offensive” musics. Narrow ideological restrictions and categories were not his bag. He was open to everything---seeking, appreciating and expressing all manner of experience.

Fred Van Hove:

Remembrance One
We played together somewhere in a larger group. After the concert we talked between colleagues, with friends, with fans, then Steve was gradually disappearing, at a certain moment just standing there looking around, next thing you knew he was not there any more, gone up in the air?

Remembrance Two
I invited Steve for some duos in Belgium ( Brussels , Liège …) On the afternoon of the first concert we had a rehearsal, some compositions Steve brought with him, some of his own and from some other people We agreed to play Monk’s “Friday the 13th,” and to do some free playing. Steve said we needed a ballad, the only one I could remember was “Don’t blame me” , Steve tried it for a short time, then said that he would have to fake it, so we didn’t do a ballad.

Remembrance Three
Always, Steve was fiddling with his mouthpiece and his reed before the set, after the set, and during the set, always concerned about his sound, always trying to get a better one, only satisfied with the pure and crystal clear.

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