Steve Lacy Remembered

Steve Lacy + Jean-Jacques Avenel + Tina Wrase,  1998
Steve Lacy + Jean-Jacques Avenel + Tina Wrase, 1998                   Michael Wilderman©2008

Jean-Jacques Avenel: Each time l think about Steve l can hear his unique sound. His tone was so rich, full, warm and, at the same time, very precise. He had perfect pitch. In thirty years of being close to him l never heard him play out of tune. As a player Steve was a combination of generosity, adventure, warmth, and concentration .he had absolute control of his instrument. Likewise, on the bandstand, he was always aware of what was happening (musically), even when he was "flying high" (gone very far in improvisation). With all those qualities, he still let you hear something fragile, and this is for me, very moving. Since Steve left, l felt the need to stay with his music and l worked on his melodies, which l did not do before (being a lazy bass player) and l started to realize how great Steve was as a composer. .Above all, the songs, more than two hundreds, are little jewels. l am sure that his music will be played more and more in the future because the world needs it, especially now.

Han Bennink: I met Steve Lacy in 1960 when I went to New York, working on the ship The Maasdam, and Steve played opposite the Village Gate on Bleecker Street in a joint called Café Ruvio.  It was a quartet with Sonny Clark, Carl Boran (a bass player) and Billy Higgins.

I was nailed to my chair because I knew Lacy’s work at that time, but what astounded me is that they walked around with a basket for the audience to put money in. I thought these musicians were world-famous!

Later on, in the 70s, we met and went to several, several places and played in several, several combinations.  He was a great friend, had a fantastic sense of humor, he was extremely well read, and bought books all the time.  I am very happy to have been able know him and to consider Steve Lacy a friend.  He always said over his own music “My music is hard to get” and I though that very clever. And of course, we were both viper-pals. 

John Betsch: The most amazing thing about Steve that still sticks out was when we did a workshop in Italy and I could understand him even though I don't speak Italian. His mind was so clear and sharp that he could communicate in a language I didn't know. His gift as a teacher makes his passing while at New England Conservatory even more poignant because the world lost a great teacher as well as artist: not everybody can teach!

Kent Carter: To start with, Steve Lacy was one of the best things that happened  to me in my musical life.
I think we met in 62 or 63 in New York during the beginning of the “October Revolution”. We were both playing in the Jazz Composers Guild workshop orchestra over the Village Vanguard. The deep impression on me of his sound I’ll never forget. It was like gold – the sound was very refined and had its own space – clear and singing like no other bird I ever heard. You could hear that voice through anything going on in those sessions. I knew he had created his own universe and he understood that I was working on mine also. We had a natural attraction to each others sound.

He had some gigs in Europe and asked if I would like to make it.  Yes! was my reply.  So started a very rewarding experience in my musical development. We worked with Carla and Paul Bley (later Michael Mantler) in orchestra projects and recordings for the Dutch Radio and Fontana records. Steve had a Quartet with Enrico Rava, Aldo Romano and myself and worked quite a bit in Italy. I remember we were in Turin when Kennedy was assassinated in 63.  I never saw such public passionate reaction before. Incredible. Also touring in Italy at this time was the Living Theater, Don Cherry and Gato Barbieri’s group. We used to hang out together.

One of the most remarkable musical events for me was the project in the early mid 60’s. Steve had with Hamburg Television in  Germany.  The work was based on Buckminster Fuller’s text set to music and sung by Irene Aebi. We started the music in New York with Enrico Rava, Karl Berger , Paul Motian, (in Europe, Aldo Romano replaced Paul Motian) Irene Aebi and Steve and myself. I never heard such a sound and will never forget it. I can still see it.

I do not want to bore anyone on historical facts but. just want  to mention that our collaboration lasted through the 60’s.with trips to Europe and gigs in New York. It was a fantastic period for music.. We met up again in Paris in the fall of 1970. Steve was starting a new group and asked me to join, which I did until 1981. This story is a book in itself.

Steve’s keen interest in painting, literature and art  in general was inspiring to be around. We used to go to museums and concerts together, opera, theater and dance performances etc. He was always turning me on to new writers to read.  Steve had a nose for books. I loved his intellectual integrity.

I was very lucky to meet up with this guy. We had a good musical time of it… Great cat – I miss him.

Bobby Few:  I always remember how Lacy encouraged me to explore the very bottom notes of the piano and to them have something to say. He would write songs and the chords would be at the extreme end of the piano. Well, he was right. Each part of the piano has its time to be play. It’s because of Lacy that I learned to explore the whole piano and, thanks to Lacy, continue to still hear to this day his words of encouragement. He was a very patient and understanding man. I miss him. There are many good qualities he had and I could write a book about them.

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