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Steve Lacy

Steve Lacy made a career of specializing on an instrument that for many years was almost completely ignored by most jazz musicians. Outside of Sidney Bechet, and in his early days Johnny Hodges, until John Coltrane picked up the soprano and popularized it in the '60s, the instrument was played almost as seldom as the cumbersome bass sax. Indeed, it was Bechet who inspired Lacy to begin playing it. Lacy was celebrated for his unorthodox, but compelling approach. He did everything from suck air out of the instrument to screeches, screams, squeals, irregular phrases and swirling phrases. He began as a dixieland player and at one time he and trombonist Roswell Rudd co-led a group playing almost exclusively Thelonious Monk's music, but by the late '60s Lacy was playing mostly originals. He was known as a free player, but also performed rock, jazz-rock, electronic music and a combination of all the above. His concerts often mixed poetry and dramatic readings, vocal improvisations by his wife Irene Aebi and other things such as Japanese kabuki and traditional Indian music. Lacy began his professional career playing dixieland as Steven Lackritz. He was working with much older musicians like Cecil Scott and Rex Stewart. Stewart renamed him Lacy in 1952. About three years later, Lacy moved to the opposite end of the musical spectrum. He began playing with Cecil Taylor, working in a quartet with him from 1955 to 1957. Taylor's work wasn't as completely outside then as it became, but was heading that way. After Taylor, Lacy performed and recorded with Gil Evans in 1957, beginning a relationship that would see them work together periodically into the '80s. Lacy worked twice with Thelonious Monk in the early '60s, and co-led with Rudd, a Monk repetory quartet from 1961 to 1964. Lacy did free music with a variety of artists, among them Don Cherry and Carla Bley. He toured South America with Enrico Rava, Johnny Dyani and Louis Moholo, and moved to Rome in 1967. While there Lacy played free, jazz-rock, electronic and classical music, working with various Italian jazz and rock players and The Musica Elettronica Viva. He relocated to Paris in 1970. Alto saxophonist Steve Potts, plus his wife Aebi on vocals and cello, bassist Ken Carter and drummer Oliver Johnson gradually became his working ensemble, with Aebi's wordless vocals steadily emerging as one of their trademarks. During the '80s, Lacy co-led bands with Misha Mengelberg. His recording career began with some mid-'50s dates on the Jaguar label that were straight dixieland. He later recorded for Prestige, working with Wynton Kelly, Buell Neidlinger, Elvin Jones and Mal Waldron. During the '60s he recorded for European labels like Emanem, BYG, and Vik, plus American companies Atlantic, Prestige, and Candid. His mates included Rudd, Charlie Rouse, Cherry and various French players, while one release was a solo date. His '70s sessions were recorded for Emanem, Saravah (French), Red (Italian), Quark (Canadian), and other assorted French, Japanese and Swedish labels. In the '80s he continued on various foreign labels until the late '80s, when he made his major label return to RCA Novus. He also did some sessions for Silkheart. The bulk of these sessions featured his regular sextet. Lacy continued to perform and record into the 2000's. He passed away, after a lengthy battle with cancer, on June 4, 2004.
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