Steve Lacy


Steve Lacy

Book Pages: 304 Illustrations: 39 b&w photos Published: August 2006

Editor: Jason Weiss

Cultural Studies, Music > Jazz

Steve Lacy: Conversations is a collection of thirty-four interviews with the innovative saxophonist and jazz composer. Lacy (1934–2004), a pioneer in making the soprano saxophone a contemporary jazz instrument, was a prolific performer and composer, with hundreds of recordings to his name.

This volume brings together interviews that appeared in a variety of magazines between 1959 and 2004. Conducted by writers, critics, musicians, visual artists, a philosopher, and an architect, the interviews indicate the evolution of Lacy’s extraordinary career and thought. Lacy began playing the soprano saxophone at sixteen, and was soon performing with Dixieland musicians much older than he. By nineteen he was playing with the pianist Cecil Taylor, who ignited his interest in the avant-garde. He eventually became the foremost proponent of Thelonious Monk’s music. Lacy played with a broad range of musicians, including Monk and Gil Evans, and led his own bands. A voracious reader and the recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant, Lacy was particularly known for setting to music literary texts—such as the Tao Te Ching, and the work of poets including Samuel Beckett, Robert Creeley, and Taslima Nasrin—as well as for collaborating with painters and dancers in multimedia projects.

Lacy lived in Paris from 1970 until 2002, and his music and ideas reflect a decades-long cross-pollination of cultures. Half of the interviews in this collection originally appeared in French sources and were translated specifically for this book. Jason Weiss provides a general introduction, as well as short introductions to each of the interviews and to the selection of Lacy’s own brief writings that appears at the end of the book. The volume also includes three song scores, a selected discography of Lacy’s recordings, and many photos from the personal collection of his wife and longtime collaborator, Irene Aebi.

Interviews by: Derek Bailey, Franck Bergerot, Yves Bouliane, Etienne Brunet, Philippe Carles, Brian Case, Garth W. Caylor Jr., John Corbett, Christoph Cox, Alex Dutilh, Lee Friedlander, Maria Friedlander, Isabelle Galloni d'Istria, Christian Gauffre, Raymond Gervais, Paul Gros-Claude, Alain-René Hardy, Ed Hazell, Alain Kirili, Mel Martin, Franck Médioni, Xavier Prévost, Philippe Quinsac, Ben Ratliff, Gérard Rouy, Kirk Silsbee, Roberto Terlizzi, Jason Weiss


Steve Lacy: Conversations is a notable work that deepens our understanding of a jazz legend whose reputation in the United States derived from fragmentary bulletins published infrequently in American jazz magazines. Aside from being a must-read for people who follow Lacy’s music, Steve Lacy: Conversations will also help illuminate Lacy’s place in the jazz canon.” — Vernon Frazer, American Book Review

“[A] heart-rending, ear- and eye-opening book. It is a knock-out, an omelette aux fines herbes, an impeccable Lacy line of weird angles and implied major seconds. A bag full of Dixie, borscht-belt air, Cecil Taylor, Thelonious Monk, Gil Evans, Musica Elettronica Viva, the road, Rome, Paris, New York, Asia, Boston, backstage philosophy, painters, poets and corduroy. A life of roaming music lessons on stage and in the streets, in museums and at home—compositions all, that most professors have long excluded from their curriculae. No sour grapes nor sentimental journey in this book, just the pure straight dope.” — Alvin Curran, New York Times

“As far back as I can remember, Steve Lacy has represented the sound of the soprano saxophone. Influenced by Sidney Bechet, he has in turn influenced every player of the soprano. His music has always been very personal, and always in search of new paths.” — Lee Konitz, Jazz Magazine (Paris)

“Editor Jason Weiss has changed the academic landscape of jazz with Steve Lacy: Conversations, the book I always wanted but never had. Weiss’s text includes a huge amount of interviews never published in English, in addition to the usual suspects (Corbett, Ratliff, Derek Bailey, and the Wire). Conversations also contains rare photographs, scores, liner notes and free-association jottings to flesh out the complete package.” — Clifford Allen, All About Jazz

“I have always admired Steve’s perseverance and commitment to perfecting his art. . . . He is the prime example of someone who has fought for artistic integrity.” — Sonny Rollins, Jazz Magazine (Paris)

“The interviews constantly surprise and delight, whether the perspective is shop talk (Lacy speculates whether there’s a spirit in a reed) or broad cultural analysis (he sheepishly admits that rock music literally makes him sick).” — Lawrence Cosentino, Signal to Noise

“There’s no way simply to make clear how particular Steve Lacy was to poets or how much he can now teach them by fact of his own practice and example. No one was ever more generous or perceptive. . . . Steve opened a lot for me in the most quiet way. Music was only the beginning.” — Robert Creeley, Poetry Project Newsletter

“This is an exemplary project, carefully planned, lovingly assembled and handsomely produced. Conversations is a fitting tribute to a giant of modern jazz.” — Stuart Kremsky, International Association of Jazz Record Collectors Journal

“Weiss’s cogent introductions to each interview effectively fill in the chronology of Lacy’s life and contextualize his evolution as a musician. . . . An interview with The Wire . . ., a John Corbett interview in Downbeat . . . and an interview with Ben Ratliff all feel like intimate conversations you just happen to have overheard. They are as lovely, offbeat, and surprising as Lacy’s compositions.” — Stephanie Hanson, Bookforum

"This well-illustrated and attractively produced book collects interviews with Lacy and presents them chronologically. . . . [A] fitting tribute to one of the supreme masters of [the pure improvised] movement." — Andy Hamilton, The Wire

“A phenomenal interviewee. . . . Whether [Steve Lacy] was making bold predictions on future directions of the music, describing his fascinating projects, laying forth broad challenges to himself and other artists, or making succinct observations of the musical world he inhabited, Lacy’s words proved to be almost as interesting as his music.” — Down Beat, on inducting Lacy into the Down Beat Hall of Fam

“Steve Lacy’s soul-rending sounds emerge out of the chaos of our times like the announcement of the beautiful nonviolent anarchist revolution. In the passionate intelligence of his compositions, every note is the sound of freedom.” — Judith Malina, actress, writer, and co-founder of the Living Theatre


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Jason Weiss is the author of The Lights of Home: A Century of Latin American Writers in Paris and the forthcoming novel Faces by the Wayside. He is the editor of Back in No Time: The Brion Gysin Reader.

Table of Contents Back to Top
4. Goodbye, New York (Garth W. Caylor, Jr., 1965) 24

5. Faithful Lacy (Philippe Carles, 1965) 33

6. Twenty-six New Jazzmen Put to the Question (1965) 41

7. Steve Lacy Speaks (Paul Gros-Claude, 1971) 43

8. Improvisation (Derek Bailey, 1974) 48

9. Evidence and Reflections (Alain-Rene Hardy and Philippe Quinsac, 1976) 52

10. On Play and Process, and Musiacal Insticnts (Raymond Gervais and Yves Bouliane, 1976) 62

11. In the Spirit (Roberto Terlizzi, 1976) 78

12. The Spark, the Gap, the Leap ( Brian Case, 1979) 84

13. In Search of the Way (Jason Weiss, 1980) 97

14. Songs: Steve Lacy and Brion Gysin (Jason Weiss, 1981) 104

15. Unrecognized Giean? (Xavier Prevost, 1982) 109

16. Futurities (Isabelle Galloni d’Istria, 1984) 111

17. The Solitude of the Long-Distance Player (Gerard Rouy, 1987) 115

18. On Practicing, and Exploring the Instrument (Kirk Silsbee, 1988) 123

19. Art is Made to Trouble (Christian Gauffre, 1990) 133

20. Shop Talk (Mel Martin, 1990) 138

21. It’s Got to Be Alive (Ben Ratliff, 1991)

22. Regarding the Voice: Steve Lacy and Irene Aebi (Jason Weiss, 1993) 146

23. A Petite Fleur for S. B. (Philippe Carles, 1994) 156

24. Sculpture and Jazz (Alain Kirili, 1994) 158

25. One Shouldn’t Make Too Much Noise, There’s Enough Already (Franck Medioni, 1995) 163

26. Living Lacy (Gerard Rouy, 1995) 166

27. Scratching the Seventies (Etienne Brunet, 1996) 167

28. Forget Paris (John Corbett, 1996) 185

29. In the Old Days (Lee Friedlander and Maria Friedlander, 1997) 193

30. The Glorious Thirty (Franck Bergerot and Alex Dutilh, 2000) 208

31. Farewell Paris (Gerard Rouy, 2002) 212

32. Invisible Jukebox (Christoph Cos, 2002) 217

33. Big Kisses from Boston (Franck Medioni, 2003) 226

34. The Art of the Song: Steve Lacy and Irene Aebi (Ed Hazell, 2004) 228

Part 2. Writings by Steve Lacy

1. MEV Notes (ca. 1968) 244

2. Roba (early 1970s) 248

3. Garden Variety (ca. 1974) 249

4. FMP: 10 Years Jubilee (ca. 1979) 250

5. What about Monk? (1980) 251

6. He Flew (1980) 253

7. In the Upper Air: Albert Ayler (1996 256

8. Shiro and I (1997) 257

9. Short Takes (1998) 258

10. Yoshizawa (1998) 260

11. Made in France (2000) 261

12. Song Sources (undated) 266

13. Residency Statement (2004) 267

Part 3. Song Scores

Dreams (1975) 272

Mind’s Heart (1982) 273

3 Haiku (1998) 274

Selected Discography 277

Credits 281

Index 283

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 3

Part 1. Interviews with Steve Lacy

1. Introducing Steve Lacy (1959) 13

2. My Favorite Thing (1961) 17

3. The Land of Monk (1963) 20
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3815-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3826-0
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