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A Tribute to Steve Lacy

Steve Lacy

Soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy passed away in Boston on June 4, 2004. JazzSet was already scheduled to present Lacy's duo with Danilo Perez this week, and we do so in tribute.

As well, we reach out to soprano/tenor saxophonist John Stubblefield, who is seriously ill. John was born in Little Rock, Arkansas. For years he's made his home in New York City's East Village and played regularly with the Mingus Big Band. When JazzSethost Dee Dee Bridgewater met him in the 1970s, he was a member in good standing of the Sun Ra Arkestra.

On Wednesday, June 2, 2004, the jazz community held a benefit for John at Sweet Rhythm in New York. His friends and fans, including a couple of his doctors, overflowed the club for impassioned music and serious fundraising. John couldn't be there, but we're told he felt the spirit.

Steve Lacy was born in New York in July, 1934, a decade earlier than Stubblefield. When only a teenager, he heard the charismatic New Orleans jazzman Sidney Bechet on soprano sax. Lacy proceeded to master that instrument as few have. Then he put it to work in ensembles led by two of the most original pianists in jazz history, Thelonious Monk and Cecil Taylor. So it was saying something for Lacy to form a duo with pianist Danilo Perez.

Danilo, a generation younger, was born in Panama and studied at the National Conservatory there, then the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Dizzy Gillespie hired Danilo for Dizzy's United Nation Orchestra. Danilo is also a member of Wayne Shorter's quartet.

Steve and Danilo shared an interest in the music of Thelonious Monk. Lacy was a lifelong scholar and performer of Monk's compositions, and Danilo devoted a full CD to Monk, titled Panamonk. They enjoyed making music together.

Steve told Down Beat magazine, "There's nobody like Danilo... He's studied, he's open, he's flexible, generous and sweet."

We asked Danilo Perez for some words: "Steve Lacy showed us that being a jazz musician is the work of a lifetime. He approached his sound, improvisation and technique as if he believed it was a test of man's sincerity.

"As a friend he was a very encouraging, caring and generous man with a great sense of humor. As a teacher he inspired all of us inside and outside the classroom, with the genius of his musical phrasing and his brilliant remarks.

"Last year while playing a duo concert in New York, he took me to an exhibition of a great Chinese painter. His detailed comments about the paintings offered a great lesson in color subtlety and form. I found myself contemplating his words of wisdom all afternoon. That night after the very inspired concert we played he said, 'Danilo we were painting tonight.'

"He was very kind. As he would say, the music and the artist become one as we get older. Steve, thanks for inspiring and sharing your gifts with the world. Your great musical legacy will live in our hearts and minds forever. God bless Steve and his dear Irene."

Lacy had lived in Europe for decades, but returned to teach at the New England Conservatory of Music in 2002. He is survived by his wife, the singer and violinist Irene Aebi.

Stubblefield and Fox from Sculler's in Boston, June 9, 1992
"Spiritual" (William Grant Still)
"Monk's Dream" (Thelonious Monk)

Lacy and Perez from the Regattabar in Cambridge, May 3, 2003 "Longing" (Lacy)
"Baghdad" (Lacy)
"Blinks" (Lacy)
"Monk's Dream" (Monk)


  • About Steve Lacy
  • About Danilo Perez
  • Discussion Board About Joh Stubblefield

  • Donal Fox
  • WGBH-FM Boston

    Contributions to meet John Stubblefield's medical expenses can go to:

    John Stubblefield
    163 Ludlow St #4B
    New York, NY 10002

    For both recordings, the field producer is Steve Schwartz, and the recording engineer is Allan Mattes, of WGBH in Boston. Without Steve Schwartz, JazzSet would have recordings of neither of these artists, and we thank him.

    JazzSet's team is Becca Pulliam, technical director Duke Markos, recording engineer Ginger Bruner at KUNV Jazz 91 in Las Vegas, with Mark Schramm and Executive Producer Thurston Briscoe at WBGO Jazz 88 in Newark, New Jersey.

    Copyright 2007 NPR