One of the great soprano saxophonists of all time (ranking up there with Sidney Bechet and John Coltrane), Steve Lacy's career was fascinating to watch develop. He originally doubled on clarinet and soprano (dropping the former by the mid-'50s), inspired by Bechet, and played Dixieland in New York with Rex Stewart, Cecil Scott, Red Allen, and other older musicians during 1952-1955. He debuted on record in a modernized Dixieland format with Dick Sutton in 1954. However, Lacy soon jumped over several styles to play free jazz with Cecil Taylor during 1955-1957. They recorded together and performed at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival. Lacy recorded with Gil Evans in 1957 (they would work together on an irregular basis into the 1980s), was with Thelonious Monk's quintet in 1960 for four months, and then formed a quartet with Roswell Rudd (1961-1964) that exclusively played Monk's music; only one live set (for Emanen in 1963) resulted from that very interesting group.
Lacy, who is considered the first "modern" musician to specialize on soprano (an instrument that was completely neglected during the bop era), began to turn toward avant-garde jazz in 1965. He had a quartet with Enrico Rava that spent eight months in South America. After a year back in New York, he permanently moved to Europe in 1967 with three years in Italy preceding a move to Paris. Lacy's music evolved from free form to improvising off of his scalar originals. By 1977 he had a regular group with whom he continued to perform throughout his career, featuring Steve Potts on alto and soprano, Lacy's wife, violinist/singer Irene Aebi, bassist Kent Carter (later succeeded by Jean-Jacques Avenel), and drummer Oliver Johnson; pianist Bobby Few joined the group in the 1980s. Lacy, who also worked on special projects with Gil Evans, Mal Waldron, and Misha Mengelberg, among others, and in situations ranging from solo soprano concerts, many Monk tributes, big bands, and setting poetry to music, recorded a countless number of sessions for almost as many labels, with Sands appearing on Tzakik in 1998 and Cry on SoulNote in 1999. His early dates (1957-1961) were for Prestige, New Jazz, and Candid and later on he appeared most notably on sessions for Hat Art, Black Saint/Soul Note, and Novus. Lacy, who had been suffering with cancer for several years, passed away in June of 2004. His legacy continues to grow, however, as various live shows from throughout his career are issued. ~ Scott Yanow