Steve Lacy belongs to my heroes since about 25 years. I met him for the first time when Axel Dörner, a great trumpet colleague and friend of mine, and me visited him in Paris in the early 1990’s.

We actually went to Paris to do a demo-recording, and for getting a private lesson from Steve, to talk to him and to improvise with him.

He was very kind and humble and asked us: “Gentlemen, what can I do for you?” We said that we came to Paris because we wanted to learn his personal approach to improvisation from first hand, and told him about our favorite recordings and our greatest idols Miles, Monk, Don Cherry, and we also mentioned him of course.

His first “lesson” was: “Shoot Miles, Don Cherry and me!” – Wow! Then he demonstrated us his playing and practicing, and showed us his metal case with sheet music, exercises, compositions and sketches. He also listened to the demo-tape of our band The Streetfighters we had recorded a day ago with the Parisian residents Wayne Dockery (b) and Bob DeMeo (d). He dug up a very interesting bootleg recording, a radio broadcast with Thelonious Monk and himself which abruptly ended with the overdubbed comment of a radio announcer, and that in the middle of Steve’s chorus on Rhythm-A-Ning or Evidence … unfortunately fading out some seconds later!

We three played together then. This appeared being rather weird to us ambitious youngsters since Steve turned his back to us, playing merely towards the wall, while we both were sitting on his couch, trying to “communicate” with our master. One should know that we played at some jam sessions in Paris before, most of them taped by myself; alas, not that very 15 minutes with Steve!

So, there is no evidence of that very meeting, no photograph and no sound. But it took place, honestly! — Steve kept our cassette, commenting it with the words: “You should add a dancer to your music.”

And: “That’s a very interesting sound with two trumpets plus bass and drums. This inspires me to compose something similar.”

Our meeting ended with a phone call Steve had received from Italy.

Paris Blues – With Gil Evans (1987)

The second encounter took place after a concert with Steve and the WDR “Jazz Clerks” Big Band in Cologne’s Philharmonic Hall on March 17, 2001. They did Monk, and Steve played on the soprano sax he had borrowed from one of the sax players. Bill Dobbins had written the arrangements, and Steve played quite a lot of notes, which was rather unusual if you consider his scarce and kinda thoughtful way of improvisation.

Well, many notes indeed but what great notes! He virtuously blew over the whole orchestra, and filled the little space which was left for him with bravura. I met him backstage right after the concert. He stood there, completely alone, nobody talked to him; not even the guy who had lent him that soprano!

And so, I took the opportunity, invited him for a Kölsch, and he kindly signed the above ticket. I asked him why he didn’t play any solo when he was sitting in the sax-section during the famous Thelonious Monk Orchestra At Town Hall concert in 1959?

Steve quietly replied: “Monk only pointed to Phil Woods and Donald Byrd for solos but not to me.” (Those two musicians are, in my opinion, quite overrated players which was in fact the deeper reason for my question.) That’s typical Steve Lacy: He rather would play against the wall instead of putting himself in the center, even on stage, and even if he could have done much better than others who got all the solos.

He’d told me a bit later that he would meet someone else at the bar in his hotel, and if I would be so kind showing him the exit. I asked him if he didn’t want to say goodbye to the big band?

“Too many goodbyes. I hate too many goodbyes.” he replied and so, we went upstairs on the ground floor and I accompanied him to the hotel. This was the last time I saw him, and I’m very thankful having met Steve Lacy who passed away on June 4, 2004.

P.S.: Since there are no online sounds with Steve Lacy, I’m posting the quote from his autograph. The original Trumpets No End from 1946 with Duke Ellington & His Orchestra, featuring trumpeters Harold “Shorty” Baker, Francis Williams, Al Killian and Shelton Hemphill. I guess that “Mr. Minimum” (his nickname among musicians) would have appreciated that kinda “unrelated” post.

So go and buy some of his many albums! Here’s a link to Steve Lacy CD’s

Steve’s Website

ⓒ Bruno Leicht

P.S. — Regarding the obvious popularity of this very article, I’m adding a few “videos” from YouTube —

Blog owner’s recommendation:

Feel free to type his name in the search, and you will find a huge variety of videos with Steve Lacy, such as interviews, live tracks, and also some of his studio recordings.

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