Music speaks for itself,
And needs no explanation
Or justification:
Either it is alive, or it is not.

The great soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy passed away yesterday at the painfully early age of 69 (Ben Ratliff has a good obituary in today’s NY Times). I can’t communicate to you his keening, inimitable tone or explain how perfectly attuned he was to the oddly-angled music of Thelonious Monk (if you want to give him a try, there’s a list of recommendations here—I’d start with Reflections, whose plangent “Ask Me Now” and “Reflections” make my eyes smart every time); fortunately, as Ratliff says, he “insisted on a literary dimension to his work, incorporating texts by novelists, poets and philosophers,” so I can honor his memory by quoting a couple of poems he set so brilliantly on one of his best records, Owl (1977, available on the Saravah compilation Scratching the Seventies):

Le Hibou

Mon pauvre coeur est un hibou
Qu’on cloue, qu’on décloue, qu’on recloue.
De sang, d’ardeur, il est à bout.
Tous ceux qui m’aiment, je les loue.

[The Owl

My poor heart is an owl
That gets nailed and unnailed and renailed.
It’s had it with blood and ardor.
All those who love me, I praise them.]
Guillaume Apollinaire

Notre Vie

Nous n’irons pas au but un par un mais par deux
Nous connaissant par deux nous nous connaîtrons tous
Nous nous aimerons tous et nos enfants riront
De la légende noire où pleure un solitaire

[Our Life

We won’t get where we’re going one by one but by twos
Knowing each other by twos we’ll all know each other
We’ll all love each other and our children will laugh
At the black legend in which a solitary cries]
Paul Eluard

Update. My favorite jazz station, WKCR, is playing Lacy until 7 PM EDT today (Sunday) and all day Monday (midnight to midnight). You can access the internet streams (RealAudio and mp3) here. Enjoy!


  1. Thanks for this tribute to one of my favorite musicians. As you noted, while countless musicians were able to inhabit the sonic realm delineated by Bird, only a rare few could seem at home in Monk’s ethereal realm. Steve was the greatest of them all. R.I.P., maestro.

  2. TheloniousZen says

    Thank you very much for telling us this news. I read an interview with him in wire a while back and the fact that turned me on was that he stuck only to soprano sax, a rather limiting instrument which he wielded well.

  3. Based on what I’ve read so far, I think I’d enjoy more music posts here. I’ve added Lacy to my list.

  4. Same here.

  5. Well, I guess music could be seen as a form of language. Hmm. I’ll keep it in mind.

  6. Actually, to go by Modern music and musicians, Philarmonic Edition In Two Volumes, NY, 1912, which I found in most unusual place and time, one of the article’ authors traces verse developement from music through dance and prove it by translating four basic dance feet movements into four verse forms; listing terms as “feet” itself as proof. Which very well could be a well-known convention, but was entirely new to me (shows how short was my attention span at ‘History of music’ class 30 yrs ago).
    Special contributors to the edition include, btw, Nellie Melba, modestly introduced as Operatic Soprano, opposite Blanche Marchesi(Baronne Coccamisi) – “Opera, Oratorio and Concert Singer” and one mysterious (again, possibly only to me) William Shakespeare- “Singer and Vocal Instructor”

  7. Nellie Melba! What a great singer she was. Never heard of the Shakespeare guy, though.

  8. Shakespeare? Didn’t he play with Peter Tosh?

  9. How about a post on Phil Schaap?

  10. Oy. I’ll just wind up pissing people off.

  11. dicofone says

    no more tears… Thank you Steve…

  12. Steve was a master.
    I don’t know if what is more terrible is that he past away or that he got silent.
    No more his sound, palpable, in a room.
    I spoke with him before he returned to the US after so many years in Europe. He had the urge to return “it’s time to go back”.
    I”ll miss him very much.

Speak Your Mind