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Steve Lacy

  • Jazz Studies and Improvisation

Following a very popular one-week teaching residency during the 2001/2002 school year, legendary jazz saxophonist Steve Lacy moved from Paris to Boston to accept a regular teaching position at NEC as of fall 2002—the only time he ever affiliated with a school in this way. He taught jazz composition and performance students at NEC until his death on June 4, 2004, and was embraced by the entire NEC community; a collaboration with the Borromeo String Quartet was one of the more memorable excursions beyond his immediate influence as a studio teacher. Returning to the U.S. to teach after more than 30 years in Europe, Lacy cited NEC as “both venerable and high minded, but also tolerant and progressive.”

Steve Lacy Down Beat coverA 1992 MacArthur Fellowship recipient, Lacy had one of the most recognizable sounds in jazz. His playing was celebrated by perennial awards from Down Beat magazine as the top soprano saxophonist, as well as by the respect and admiration of fans and fellow musicians alike. Dating back to Lacy’s early, life-altering association with Thelonious Monk, as well as tenures with cutting-edge artists Gil Evans and NEC alumnus Cecil Taylor, Lacy remained committed to keeping his music new. This dedication accounts for one of the most productive careers in modern jazz—both in quantity and unrelenting quality.

Lacy’s title as one of the foremost interpreters of Monk’s music is just one of his considerable achievements; he also collaborated with Don Cherry, Carla Bley, Enrico Rava, Mal Waldron, Roswell Rudd, and his wife, violinist/singer Irene Aebi. Lacy combined his talents with artists in fields extending far beyond the realm of jazz: he set his music to works by authors/playwrights Herman Melville, Samuel Beckett, and William Burroughs and poets/philosophers Robert Creeley, Anne Waldman, Mary Frazee, and Bengali poet Taslima Nasrin, whose texts inspired Lacy’s The Cry.

Recordings on RCA, Verve, Columbia, Emanem, Lunatic, Tzadik, SoulNote, Prestige, New Jazz, Candid, Hat Hut, Hat Art, Black Saint, Fontana, Horo, Transition, and Novus.

A memorial concert was held at NEC on October 12, 2004, and a recording is available for listeners at NEC's Firestone Library.

Read NEC's press release, with quotes from Lacy's NEC colleagues.

Read selected obituaries and memorials from worldwide media.