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This book was written as a goodbye present for Steve Lacy on his departure to
Boston after a thirty year stay in Europe.
This is not a definitive biography of Steve Lacy, nor a complete musicological
analysis, but a collection of highly individual reactions to Lacys art.
First, we collected reactions of several of Lacys longtime friends and collaborators
such as Fred Van Hove, Evan Parker, Mal Waldron, Mikhail Bezverkhny and
Jolle Landre.
Jazz connoisseur Fernand Tanghe was best placed to write a comprehensive
musical biography of Steves prodigious musical output.
Next, Olivier Braet wrote a personal essay on Lacys literary roots and his favourite
Rita De Vuyst took the challenge of highlighting Lacys appearances in Ghent
(imagine every city Lacy has a connection with to write a book like this that
would make a collection!), his fertile cooperation with Evan Parker and the
exhibition that was dedicated to Steve Lacy.
Last, we added the full transcription of a long interview with Lacy about his ideas
on art, literature, the jazz scene and his most fruitful collaborations.
We end with a personal appreciation by Rita De Vuyst of Steves concert cycle
Blossoms, his goodbye present to Belgium and Europe.
We are very grateful for the valuable contributions of (in alphabetical order)
Mikhail Bezverkhny, Steve Boone, Chris Culpo, Shiro Daimon, Cedric Dhondt,
Caroline Forbes, Michael W. Huon from Studio Odon 120, Jolle Landre,
Vincent Lain from, Jackie Lepage,
Evan Parker, Roger Parry, Alfred Vandaele, Fred Van Hove, Bernard Van
Overmeire, Wim Smets, Tamara Swalef, Fernand Tanghe, Paul Van Gyseghem,
Mal Waldron and first and foremost Steve Lacy for the lengthy interview and his
additional input.

Short Bios
Mikhail Bezverkhny
Violinist (1976 Queen Elisabeth laureate) who has just found the road to
improvised music through Steve Lacy.
Shiro Daimon
Developed his unique blend of traditional and modern Japanese dance.
Jolle Landre
Energetic torch-bearer of free (double) bass improvising.
Evan Parker
A leading figure and exceptional instrumentalist in the world of avant garde
Fred Van Hove
One of the pioneers of European free improvised music.
Mal Waldron
Keeping Ellingtons and Monks flame burning in his inimitable fashion.

Personal appreciations of Steve Lacy

Evan Parker on Steve Lacy
Every musician working with the soprano saxophone in this era owes a great
debt of gratitude to Steve Lacy. His virtuosity and great love of the
instrument kept it alive in the dark period between Bechet and Coltrane. He
remains the voice of 'Soprano Today'.

Fred Van Hove on Steve Lacy: Wicked Lacy

Some people children and adults alike sometimes have a period of
picking their nose constantly without any demonstrable reason. Out of
shyness, to think, to gain time. It seems more like a phobia than a necessity.
Steve Lacys repeated tinkering with his mouthpiece and reed of his soprano
saxophone, in the cloakroom as well as on stage, is comparable to this.
However, Steve has a good reason for all this tinkering and twisting.
He has to have the correct tone, practically perfect tuning, crystal clearness.
Only then he can achieve that heavenly sound on this extremely difficult

Mal Waldron on Steve Lacy

On September 8 2002 Olivier Braet and Rita De Vuyst visited Mal
Waldron for a short interview on his friendship with Steve Lacy. Mal
was jetlagged, but was kind enough to answer our few questions.
With Steve we briefly talked about his expat experience in Europe and
Japan, since he is returning to the States now. What has it been like for you?
For me the expat experience has improved, because when I came over to
Europe in 1965 they came out to see me, but not in the numbers they come
out to see me now. Because Im older, and they feel Im gonna die, so thats
probably why! (Laughs)
Playing in the city you live in can be dangerous. You become known as a
local musician. Next your reputation comes down and the money you get
comes down too. So thats no good. That can be frustrating.
So I suppose you avoid playing in Brussels?
Yeah. I avoid playing in Brussels.
You probably get a lot of requests, but turn some of them down.
Yeah. Most of them I turn down. Just like what I do in Paris. I turn a lot of
Paris things down too. Like In Germany, Munich I turn a lot of Munich
things down too. I try to hold on to the idea not to shit in the kitchen.
(Laughs) Theyre too close!
Steve played a lot of times in Japan, like you did. Did you also live there for

a period?
No. Well, you could say I lived there for short periods, yeah. I had a house
there. When I played in Japan, I would go to live in my house, but that was
about six weeks at a time, and then I would come back.
Its also very tiring because you dont have any privacy. Because everybody
knows you, and they approach you and they want autographs. You go down
to get a pack of cigarettes and youd be out for hours because people are
stopping you and asking and talking to you.
But you are easy to spot in the streets, of course.
Oh yeah! (Laughs)
Do you feel that Steve still hasnt gotten the public attention he deserves?
Oh yes, certainly. For sure.
Was your first impression of Steve positive?
My first impression was not too positive, no. Because he didnt really swing
the way I was used to swing. But little by little I accepted his way of
playing. Right now we can go together and really swing, you know.
Monk was one mutual point of interest. The other one was Duke Ellington. I
was with him on several of his Monk records of the fifties. The first one was
in 1958 I think. That was with Elvin Jones (d) and Buell Neidlinger (b).
My favourite records with Steve are Moods from 1979 and Mal Waldron
with the Steve Lacy Quartet from 1972 (with Aebi, McGhie, Potts and Kent
Carter). Also Duquility, dedicated to Duke Ellington, I like very much.

On this point Mal played us some extracts from these records.

We all ate ice cream, together with Mals twin kids.


Steve Lacy, JeanJacques Avenel and

Mal Waldron,
January 4 2002 at
Duc des Lombards,
Paris (France)

Steve Lacy and Mal

Waldron, July 28
2002, Brussels
Before the Steve
Lacy and Jolle
Landre concert at
the Belga Caf
( Rita De Vuyst)


Sheet music for

Steve Lacy by
Jolle Landre


Sheet music for Steve

Lacy by Mikhail


Lacy: unlimited but not boundless

Fernand Tanghe
Steve Lacy was born in New York on July 23 1934, in an America that
swung between the obvious, hopeless misery of a crisis never seen before
and the quiet hope for a New Deal. His real name sounds weightier: Steven
Norman Lackritz. Lacy is of Russian origin in this regard this situates him
in the annals of jazz next to illustrious figures of the same kind. People like
Stan Getz and Bill Evans, and of course Gershwin who was not a fullblooded jazz figure but still had an enormous influence on the repertoire of
jazz soloists. As often, the Jewish-Russian roots have become
unrecognizable in the Americanized name. Nothing makes us suspect that
Getz is derived from Gayetski. In Lacys case, the more Anglo-Saxon name
was not created in the family circle. It was Rex Stewart, one of the jazz
greats who young Lacy performed his first concerts with, who changed
Lackritz which he found an unruly and unmelodious name into Lacy.
Lacy did indeed make his musical debut in the circle of classic jazzmen and
even veterans, after having indirectly expressed a first phase in this love for
jazz: not through sounds but through images (he took photographs of
famous soloists and sold them at the entrance of concert halls). But one
thing led to the next. Lacy soon took up clarinet lessons with Cecil Scott, a
rather eccentric reed blower from the high days of traditional jazz, followed
by soprano sax. In the early fifties he made his mark on both instruments
with figureheads of New Orleans, Dixieland and Kansas City jazz: Pops
Foster, Zutty Singleton, Willie The Lion Smith, Henry Red Allen, Pee Wee
Russell, Max Kaminsky, Buck Clayton, Dickie Wells, Hot Lips Page; Rex

Stewart, and many more. Yet Lacys unpredictability soon started showing:
he met Cecil Taylor and participated in his experimental searches for five
years. Lacy exchanged tradition for the avant-garde in a short period of
time. From one extreme to the next? That diagnosis would be too simple.
The fact that he can pick up the most varied styles and identify with all of
them does not mean that he is a chameleon. It is more an indication of an
anti-dogmatic mentality, of a music making style that is adverse to fixed
codes and shows real, inherent openness. It soon became apparent that the
unpredictable would remain the thread throughout his career (if this saying
is at all possible here): after years of exploring the free jazz waters and
every detail of the experimental territory he would still occasionally recontact traditional jazz players and record with Bobby Hackett and Kenny
Davern (1964 resp. 1978). This indicates that he felt just as at home with
them as in his debut years. Moreover, parallel to the cooperation with
Taylor, he remained active in combos that played jazz, which was a
combination of Dixieland and swing (led by himself or with trumpet player
Dick Sutton).
Simultaneously, Lacys music studies took a more systematic course
(courses at the Schillinger School in Boston and the Manhattan School of
Music) and his instrument arsenal broadened: other members of the
saxophone family and the flute. But not for long: after a while Lacy started a
love affair with the soprano sax. Whoever wants to take this demanding
and jealous mistress seriously, must limit himself to an exclusive
relationship. The soprano sax is after all a treacherous instrument: extremely
difficult to master, as if it is naturally out of tune. During the period of
classic jazz it was only used sporadically. As arrangement and combined
play grew more complex it almost completely disappeared from the scene.

Before Lacy, Sidney Bechet was the only musician to use the soprano sax as
his main instrument (but not exclusively: he always continued playing the
clarinet); Johnny Hodges had also successfully played it once in a while in
Ellingtons orchestra, but after some time he stopped for good. Until the
fifties, Bechet was of course associated with soprano sax in jazz music and
thanks to him Lacy fell in love with it, yet he did not use Bechets
technical or stylistic approach as a model. On the soprano, Bechet had
developed an inimitable style and particularly a unique timbre, instantly
recognizable with its widely spread out vibrato. Admired by devoted fans
and a source of irritation to others, Lacy considered this constant resort to a
distinct vibrato a trick to get round the instruments intonation problems:
this way Bechet could smooth over its intrinsic 'falseness'. Lacy would on
the other hand not
reconcile himself: he would tame
this 'devilish' instrument, even
correct every note if necessary; but
he did realize this would require
extreme continuous effort and
ascetic discipline, and that he
would get very frustrated along the
way; the effort it took was
incompatible with playing other
instruments. In this search Lacy
would not only explore the known
unexpected possibilities of the
soprano sax. He did not only learn
to control and adjust the official
register; he also developed new
Sidney Bechet

ground, added several dozen notes

and developed the register to
unprecedented heights, mainly by
devising and testing several
maneuvers. But even more
important than this exploration of
this instruments bottom to ceiling was that he greatly extended the
instruments expressive possibilities.
Back to Lacys debut years. On the earliest records we have of him he is the
sideman: sometimes from a traditional player like Sutton (1954), other times
he plays beside Cecil Taylor ('55-57; he also toured with him at the 1957
Newport festival). From then on his records appeared under his own name:
on the Soprano Sax album, which is still rather classic thematically
(standards), he is accompanied by Winton Kelly on the piano, Buell
Neidlinger on bass and Dennis Charles on drums; Reflections (1958) is the
first of a long line of recording sessions devoted to Thelonious Monk: with
on the piano a more like-minded soul Mal Waldron (who regularly returned
on later recordings), while Elvin Jones took care of percussion. Finally, on
The Straight Horn of Steve Lacy (1960) there is a quartet without piano:
and baritone sax, bass + drums (Roy Haynes): one can hear a hesitant
transition between bebop and New Thing, as the choice of themes also
indicates (written by Parker, Monk and Taylor). During these years Lacy
also participates in various albums led by arranger Gil Evans: Gil Evans &
Ten (1957), Great Jazz Standards ('59), Quiet Nights ('62, with Miles Davis
as soloist), Gil Evans Orchestra, feat. Kenny Burrell & Phil Woods ('63),
The individualism of Gil Evans ('64) (Lacy and Evans would also cooperate
throughout their lives: in resp. 1978, '81 and '87 Lacy played in his orchestra

on the Parabola, Lunar Eclipse and Collaboration albums with vocalist

Helen Merrill in the starring role and, also in '87, a duo-album was made,
titled Paris Blues).
After his first albums under his own name, Lacy was part of Thelonious
Monks quintet in 1960 for a few months. He now more clearly evolved in
the direction of experimental jazz, joined the combo who Jimmy Giuffre
performed with in the Five Spot, performed with Ornette Coleman and took
part in sessions that anticipated the Free Jazz album. The results of all this
can be heard on his own Evidence album from 1961 (again a quartet without
piano, but this time with two free jazz figureheads: Don Cherry on trumpet
and Billy Higgins on drums). At the same time, Lacys passion for Monk's
music was formed: He set up a quartet, with Roswell Rudd on the trombone,
which for a long time only devoted itself to the exploration of his
compositions. Meanwhile, in 1963, he took part in the recordings of a tentet
set up by Monk. One reason for Lacys continuous affinity with the Monk
repertoire is that he searched for the kind of music that is suited to the
soprano sax. In this respect, neither the known 'standards' nor the traditional
or bebop themes could completely please him. For example, for a while he
was busy transposing Anton Webern's vocal music to soprano, until he
discovered that Monks themes answered to the tessiture and possibilities of
his sax and simultaneously offered the material to overcome many technical
problems. This was especially crucial and it also played an important part in
the cooperation with Monk as with Taylor before. Their music was a
constant challenge to Lacy: no synonym of comfort but a constant stimulant
to explore ones own boundaries. Afterwards Lacy would explain that this
cooperation at the time was beyond his power, which meant a permanent
stress situation; but that was exactly the kind of challenge he was looking

Between '63 and '66 Lacy continued to work with avant-garde musicians,
among others: Paul Bley, Steve Swallow, Mike Mantler, and he cooperated
on recordings of Carla Bley and the Jazz Composer's Orchestra. Meanwhile
he stayed in Europe for increasingly longer periods: Sweden, but especially
Italy, where he engaged himself beside musicians like Giorgio Gaslini and
Enrico Rava. The latter was also part of the quartet that Lacy toured
Argentina in '66 with. It was meant to be a short tour but the project turned
into a forced nine-month stay. Lacy, who had referred to his quartet as a
'Revolution in jazz', was unfortunate to land in Buenos Aires in the middle
of a military putsch. It was the wrong music at the wrong time and place
all the more because they had not intended to 'free jazz', but also as Lacy
himself puts it: 'hermetically free'. After having survived the Argentine
adventure, he returned to New York for a while, where he again started
recording with the Jazz Composer's Orchestra as well as recording several
albums with vibraphone player Gary Burton. However he soon returned to
Europe. He stayed in Rome from '68 to '70. He sometimes performed there
and recorded with (among others) the aforementioned musicians, but also
commenced continuous musical cooperation with singer Irene Aebi, who is
also his life companion. However he soon became frustrated by the
undersized offer of all-round jazz talent in Italy. This time he moved to
Paris, which has been his home base for 25 years now (in the mid-nineties
he left and 'emigrated' to Berlin, but his desire to live in Paris returned in
During the seventies he found a formula that has determined his group
efforts: a sextet where the ranks have been renewed over the years, but is
supported by several loyal pillars; mainly Steve Potts on alto and soprano
sax, temperamentally very different to Lacy yet still his musical

complement, Bobby Few on the piano, Jean-Jacques Avenel on the doublebass (he was also a member of, among others, accordionist Richard
Gallianos group from 1991 tot '93), and Irene Aebi, who sang poetic and
literary texts that Lacy had put on music (by Blaise Cendrars, Apollinaire,
Eluard, Char, Beckett, Braque and others) and also played the violin and
cello parts.
Parallel to the activities of his own group, Lacy increased the amount of
meetings, experiments and recordings with other musicians (among others):
Mal Waldron, Misha Mengelberg, Eric Watson and Ran Blake (piano),
Derek Bailey (guitar), Maarten Altena (bass), Evan Parker (soprano sax).
He also repeatedly performed with Japanese jazz musicians, on the occasion
of regular tours in Japan. In due time he started to have a real preference for
two demanding and also rather ascetic formulas: performing and recording
in duo (with the aforementioned players) and as an unaccompanied soloist.
Until very late in the history of jazz unaccompanied solo recordings (accept
for pianists) were almost unconceivable. In 1948 Coleman Hawkins was the
first to dare to take the step: his 'Picasso', a solo of about 3 minutes (one side
of a 78 record) was then considered revolutionary and was not followed for
a long time. When the free age came this was of course less exceptional but
because of his numerous solo albums, Lacy remains unique in this 'genre'.
He turned the unaccompanied solo into a full formula: it perfectly answers
the challenge to explore the limits of the soprano sax, while the listener
never experiences the absence of a rhythm section as a flaw. In between
Lacy also experimented with a more extensive strength (more or less big
band-sized), but the results give quite a hesitant impression and are less
convincing. Throughout the years he has also explored other musical
worlds: Monk remains a passion, often honored on record, but there is also
the exploration of Ellingtons and Billy Strayhorns uvre (Sempre Amore,

1986, with Waldron), as well as that of Herbie Nichols and Charles Mingus
(Spirit of Mingus, 1991, a beautiful CD in duo with Eric Watson). Apart
from that, his own compositions have increased in importance and amount.
In this regard it should be noted that Lacy identified with free jazz for a
rather short time: as a revolutionary innovation it was unmistakably
important, he says, but by throwing all musical structure overboard it soon
became monotonous and sterile; people thought they were completely free
but after a while it all started to sound the same, night after night.
Sometimes radical steps are necessary to save the spirit and inventiveness of
music; but what is more important is what you do after this revolution. Soon
people started to realize that the discoveries should be exploited more
methodically and controlled. Freedom is not the same as playing just
anything, real freedom is what you get by laying open boundaries,
according to Lacy.


Lacy and Aebi Made in France 19702000

During the seventies he

moved over to what he calls
improvisation, a mix of the
understanding that there
does not have to be a strict
division, both can melt into
each other. Improvisation
is not an end, Lacy states,
but a tool. Some thoughts
can only be expressed
through composition, others
lend themselves more for
improvisation; but once
composed, the prepared can
always sound different and
improvised (Down Beat,

This way of 'post-free' music making tended back to a more coherent

development and a clear logic; Discarded elements melody, harmony,

rhythm, form were reintegrated but had undergone rejuvenation, they got a
more refreshing style and were open to a variety of possibilities; they were
no longer used 'defensively', but were now serving as a way of finding more
freedom and creativity, of both independence and mutual involvement of the
Finally the vocal element would also take an increasingly eminent place in
Lacy's music (partly due to the influence of Irene Aebi). This became
evident through the use of instrumental voice sounds, adding verbal-melodic
or rhythmic cells in the composition but especially through putting literary
and poetic texts onto music ('lit-jazz' Lacy calls it). In certain recordings the
music is completely centered on the voice. This is no coincidental evolution,
there are several reasons. First it means a return to the vocal essence and the
roots of jazz. Moreover: have we not always expected instrumental jazz
soloists to be good storytellers? That their sound, style and inflection tells a
unique story, as if the instruments language always tended towards the
word and verbal communication? (Of course the latter does not apply to
Lacy: communication in the crude, utilitarian sense of the word; if music
expresses something then it is only itself and the player is an actor and
vehicle involved in 'his' music, he does not own it, rather the opposite). In
any case, real jazz musicians aspire to use their instrument as a voice, they
try to create a kind of immediate bond between the conception and
expression of a musical idea that is so typical of the human voice: whatever
their instrument, they are singers. In some cases this takes on even more
tangible forms: people like Lester Young or Dexter Gordon based their
improvisations on the texts of the themes used.
That is also Lacys intention: playing with words of a text. Every text, be it
poetry or even aphorisms or speculative texts, contain an inherent
'melodicity', suggesting a characteristic melody; it can always be transposed

to a musical form because it tends towards it automatically. Therefore it is

also important as a composer and improviser to work with high quality,
metaphorical, 'inspiring' texts. In this context Lacy stated the following
about his cooperation with poet Brion Gysin: Si on lve le niveau des
lyrics, on a la possibilit de jouer sur un matriau de meilleure qualit car
nous jouons avec et sur ces mots. Quand nous jouons ces airs construits
partir des mots de Brion, on peut dire que toute la musique vient de ces
mots. Pour moi, a a t un miracle de trouver un matriel d'une telle
qualit" (Jazz Magazine 1-1993).
Gysin did not only write texts for Aebi. On some recordings the cooperation
with Lacy led to a direct mixture of art forms, e.g. on the Songs album
(1981) where Gysin recites from his own work. Lacy does not want it to end
there: he believes in a deeper unity between all art forms. As a result of live
performances, his interest in hybridization of art forms has become quite an
ambition: the result is not limited to a combination of jazz and poetry but
becomes a Gesamt spectacle where music, dance, choreography, drama,
film, painting and sculpture become profoundly intertwined. Apparently,
Lacy has also been working on an opera for some time now.
This is all very important and has an unmistakably innovative dimension,
but to end I would like to return to Lacy as a soloist. He has what one
expects of every eminent jazz musician: an inimitable and instantly
recognizable style. One important aspect of this style is something he
learned from Monk: the importance of silence in music. That it is sometimes
more important than the notes that are played: each note gets its value from
the silence around it. (Monk); "C'est la musique qui rend le silence plus
beau. C'est le silence qui rend la musique plus belle" (Lacy Jazz Magazine
This attention to silence in the first place means that nothing is said when
there is nothing to say: Lacy limits himself to expressing essentials, stripped

of all it frills; each note gets its own intensity and is also provided with its
own emotional dimension. Lacy is one of the rare people who understood,
as Nietzsche put it: the art of ruminating. His sense of silence also
indicates an open ear for his fellow players. The fact that every note gets a
special relief does not mean that it causes the melodic debit to be blocked.
On the contrary: conspicuous are the long, sometimes labyrinth like lines in
Lacy's improvisations. These sentences, interlarded with silence yet also
drawn out, give shape to a meditative discourse: cautiously, step by step, the
musical train of thought develops, deconstruction leads to reconstruction;
Lacy combines the art of slow exploration with a logic that is very limpid in
its conclusions; rigor, also conceptually, it feeds the power of expression
and vice versa. Sometimes his music is ascetic and inward, like the
meditation of a Buddhist monk, but this does not mean it is without passion
or emotion (neither is it incompatible with sometimes burlesque humor).
It sometimes appears minimalist, but it is the minimalism of abundance.
Lacy is first and foremost a unique stylist, and in that respect I would place
him in line with jazz musicians who have not gathered a huge following
despite their grandeur: people like Johnny Hodges, Ben Webster, Paul
Desmond, even Sidney Bechet. He has created a unique, inimitable sound
on the soprano sax: he has given the sax, which used to be considered a
circus instrument with its irremediable approximate intonation and shaky
vibrato, a definite patent of nobility. But his influence on other jazz
musicians is primarily indirect; it is situated on a level of inspiration; others
see him as a lesson in making high demands. Contrary to people like
Coltrane he is not really a textbook example. Most jazz musicians who play
soprano sax today (yet usually as additional instrument) follow Coltranes
Lacy on the other hand does not really have followers, no multitude of

disciples. This because he is too much a perfectionist who imperturbably

goes his own way, averse to all fashionable whims, a wise and serene

Fernand Tanghe is a teacher at UFSIA (Universitaire

Faculteiten Sint-Ignatius Antwerpen)


Bob Kaufman
I have folded my sorrows

I have folded my sorrows into the mantle of summer night,

Assigning each brief storm its allotted space in time,
Quietly pursuing catastrophic histories buried in my eyes.
And yes, the world is not some unplayed Cosmic Game,
And the sun is still ninety-three million miles from me,
And in the imaginary forest, the shingles hippo becomes the gay unicorn.
No, my traffic is not addled keepers of yesterdays disasters,
Seekers of manifest disembowelment on shafts of yesterdays pains.
Blues come dressed like introspective echoes of a journey.
And yes, I have searched the rooms of the moon on cold summer nights.
And yes, I have refought those unfinished encounters. Still, they remain
And yes, I have at times wished myself something different.
The tragedies are sung nightly at the funerals of the poet;
The revisited soul is wrapped in the aura of familiarity.


Steve Lacys lit-jazz

Olivier Braet


What did you do in the Great War, Mr. Joyce?

I wrote Ulysses. What did you do?

The constructive tension between jazz and literature constitutes the heart
and soul of the compositions of the American soprano saxophonist Steve
Lacy. By exploring this realm between literature and jazz, he goes back to
the historical roots of jazz music, and adds to this mix his unique, personal
interpretation. Although blues is in essence an oral tradition, it is hard to
understand why music critics have often failed to fully appreciate the
dialogue between jazz and literature. Typical of the neglect of the crossfertilization between jazz and literature is the way in which the vocal
contributions of Lacys wife Irene Aebi (cellist, violinist and vocalist) have
been treated with silence by the jazz critics.
When asked for a personal explanation, Lacy answered that it was because
it hits their weak side. Most of them dont know beans of literature, poetry,
the beat poets, none of this stuff. Theyre very channeled thinkers of jazz.
They may know Louis Armstrong and Dexter Gordon and all that, but they
dont know even Dostoyevsky or Van Gogh or Beethoven or none of that
stuff. A lot of them. Not all of them.
The unique relation Lacy has with certain writers grew gradually, or as Lacy

calls it, organically. He does not see it as a coincidence that he met his
wife through literature.

She was in San Francisco in the early sixties, before I knew

her. She knew Gysin. She knew Lew Welch. She knew some
of the poets. She was just a young girl with a guitar. She was
out there, and some of that stuff she introduced to me. And a
lot of it I showed her. And together we explored that area of
writing. Anne Waldman is an old friend of mine, an old
member of my family, really. And I knew Ginsberg from the
fifties too. Burroughs I knew very well, all of them. So,
theres an organic reason for all that. This project, The Beat
Suite, is an organic project that took years to mature,
develop and all that, and finally came together and here it is:
When composing, Lacy often takes a text with which he has a special bond
for no immediate specific reason. After having allowed the text(s) to
ferment often for several years he first writes the melody. By the time I
have the beginning of a melody, it's clear how the words will determine the
shape of the piece. Then the keyboard and bass parts are written. But this
creative process can vary according to the specific project. When putting
twelve texts of Taslima Nasrin to music, he noted that it was through the
words that I realized that the piano parts should be harpsichord parts,
because the harpsichord is a very intimate instrument, and conveyed the
intimacy of this woman's story. Then I began to hear the drone of the
harmonium behind the words, as in Indian music, so I added the accordion."

The dialogue between literature and jazz offers Lacy surprising creative
possibilities. If the music is based on literature, you're going to have very
unusual forms. You're not going to have regular 4, 8, or 12 bar sections;
you're going to have 9, 11, or 23, and measures of 3, 5, 6 or 7 next to each
other. Very few words fit into those standard forms. We use poetry, prose,
newspaper clippings, postcards and telegrams, and it almost never falls into
4-bar phrases and almost is never in 4/4. The words determine where the
music is going to go. In this way Lacy arrives at what he has appropriately
baptized lit-jazz.
It is beyond the scope of this article to make a musical-technical analysis of
how texts reappear in Lacys music, which would be work for
musicologists. Our purpose is to describe Lacys position within the artistic
world, in order to understand why he feels sympathy and respect for certain
writers. For this, we have to go back to the fifties and early sixties, where
Lacys artistic roots lie.


Lacys writers
Lacy fits in a tradition of artists that rejects the romantic image of the
tormented, lonely artist who, during spells of genius, produces his work. Just
like writers as James Joyce or William Burroughs loved to brag about the
fact that they didnt invent one plot, Lacy is proud of the fact that everything
he knows has been picked up and remembered until the appropriate musical
situation emerged. The notions of originality and genius attain in this way a
completely different meaning. Art is mainly hard work. Thousands of ideas
are lost, only a few of them are fit for publication. In this respect, Joyce and
Burroughs had an almost medieval view on being an artist. Their artist is
more of a reporter than a creator. The personal contribution is one of
ordering and explaining. The most important difference with the medieval
artist is that the artist has to try to report as good as possible his own
impressions I am a recording instrument. (Burroughs, Naked Lunch: p.
174) and therefore has to keep his senses clean: This is Revelation and
Prophecy of what I can pick up without FM on my 1920 crystal set with
antennae of jissom. (Burroughs, Interzone: 136 and also ad verbatim in
Naked Lunch: 180).
Lacy stands in the middle of this modernist tradition, where one treats
tradition with respect, without copying it blindly (like some jazz musicians
are doing now in neo-bop). At the same time this respect for the
predecessors does not stop artists from striving for innovations. Lacys
modernistic orientation reveals itself most clearly when you look at what
writers inspire him. They are tinkerers who (like Marcel Proust, one of the
modernistic giants) rework fragments, memories and sensory impressions
into unexpected and personal combinations.

A common element of Lacys favorite artists is that theyve all taken the
collage as an artistic starting point, although he himself has never used the
technique as such. In music John Cage did a lot of snipping, as Lacy calls
it. In painting all the cubists, surrealists and dadaists did it in one way or
another. Paul Klee also cut up photographs, and before him Czanne
combined in his landscapes different perspectives.
Lacy: Optics is one of my fundamental tools. I would say
that most of what I do in music, and the way I found various
things and the way I work, is through optics. You know,
magnifying certain things and isolating certain things.
Theyre optical phenomena, theyre ways of focusing. And
certain elements in the music and certain elements in
literature, and all that. In speech. And its a way of well
its a focus. I think focus is a very, very important
concept in my own work.
Tips from 1979 (with Steve Lacy on soprano; Steve Potts on alto and the
vocals of Irene Aebi) is based on the texts of the French Painter Georges
Braque, together with Picasso one of the founding fathers of cubism.


Czanne Mont-Sainte Victoire

Georges Braque Les Bateaux de

Lacy: "The French text is a selection from the notebooks of
Georges Braque. These are aphorisms, speculations,
observations, but especially, advice to himself as an artist,
and to all other artists.
Fifteen years ago, I took 14 of these phrases, and set them,
in a chosen order, for voice and soprano and alto
saxophones. Illustrated by the improvised sections, the result
is a sort of 'casebook cantata', and a working examination
into the nature of free play, in these case between two
saxophonists, but also about preparation and spontaneity,

and of music and information.

Braque's Tips to artists can, of course, best be understood in
the context of his painting, somewhat related, also, to the
work of Paul Czanne, to whose memory this piece is
For the same reason, Lacy has used early poems of Blaise Cendrars for the
song Prospectus, which you can find on the album with the same name
(Steve Lacy Seven, 1983), and also on Live in Budapest (with Steve Potts,
1987), Morning Joy (Steve Lacy Four, 1986), Live at Sweet Basil (Steve
Lacy Sextet, 1991) and Blues for Aida (Solo in Japan, 1995). Blaise
Cendrars is with Apollinaire, whom he influenced strongly, one of the most
important figures of the literary avant-garde before the First World War. In
his first experimental poems Cendrars combined fragments from
newspapers, multiple perspectives, synchronous impressions, with other
typical modernistic techniques. La prose du Transibrien et de la petite
Jeanne de France (1913) is at the same time travelogue and lament, and was
printed on pages of two meters high, next to abstract paintings of Sonia
Robert Creeley and Franco Beltrametti also fit in this list of brilliant
tinkerers. Lacy first adapted Robert Creeleys poetry on the annual festival
for contemporary music in Lille, in the performance Futurities (which can
be found on the double-CD with the same name). In 1993 Lacy dedicated a
large part of his set in Cambridge, Massachusetts to Creeley. In Calumet in
1995 he played with Irene Aebi a selection of Creeleys poetry.
For The Condor Lacy started from Franco Beltramettis poems Un
uccello? Un'aquila? Beltrametti combined Lao Tze and Levi-Strauss with
Genet and Rimbaud. He met Mal Waldron in Rome of 1968; the same year

he met Steve Lacy in Milan, whose soprano-saxophone inspired him for the
rhythm of his poems.


The years of formation within the American

If we want to understand Lacys love for specific writers, we have to look at
his years of formation within the artistic world. Lacy has been especially
influenced by the American avant-garde of the fifties and early sixties,
which was in its turn strongly influenced by the French avant-garde of the
interbellum. Recently he recorded The Beat Suite. In this cycle he adapted
poems of ten members of the beat movement to music. The complete cycle
is dedicated to Brion Gysin, the not so well known but highly influential
artistic centipede. The recording contains numbers based on texts by
Kaufman, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Burroughs, Rexroth, Waldman, Gregory
Corso, and the oft-neglected Lew Welch.
Lacy holds a special sympathy for those artists that explicitly moved beyond
the established borders of classification, as he himself frequently does in his
music. We can safely say that artistic schools or movements rarely play the
role academics assume they play. Most of these schools are artificial
constructions the Beat-movement being one of the finest examples. In
practice, artists feel sympathies for other artists over the boundaries of these
scholastic classifications.
Like the French Impressionists, the 'Beat' writers were a small group of
close friends, and were labeled as a movement in retrospect. The bestknown names of this group are Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William
S. Burroughs. They met in the surroundings of Columbia University in New
York City during the mid 1940s. As close friends they encouraged each
other's writing efforts. It took ten years before their manuscripts were
starting to get published.

These three authors attained their greatest audiences in different decades.

Kerouacs coup dtat already took place in the fifties, and his acceptance
by a larger audience (lets call this his consecration) took place in the
sixties. Kerouac easily fitted in the image of the existentialist pote
maudit of the fifties. Kerouac-the-clich is the man who combined smoky
jazz cellars with endless travels through the United States.
Ginsberg reached his largest audience as an avant-garde poet in the sixties.
He co-operated with the sit-ins and other protest actions of the American
students, and fitted better with the softer visions on sexuality and drug-use
of the Flower Power generation. He was consecrated in the early seventies.
Burroughs, although cited as a major influence by Kerouac and Ginsberg,
only reached a larger audience in the late seventies with The Wild Boys.
Towards the end of the eighties he was consecrated. This late consecration
has two main reasons. First, he lived abroad until 1974, and people were
even amazed he was still alive when he returned to live in the US. Also, he
did not fit in with the Beat-movement, which he find too student-like, nor in
the Flower Power movement, which he found too nice. Kerouac saw
being on the road as some sort of mystical experience, and together with
Neal Cassady he crossed the United States because of wanting to cross it.
Burroughs made fun of the tautology of the on the road-high: Obviously
the purpose of the trip is carefully selected to symbolize the basic fact of
purposelessness. (The Letters of William Burroughs: 30/1/1949). In the
sixties he said to Ginsberg that the only way he would ever offer flowers to
a policeman was in the flowerpot and from the sixth floor.


Hal Chase, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, New York,
The most important similarity between these authors is that they all turned
away from the ruling highbrow definition of what art was supposed to be.
For this, they oriented themselves towards the more primitive European
avant-garde of the interbellum, such as Surrealists, Dadaists, Louis
Ferdinand Cline, Joyce, Kafka and Beckett. They averted themselves from
the left-wing activism that had become characteristic for the academic
avant-garde (if such a thing even exists). How this came to be, will be
highlighted in the next chapter.


Lacy also was strongly influenced by the French avant-garde of this period.
Lacy: That was one of the things that attracted me before I
even came to France. You know in New York, back in the
fifties I discovered like the French cinema, some French
music and French literature, poetry and things like that. And
some of those were the things that attracted me, even before I
came here. Also I did study a little bit of French in high
school. You know, Michaux and Genet and Sartre, some of
the poets like Appolinaire, I knew those things before I even
came here.
At the same moment, the American Action Painters also rejected the pure
aestheticism of the puritanical ethos, propagated by the conservative elites
of Boston, as well as the left wing snobbery of the progressive elites of New
York. They used techniques that everyone could apply, thereby achieving a
democratizing effect: anyone can produce art. Robert Rauschenberg used all
sorts of found garbage in his paintings. Jasper Johns combined dirt with
mass cultural icons. Willem De Kooning tore womens lips from fashion
magazines. The most famous American from this period, Jackson Pollock,
dripped his paint on the canvas instead of using a brush.
For these painters it was not so much the product obtained as the action of
painting itself that became important (hence Action Painting).


Jackson Pollock Lavender Mist (1950)

The jazz avant-garde felt closely connected to these painters. In The Five
Spot, one of the important locations where experimental jazz was played,
these artists met. Steve Lacy testifies: The painters came there even before
our engagement, and especially when Monk was there. There was De
Kooning, Franz Kline, Herman Cherry, David Smith and Pollock. In Cedar
Bar, all the painters were there. Also at the Club, where they met once a

week to discuss painting. Franz Kline liked jazz very much, and De
Kooning too. For Monk, they were there every evening. ("Interview with
Steve Lacy by Alain Kirili", from Sculpture et Jazz - Autoportrait, Alain
Kirili, Stock, Paris - 1996)
The beats as well as the action painters were convinced that the old avantgarde would find their techniques vulgar. In Kerouacs case the effect
wasnt as strong, but Burroughs or Gysin succeeded surprisingly well in
their aims. With their cut-up technique Burroughs and Gysin aimed to shock
the academic avant-garde. They introduced the use of modern technologies
such as TV-sets and tape-recorders into the literary field, and had an image
of the writer as a language-engineer who dissects words with the same
precision as a doctor operates a patient. In the following quote we meet
Burroughs alter ego Dr. Benway, who levels pure artistic creation with
art for arts sake, and at the same time propagates some sort of a
handicraft view on being an artist.
Dr. Benway is operating in an auditorium filled with
students: Now boys, you wont see this operation
performed very often and theres a reason for that. . . . You
see it has absolutely no medical value. No one knows what
the purpose of it originally was or if it had a purpose at all.
Personally I think it was a pure artistic creation from the
beginning. (Naked Lunch, p. 59)
In most of Burroughs and Kerouacs novels and in the poems of Ginsberg
the action of writing itself is the purpose of the writing. This is the principle
of artistic autonomy brought to its bare essence: writing in order to be
writing. Kerouacs criture automatique was actually already old hat in

painting at that time. But William Burroughs and Brion Gysin came a lot
closer to this practice-oriented, activistic way of creating (without giving
direct political connotations to the term). Ginsberg stood between Burroughs
and Kerouac with his Zen Buddhist theorem First thought, best thought.
Ginsberg called his improvisational technique in literature composing on
the tongue, and other beat poets in one way or another used this method.
Gregory Corso wrote a poem about the sun wherein he was (so-to-speak)
completely spontaneous: Sun hypnotic! holy all protracted long and sure!
firey goblet! day-babble!, etcetera.

Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, April 1973

Rhythm, meter and length of beat poetry stood aesthetically closer to jazz

music than traditional, European poetry. As Ted Joans, poet and friend of
several beats said: "I could see that [Ginsberg] was picking up the language
and rhythm of jazz, that he wasn't following the European tradition".
Ginsberg saw his poetry as equivalent with the improvised music, because
he let the length of his phrases depend on the length of his breath. Often he
inhaled deeply at the end of a long sentence, and restarted with the same
word he had ended with. Traditional jazz and beat poetry also put more
stress on the second and fourth measure, as in traditional African music,
while European music and poetry puts more stress on the first and third
measure. Beat poetry in general follows a more loose and syncopated jazzy


Anti-interbellum, anti high-brow

A good illustration of the shallow way in which the critics described the
artistic significance of this generation, is the fact that they continually (up to
this day) describe the generation as the product of disappointments of the
politically active intellectuals before, during and after the Second World
War. They reason that the defeat of the Spanish republicans during the
Spanish civil war and the non-attack pact between Russia and Germany in
1939 permanently shocked the artists. This caused the rift between being
politically engaged and being artistically engaged after the Second World
Explanations like these are a degenerate form of political reductionism,
where international political events are used to offer an explanation for
artistic revolutions. Artists aim to be as autonomous from these political
events as possible, witness the quote of James Joyce in the beginning of this
article. Closer to the truth is that the avant-garde artists were as disappointed
by the conservative intellectual elites of the United States as they were by
the progressive elites.
The aversion that the writers felt vis--vis conservative critics such as the
Agrarian Critics, T.S. Eliot or Northrop Frye is self-evident. The American
Agrarian Critics such as John Crowe Ransom showed a strong nostalgia for
the American open space, and said that modern art with its strange
experiments and lack of respect for the traditions was undermining modern
How can the Southern communities, the chief instance of
the stationary European principle of culture in America, be

reinforced in their ancient integrity as centers of resistance

to an all but devouring industrialism? (Ransom 1928,
The South - Old or New?, Sewanee Review, XXXVI,
April: 147)
T.S. Eliot followed the same program in his pamphlets After Strange Gods:
A Primer of Modern Heresy (1934) and Notes Toward the Definition of
Culture (1948). He openly sympathized with the anti-industrial program of
the Agrarians.
Stability is obviously necessary. You are hardly likely to
develop tradition except where the bulk of the population is
relatively so well off where it is that it has no incentive or
pressure to move about. The population should be
homogenous; where two or more cultures exist in the same
place they are likely either to be fiercely self-conscious or
both to become adulterate. What is still more important is
unity of religious background; and reasons of race and
religion combine to make any large number of freethinking
Jews undesirable. There must be a proper balance between
urban and rural, industrial and agricultural development.
And a spirit of excessive tolerance is to be deprecated. (T.S.
Eliot 1934, After Strange Gods, A Primer of Modern
Heresy. In Kurzweil, E. and William Phillips, 1983, Writers
and Politics. A Partisan Review Reader, London,
Routledge: 19-20. My italics.)
For Eliot, industrialization threatened the agrarian solidarity, the balance
between nature and culture and the balance between our culture and other

cultures. Also a painful timing by Eliot the necessity of a racial and

religious homogeneity made the free-thinking Jews a part of the problem.
His image of the polluted national and racial integrity is strengthened by the
use of transparent sexual metaphors of the blasphemed purity. The use of
adulterate (as in counterfeited), is in itself an easy play with the false/realdistinction, and also immediately denotes adultery. The use of the
adjective excessive before tolerance associates tolerance with decadence.
To illustrate the spectacular influence T.S. Eliot had: in 1956 he lectured in
the arena of the University of Minnesota on The Frontier of Criticism for an
audience of 13723 people! Besides that he was of course the laurelled writer
of The Waste Land.
The American avant-garde of the fifties distanced themselves not only from
the conservative definitions of high-brow art, but also from the
progressive definitions of what avant-garde was supposed to be. The artistic
avant-garde of the fifties was depicted by the economic and intellectual elite
as a lost generation (which was in itself a clich of the past interbellum),
because of their apparent lack of political engagement. Critic Morris
Dickstein wrote in Partisan Review (in that period the single most
influential magazine of literary-criticism) that the avant-garde consisted of
() urban intellectuals and artists manqus whose quasi-bohemianism is
enforced by the depression rather than founded on talent or creative energy.
(Dickstein 1974 in Kurzweil, E. and William Phillips, 1983: 276).
Their lack of left-wing political activism caused several critics to lament that
they exhibited a Cold War anti-Communism that predominated among
intellectuals of the late forties and fifties, which weirdly refracted the
political tenor of the nation at large. (Dickstein in Kurzweil: 271-2).
These kinds of analyses created a rift between the avant-garde and the
know-it-better left wing intellectuals. Dicksteins observation, that more

than their artistic talent, the economic depression formed their lifestyle, is at
the same time completely correct, but by saying it mockingly he rejects the
new avant-gardes out of the pantheon of good avant-garde.
In another Partisan Review article of the seventies, critic Barbara Rose
describes the American avant-garde of the fifties with terms such as
puerilism, self-pity, self-hatred, self-mutilation. She sees the
movement as a purely aesthetic phenomenon stripped of critical content
where the use of chance itself as a method to form creation implies a large
degree of passivity toward the external world (Barbara Rose 1973 in
Kurzweil). Notice how she comes very close to the truth when she sees the
use of chance as their most important aesthetical principle, while at the
same time ignoring the aesthetic consequence of her utterance.
As an illustration of how much the beats despised these critics, a quote from
a letter from William Burroughs to Kerouac and Ginsberg, where he says
about the Partisan Review that: publishing in those obituary pages is really
the kiss of death, the very fuck of death (The Letters of William Burroughs:
The analyses of these Partisan Review critics were based on the ideas of the
godfathers of American left-wing criticism: Theodor Adorno and Max
Horkheimer. These German philosophers had fled the Nazi-regime in the
late thirties. In the U.S. they quickly attained huge influence among New
Yorks intellectual elites. They were shocked when they found a (according
to them) cultural desert in the United States. They were especially
dumbfounded by the popularity of jazz music.
A Jazz-musician who plays a piece of serious music, who

has to play the most simple minuet of Beethoven, plays it

arbitrarily syncopated, and only manages to start at the
start of the measure with a sovereign smile. This nature,
complicated by the always present and exaggerated
demands of the medium, makes the new style into a
system of non-culture, which could have some unity of
form, were it not that it isnt more than stylized barbarism
(Nietzsche 1917, Unzeitgemsse Betrachtungen. Part I
from Werke, Leipzig: Grooktavausgabe: p. 187).
(Adorno and Horkheimer 1987[1947]: 143-44. My italics.)
The serious, cultivated compositions of Beethoven stand in contrast with the
simple, arbitrary, exaggerated non-culture of jazz-music. The smiling
musician points to the superficiality of the mass-consumer. The use of this
nature is pure racism. Combinations such as stylized barbarism thank
their power of ridicule only to the contrast of the stylish with the
Letting jazz-musicians play a minuet of Beethoven is as silly as letting
Jackson Pollock paint a Rembrandt. Behind the cheap profit of these
ridiculizations lies the implication that the philosophers are best suited to
recognize the universal and timeless qualities of true art: The style of the
cultural industry is at the same time the negation of style but this
negation of style does say something about the past real style. (id.: 145).
Adorno and Horkheimer were still pupils of Kants teachings, that put the
scarce competences of the pure contemplation above the democratic
competences of the functional manipulation. It seems as if the pure taste can
be attained by everybody, but is being withheld by the capitalists, with the
masses approving of this silently.

No wonder then that Burroughs had such an anti-left reflex. Not only did he
identify the Swedish model as a nightmare in Naked Lunch. During his
university studies he always kept his distance towards the left wing students,
since he distrusted their Horkeimerian mister-know-it-all-ness. After the
Second World War there were several communist cells and left-wing
professors active at the East Coast. Burroughs reacted strongly against these,
and seemed to follow the general public opinion as if he was supporting
senator McCarthys communist witch hunt.
My opinion of labour leaders and unions is very close to the
views so ably and vigorously expressed by Westbrook
Pegler, the only columnist, in my opinion, who possesses a
grain of integrity. (The Letters of William S. Burroughs:
24/12 1949)
Pegler was the prototype right wing anti-communist columnist. But
Burroughs isnt completely serious here. He writes in the idiom of the
English, in the legitimate accent of the puritanical Bostonians (so ably and
vigorously and in my opinion). Ginsberg quickly saw through this. He
reacted a month and a half later by calling Pegler a mouldy fig with nuts.
He correctly identified Burroughs right-wing opinions as just a W.C.
Fields act.
Lacy also has his unique way of playing with right-wing influences. He
adores Zamyatin, the Russian writer of the dystopian novel We, wherein he
predicts the whole system would collapse. And Steve has dedicated a whole
cycle to the dissident, anti-communist poet Marina Tsvetayeva, which
nobody to this day seems to be willing to publish.

The revolution according to bebop

The avant-garde of the fifties found something in jazz that Adorno and
Horkheimer on the left or T.S. Elliott on the right could not recognize:
democracy in action. Jazz was in the fifties the foremost form of expressing
the process of democratization, the most activistic way for the black
population of the US to air their discontent with civil society.
The stylistic revolution caused by bebop was especially for Kerouac an
important source of inspiration. Kerouac was a true jazz buff, obsessed by
the technical virtuosity of the musicians. He spent night after night in the
jazz clubs of New York and owned an extensive record collection, which he
played constantly. Kerouac stood at the cradle of the so-called jazz and
poetry-evenings which were held in New York City pubs. Accordingly, he
adapted his writing style to the improvisational qualities of jazz.
Bebop was not just an aesthetic revolution, but included a complete lifestyle.
The beats found in jazz music not only a polyphony of musical styles, but
also a mix of musical virtuosity and a practical, rawer aesthetic. Bebop was
the logical continuation of Ellingtons rebellious swing combos from the
end of the 1920s and the beginning of the 1930s. Bebop kept the satirical
character of the carnavalesque vaudeville-musicians who had mocked the
way white ladies moved with their cakewalk. Bebop was like a city
version of the cakewalk: aggressive, intellectual and witty, with the
restlessness of living in the city, and without the rural elements of the by
now harmless Dixieland-genre.
Their aesthetical choices were, as was the case with other avant-gardists,
always at the same time political positionings. Gillespie explained bebop as
the sound police clubs make when they hit a black mans head. This was

of course a fantasy of Gillespie. Initially, bebop mimicked the sound of the

rhythmical accents played by the drummers bass-drum (the so-called afterbombs). But Gillespies exaggeration does show the attitude of the
musicians versus their white audience. While traditionalists played with the
eternal white teeth and danced wildly on the music, Monk, Miles Davis or
Charlie Parker never showed a show-bizz smile, what they saw as some
form of exhibitionism or artistic prostitution.
Lacy: "Playing with Taylor and seeing how much courage
he had in facing the hostility of the people against what he
was doing, and that was a political experience for me too,
because it showed me that you have to persevere and go
your own way and then eventually maybe twenty years later,
people catch up with you. I saw the same thing with
Thelonious Monk. It took about twenty years for people to
realize what he was up to." (All About Jazz, Interview by
Fred Jung, April 1999. My italics.)
Just as the beat writers were being mocked for their leveling techniques
such as free improvisation and cut-up, important critics described bebop as
cold, unemotional, and harmful to the future of jazz. (Nat Hentoffs
rejection of bebop according to Leonard Feather in "A Plea for Less Critical
Infighting, More Attention To The Music Itself", Downbeat, December 16,
1965: 13.) Hentoff gives a classic example of the critic who still uses old
artistic classifications, wherein he wants to forcibly fit the new forms of
expression. Because he is using the old clichs of emotionality, he confuses
new ways of expressing emotion with non-emotion.


The aesthetical principles of the cut-ups

The sympathies Lacy has for specific writers, the cross-fertilization between
jazz and literature, Lacys beat-roots and his love for the avant-garde,
illustrate splendidly where his artistic roots lie. One beat writer Lacy
respects most (and also Burroughs called the only man I really respected),
is Brion Gysin. Gysin was an artistic centipede. He painted, wrote prose and
poetry, and invented the first visual work of art that one had to look at with
ones eyes closed: the dream machine. He took cut-ups to their most
extreme form with what he called permutations: the continual repetition of
words, stammered in some sort of Hebrew hypnotic mumble. Gysins
permutations at the same time fitted in the musical tradition of swing jazz
(through the play with shifting cadenzas), and the play with nonsensical
sounds in scat music. Hereunder you can find the permutation rub out the
word, based on one of William Burroughs obsessions: the destruction of
association blocks in language: Cut word lines - Cut music lines - Smash
the control images - Smash the control machine - Burn the books Kill the
priests - Kill!Kill!Kill!



Steve Lacy: I knew he was the inventor of the dream

machine and I had a song called Dreams and was unhappy
with the lyrics, so I gave the melody to Brion to write some
new lyrics. It was astonishing, absolutely like a dream. It
worked beautifully and we recorded it in '75 with Irene
singing in two voices in major seconds with a sextet. It's
been re-released on a triple CD in Paris from Saravah.
[Lacy is referring to Dreams - Scratching the Seventies, a reedition of five Lacy albums: Roba (1969), Lapis ('71),
Scraps ('74), Dreams ('75) and The Owl ('79).]
Gysins texts are also used by Lacy in the compositions All Those Years,
Deadline, Nowhere Street, Somebody Special and I am That I Am.
The albums Dreams, Songs and The Beat Suite (forthcoming) are dedicated
to Brion Gysin. Gysin himself sings on Luvzya and the drug-inspired suite
William Burroughs befriended Brion Gysin in Paris 1959, although he had
called him after their first meeting in Tangier paranoid bitch on wheels
Brion Gysin (The Letters of William Burroughs: 2/11/1955). During
Burroughs writing of Naked Lunch in Tangier Gysin had turned out to be a
major source of inspiration. Especially his cut-up technique which Gysin
only used in poetry fascinated Burroughs.
Burroughs and Gysin formed, together with Ian Sommerville and Michael
Portman, an isolated clique that saw every event in Paris or the whole world
as a proof of all kinds of conspiracies, which served the purpose of
destroying the creative faculties of the human kind. This theme can be found

in The Conspiracy (Burroughs, Interzone: 106-11) where they are

giving an anti-dream drug to people. This is immediately blown out of
proportion to an international coalition of demonic powers beside which
the atomic bomb is a noisy toy (Interzone: 111).

Brion Gysin, Tangier, 1956

Brion Gysin and William S.

London, 1972

It was a hectic, portentous time in Paris, in 1959, at the Beat

Hotel, No. 9, Rue Git-le-Coeur. We all thought we were
interplanetary agents involved in a deadly struggle battles
codes ambushes. It seemed real at the time. We were
getting messages, making contacts. Everything had
meaning. (Burroughs, The Western Lands: 252).

Burroughs applied the cut-up technique to tape recordings, recording several

texts, spinning the reel back and forth, stopping at arbitrary intervals and
recording new texts over the old ones. They speeded up or slowed down the
recordings, mixed different voices, played the tapes backwards, and all of
this at the same time. It was during these experiments that the so-called
scratching was invented, which was to be used much later in rap-music,
but is also reminiscent of Lacys scratching the seventies.
Lacy: There was a lot of musicians in Paris in the early
seventies from all over the world, and the free thing was
very alive. And prices were down. You know we stayed in
hotels, like you stayed in a hotel full of musicians and the
rooms cost at that time I think twenty francs a day. Which
was a lot of money for us, at that time. We had no money at
all. But we worked all over Paris. We worked in schools,
museums, theatres, libraries, prisons, hospitals, outdoors, for
the radio, everything, you know.
It was really scratching the seventies, thats why I put that
record out, Scratching the Seventies. Cause it was a
scratching period. But all chickens were on the same level.
[] It was a beautiful period then in the seventies, you
(Lacy, by the way, likes any wordplay on scratching. Were just
scratching the surface or This cat likes to be scratched always makes him
smile: Voila, scratching, yeah!)
The initial reactions on the cut-up technique were very negative. When John
Calder published Dead Fingers Talk in 1962, the literary supplement of

Times reacted with an anonymous review called: Ugh. On this followed a

thirteen day long correspondence between proponents and opponents.
Burroughs was being defended by his colleague-writers (especially Anthony
Burgess and the science-fiction writer Michael Moorcock) and his publisher
John Calder, and was criticized by literary critics and established names
from the publishing industry. The cut-ups were in no way obscene, and the
disgust they caused were purely an effect of the form of the experiments.
Burroughs, together with Gysin, took the collage technique to its extremist
consequences. They democratized writing techniques in such a way that it
seemed as if anyone could write. By doing this, they were trespassing a
frontier between writing and tinkering that few were willing to pass. One
(again anonymous) critic even said: Thats not writing, its plumbing.
The roughest cut-ups were written in the beginning of the sixties and are
sometimes completely hermetic, if one isnt acquainted with Burroughs
was a boy I own cops out of Hell all the Grey Guards said
Martin softly a faint odor of nova in the air as it were
summoned his saddle uh belated there in cigarette smoke
drifting no more peg to hang it on like where? Well, Martin I
tell you just where I start : the uh public cooling system
under survey. (The Burroughs File: 35)
The roughness of the cut-ups is largely an interpretation of the reader, since
Burroughs only withheld the to him relevant combinations, so to him there
were no not-understandable combinations in the cut-ups. The better one
knows Burroughs life and work, the more meaning these cut-ups have in
the light of specific events of his life or books. You can be educated in his

style, even though he has constructed complete paragraphs out of paperclippings, radio- and TV-shows, advertising messages, song texts or
fragments of other writers. Gysin was also educated in Burroughs writing
and life, and exaggerated when he said that one single high-powered
Burroughs word could ruin a whole barrel of good everyday words, run the
literary rot right through them. One sniff of that prose and youd say, Why,
thats a Burroughs.


The end of free jazz

Well make full circle by returning to one of the founding fathers of bop:
Thelonious Sphere Monk. What made Monk distinctive from Dizzy
Gillespie and Charlie Parker was an apparent lack of technical virtuosity on
the piano. By putting aside all forms of technical bragging, Monk created
the definitive rupture with the European tradition of virtuosity. Not Dizzy
nor Bird but Monk pushed the aesthetic roots of bebop beyond its
boundaries with the simplicity of songs such as Misterioso, Evidence or
Hornin' In. The free jazz of Ornette Coleman, and next the soundscapes of
Albert Ayler and John Coltrane would perpetuate this anti-European
In the forties and fifties Monk was still seen as the odd-man-out in jazz. It
wasnt until his cooperation with Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane and Miles
Davis that a greater audience started to appreciate his innovations, started to
realize his great influence on bebop, and how logical his strange
compositions were. Lacy was immediately sold: Monk loved the risk and
the play! Especially the play. The two go together.


Thelonious Monk

Lacy: "Thelonious was a beautiful man, with a special sense

of humor, and a love of play, all sorts of play (music, dance,
ping-pong, other sports, and even playing with death and
'playing dead'). When we were working at the Jazz Gallery,
it was summertime, and in between sets we would be on the
street, in front of the club, and T. would be playing with the
passing cars and traffic lights, like a matador with the bulls.

(Fragment from "Foreword by Steve Lacy " in Thelonious

Monk: his life and music, Thomas Fitterling, Berkeley Hills
books, 1997)
The stress, as in beat literature, lies on art as a game or struggle instead of
art as a showcase of ones artistic virtuosity for further glorification of
oneself, or an elevated ideal. This is very reminiscent of Burroughs activistic
(and Hemingway-esque) comparison between writing and bull fighting.
Many people who call themselves writers and have their
names on books are no writers and they do not write; a
bullfighter who fights a bull is different from a bullshitter
who makes passes with no bull there (The Adding Machine:
That writing is real can be seen by the many comparisons between literature
and martial arts in Burroughs letters to Ginsberg and Kerouac. The writer is
like a knife fighter, who imagines the places he wants to hit.
the knife fighter sees the inner organs of his opponent
heart, liver, stomach, neck, veins that he is attempting to
externalize and delineate with his knife (The Letters of
William Burroughs: 23/10/1955).
On the subject of Brion Gysins paintings, Burroughs wrote:
He regards his paintings as a hole in the texture of so-called
reality, through which he is exploring an actual place
existing in outer space. That is, he moves into the painting

and through it, his life and sanity at stake when he paints.
(The Letters of William S. Burroughs: p. 398: Letter to
Ginsberg on 10/10/1958).
The collage-experiment is at the same time a political standpoint, just as
the free verse came to be out of resistance against the alexandrine, against
everything the alexandrine implicated aesthetically but also socially and
politically. (Pierre Bourdieu: Les rgles de lart, p. 251)
For Lacy poetry and politics are alike: Nobody asks us to play jazz, its us
who want to play it. I take orders of no one, except maybe from Louis
Armstrong or Duke Ellington. I am standing in the middle of a tradition, but
I only play the music I want to play, and only with the people who have the
same opinion. That demand is political. [] Cecil Taylor taught me that it
was a political act to fight for being able to play the way you want to play.
(Drle d'poque, "Secrets et Silences", spring 2002 nr 10)
Lacy: Playing with Cecil Taylor immediately put me into
the offensive mode. This was the avant-tout garde; we were
an attack quartet, (sometimes quintet or trio), playing
original, dangerously threatening music that most people
(musicians, organizers, club-owners, and critics) were
offended by, doing everything they could to hold us back
and prevent us from getting work. In the six years I worked
with Cecil Taylor (1953-59), I received an excellent
education, not only in jazz, but also in politics and strategy.
The same orientation towards action can also be found in Thelonious
Monks compositions, as Lacy so vividly points out:

Lacy: "All his music can be sung and swung, and derives
fundamentally from, and towards, dance. Rhythm and
melody were one for him. He told me that when he was
young he was excellent at mathematics, and I believed him
because his sense of time and space was uncanny. In jazz,
and especially after the bebop revolution in the forties (of
which Thelonious was the leading strategist), the mise-enplace was opened up as a source of new lines, and the
rhythmic content was greatly enhanced. (From "Foreword
by Steve Lacy " in Thelonious Monk: his life and music,
Thomas Fitterling, Berkeley Hills books, 1997)
And the same orientation towards action one can find in Ornette Coleman,
pioneer of the free jazz.
Lacy: "He came in and blew New York away. He divided
and polarized the scene so that either you were for it or
against it. Of course, I was for it from the beginning. Even
before I heard him live, I heard the record. And I loved it
because it was vocal. It was language. It was spoken as if he
was speaking the saxophone. It was so free, it was just like
Lacy got acquainted with Ornettes sidemen Don Cherry (whom Lacy
admires most), Billy Higgins and Charlie Haden in the beginning of the
sixties. After Free Jazz, the groundbreaking record with the double quartet
(which, by the way, showed on its sleeve the Jackson Pollock painting White
Light), Lacy replaced Eric Dolphy in the double quartet for a life show of
Free Jazz. Its in this period that Coltrane heard Lacy playing the soprano,

and decided to give the instrument a try. Together with Colemans octet
Lacy experienced one of the most disappointing episodes of his career,
during their first tour.


Ornette Coleman, 1958
Lacy: The gig was in Cincinnati. There were eight of us, a
double quartet, and we got to the theatre where we were
supposed to perform. The marquis was marked "Ornette
Coleman- Free Jazz" and there was a line around the block
of people waiting to get in. But they didn't want to pay.
"Free Jazz." People were saying, "It's free. What do you
mean? We have to pay for this?" People refused to pay
because it was marked "Free Jazz." And so we didn't play.
We couldn't get paid and we didn't play. We got back on our
plane and went back to New York. We got back discouraged
and depressed. Everybody was poor and that was our gig
and that was the end of free jazz in America as far as I

Lacy packed his suitcases, and left disillusioned for Europe, where he has
been working for over thirty years now. Coming next year he will teach at
the New England Conservatory in Boston together with, among others, the
illustrious George Russell. Today we can safely say that, besides the few
who guarded the flame of freely improvised music (such as Steve Lacy or
Evan Parker) free jazz is dead. After the genre first died a noisy death in the
US (as Lacy shows in the funny anecdote), the genre is in Europe at a
popular low not taking into account some die-hard fans. The only jazz that
receives some public attention is the sterile copying of style figures of swing
or bop. Neoboppers do not differ in any way from the folkloristic jazz of the
Dixieland bands.
Lacy: Well, you know, if its boring its boring and theres
a lot of recreative stuff going on. And jazz recreation just
doesnt excite me. I mean I find it very uninteresting, and
actually much jazz that I hear, really, is sort of just without
interest to me, at this point. Cause Ive heard that before. I
wanna hear something Ive never heard before. And thats
the point. Even if I play myself I wanna hear something I
havent heard before. Its not that I play what Ive already
played, I wanna hear something new.
Lacy received the title of Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres from the
Acadmie Franaise this year, just like William Burroughs just before he
returned to the U.S. in the seventies. Could it be Europeans only start
appreciating their expatriates if we realize were about to loose them?


Olivier Braet is assistant at Ghent University

and book reviewer for Knack FOCUS



Marina Tsvetayeva
From the Insomnia cycle

Black as the centre of an eye, the centre, a blackness

that sucks at light. I love your vigilance.
Night, first mother of songs, give me the voice to sing of you
in those fingers lies the bridle of the four winds.
Crying out, offering words of homage to you, I am
only a shell where the ocean is still sounding.
But I have looked too long into human eyes
Reduce me now to ashes. Night, like a black sun.


Steve Lacy in Sint-Pietersabdij, Ghent (Belgium) 1971

( Alfred Vandaele)

Steve Lacy in Ghent

Rita De Vuyst
The Steve Lacy in Ghent story begins in 1971 when he and his quintet were
invited to play at the Free Jazz Festival. These Gravensteen festivals were
organized by, among others, Paul Van Gysegem. Van Gysegem, now mostly
known for his visual arts, was a well-known double bass player at the time
and had played several times with Mal Waldron and Steve Potts. Steve
Lacys quintet included Irene Aebi (vocals, violin and cello), Steve Potts
(sax), Kent Carter (bass) and Noel McGhie (drums).
It is quite remarkable that so many big jazz musicians were involved. People
who have made music history and are still leading names today. These
people were:


Irene Aebi
Muhammed Ali
Ronnie Beer
Henk Bennink
Tot Blanke
Peter Brtzmann
Sigi Busch
Kent Carter
Pierre Courbois
Willy De Bisschop
Patrick De Groote
Julie Driscoll
Bobby Few
Mongezi Feza
Burton Greene
Malcolm Griffiths
Beb Gurin
Ron Herman
Jerome Hunter

Al Jones
Robin Kenyatta
Siegfried Kessler
Steve Lacy
Byard Lancaster
Ronals Lecourt
Didier Levallet
Frank Lowe
Al Mangelsdorff
Nol McGhie
Chris McGregor
Misha Mengelberg
Louis Moholo
Sunny Murray
Jean My-Truong
Nolle Neels
Cel Overberghe
Evan Parker
Steve Potts

Dudu Pukwana
Bobby Reed
Willy Roggeman
Paul Rutherford
Jacky Samson
Manfred Schoof
Irne Schweitzer
Jeff Seffer
Kenneth Soeller
John Stevens
Kenneth Terroade
Firmin Timmermans
Kenneth Tyler
Franois Tusques
Paul Van Gysegem
Fred Van Hove
Martin Van Duynhoven
Maarten Van Regteren Altena
Jasper van t Hoff
Trevor Watts
Frank Wright

Gravensteen built approx.

1180, Ghent (Belgium)

Oliver Johnson Gravensteen festival, Ghent

(Belgium) 1971 ( Alfred Vandaele)

Steve Lacy Gravensteen festival, Ghent

(Belgium) 1971 ( Alfred Vandaele)


Steve Lacy and Steve Potts, Gravensteen

Nol McGhie, Gravensteen festival,
Ghent (Belgium) 1971 ( Alfred Vandaele)
Ghent (Belgium) 1971
( Alfred Vandaele)


Irene Aebi, Gravensteen festival,

Ghent (Belgium) 1971
( Alfred Vandaele)

Kent Carter, Gravensteen festival,

Ghent (Belgium) 1971
( Alfred Vandaele)


Lacys most recent nucleus: John Betsch and Jean-Jacques Avenel

John Betsch ( Jackie Lepage)

Jean-Jacques Avenel
( Jackie Lepage)


Steve Lacy in Ghent (cont.)

Over the past 30 years Steve Lacy has returned to Ghent several times,
playing at locations such as the Vooruit, t Uilenkot, Dhondt-Dhaenens
museum, S.M.A.K. (Museum of Modern Art), de Zwarte Zaal, etc.
When Mal Waldron gave a solo concert in the Afkikker in October 1998,
the link to Steve Lacy was made, and we engaged Steve for a concert with
Irene Aebi on February 10 1999. His bond with Ghent grew when he
returned for a solo concert on October 29 and 30 2001, respectively in
S.M.A.K. and the Afkikker. We welcomed him again April 14 for a duo
with Evan Parker in the Sint-Kwintens Kapel. Two of his farewell
Blossoms concerts also took place in Ghent on July 23 and 27 2002, again
in the Sint-Kwintens Kapel.

Rita De Vuyst Afkikker Jazz Caf

May 2002


Steve Lacy in Afkikker, Ghent 1999 ( Bernard Van Overmeire)


Three details from Sint-Kwintens Kapel, Ghent (Belgium)



Louis Moholo ( Caroline Forbes)

Evan Parker and Steve Lacy

Rita De Vuyst
In the sixties Evan Parker began his career with The Spontaneous Music
Ensemble, which at the time included guitarist Derek Bailey, trumpet
player Kenny Wheeler, bassist Dave Holland and drummer John Stevens.
Simultaneously, Parker played with pianist Chris McGregor from The
Brotherhood Of Breath. McGregor left his homeland South Africa together
with Johnny Dyani (bass), Mongezi Feza (trumpet), Nick Moyake (tenor
sax), Louis Moholo (drums) and Dudu Pukwana (alto sax). In South Africa
they were called The Blue Notes.
The first Steve Lacy and Evan Parker recordings date from 1974 for
Emanem Records: Saxophone Special. Then came Evidence and Into
The Valley with The Globe Unity Orchestra.
Chirps, a duet of two soprano saxophones performed by Evan Parker and
Steve Lacy, was recorded in Berlin in 1985. It was with this record in mind
that Parker and Lacy were invited by the Afkikker for a duo-concert in SintKwintens Kapel on April 14 2002.
The April 14 concert started with a grandiose solo by Evan Parker,
continuously using the circular breathing technique. Steve Lacy followed
with the pieces Stand, Jump and Fall. In the second part they
confronted us with pure abstract beauty of intertwining musical ideas; a
most complicated process of dynamic expression.
Everyone was moved in a deeply sensitive way. The chapel was re-baptized
as a real jazz temple.

Rita De Vuyst Afkikker Jazz Caf

Steve Lacy and Evan Parker during the recording of Chirps (1985)
( Caroline Forbes)

Steve Lacy and Evan Parker live in the Sint-Kwintens Kapel, Ghent 2002
( Jacky Lepage)


Steve Lacy and Evan Parker live in the Sint-Kwintens Kapel, Gent 2002
( Jacky Lepage)


Steve Lacy and Evan Parker live in the Sint-Kwintens Kapel, Gent 2002
( Jacky Lepage)


Evan Parker, Rita De

and Steve Lacy in Ghent
( Caroline Forbes)

Evan Parker and Olivier

Braet looking at the
chapter Why I want to
fuck Ronald Reagan
from J.G. Ballards The
Atrocity Exhibition
( Jackie Lepage)


Grard Rouy, Roger De Keyzer, Cedric Dhondt and Hugo de

In De Gouden Florijn, listening to Steve Lacy after his concert
at the Ghent Museum of Modern Art (S.M.A.K.), Ghent
(Belgium) October
29 2001
( Rita De Vuyst)



Exhibition on Steve Lacy in De Gouden Florijn

Rita De Vuyst
In De Gouden Florijn currently runs an exhibition dedicated to Steve Lacy,
as a thankful remembrance of many beautiful concerts.
Steve Lacy is a jazz musician and composer. He has been playing the
soprano saxophone for more than 50 years. By inner force and in the center
of his own universe, he follows and directs the path of music. The satellites
find a place in playing, singing, listening, organizing and recording the art of
The dynamic process of jazz develops as an intriguing puzzle in a magnetic
field of music, in which the myth is seeking out lifes limits. Jazz is
unique because you are witnessing the process of creation. The music is
regenerating and actual. Social history has shown us that jazz was often
treated suspiciously in America and Europe. Nevertheless jazz was destined
to become something more than local or national music. It expanded to
become a world language.
There are many connotation levels in jazz. In Lacys music the signified is
subtly layered. This iconicity cannot be grasped in an exhibition. We can
only reveal a small part. Many archives have already disappeared. The
findings we show here were collected with the help of many people such as
Paul Van Gyseghem, Jacky Lepage for these beautiful photographs,
Opatuur, Luc Deneys, Bertrand Flamang, Robin Boone, Griet Blomme,
Tamara Swalef for her English translations, the City of Ghent and many
We are grateful to all of them.
We also thank Steve Lacy. Thanks to him jazz has survived in such a

beautiful way. It stimulates us to try to understand it in its most pluralistic

Rita De Vuyst Afkikker Jazz Caf April 7 2002

Fernando Pessoa
Sometimes, on days of perfect and sharp light,
When things are as real as they can be,
I slowly wonder
Why I ascribe beauty
To things.
A flower for example, does it have beauty?
Is there perhaps beauty in a fruit?
No : they exist, nothing more.
Beauty is the name of something that doesnt exist
And I give it to things in exchange for the pleasure they
Give me.
It means nothing.
Why then do I say of things : they are beautiful?
Yes, even me, who lives only from life,
Visit, invisible, the lies of people
With regard to things,
With regard to things that simply exist.
How hard it is to be yourself and only see the visible!
(Translation Dries Boucherie)

Exhibition on Steve Lacy


Exhibition on Steve Lacy


Exhibition on Steve Lacy


Exhibition on Steve Lacy


Steve Lacy on improvisation

Steve Lacy in Derek Bailey, Improvisation (Da Capo Press)
For me thats where the music has to be-on the edge-in between the known
and the unknown and you have to keep pushing it towards the unknown
otherwise it and you die.
The changes which began in the late 50s and were probably completed by
the middle 60s came about because in the 50s jazz was no longer on the
edge. When you reach what is called hard bop there was no mystery any
more. It was like-mechanical- some kind of gymnastics. The patterns are
well-known and everybody is playing them. When I was coming up in New
York in the 50s I was always into the radical players but at the same time I
was contemporary with some of the younger accepted players. And
sometimes I would go up and play with them. People like Donald Byrd and
Herbie Hancock. They were the newer accepted people. I was also working
with Cecil Taylor, Mal Waldron and other people who were the radicals. I
was really mainly concerned to work with the radical people but at the same
time I couldnt ignore the non-radical elements. But for me playing with the
accepted people never worked out. Simply because they knew all the
patterns and I didnt. And I knew what it took to learn them but I just didnt
have the stomach for it. I didnt have the appetite. Why should I want to
learn all those trite patterns? You know, when Bud Powell made them,
fifteen years earlier, they werent patterns. But when somebody analysed
them and put them into a system it became a school and many players joined
it. But by the time I came to it, I saw through it the thrill was gone. Jazz
got so that it wasnt improvised any more. A lot of the music that was going
on was really not improvised. It got so that everybody knew what was going
to happen and, sure enough, thats what happened. Maybe the order of the

phrases and the tunes would be a little different every night, but for me that
wasnt enough. It reached a point where I, and many other people, got sick
and tired of the beat and the bars everybody got tired of the systematic
playing, and we just said Fuck It.
But I think the question of appetite is very important. Some people are of a
progressive bent and some are not. And you cant ask either of them to
change. Some people are interested in carrying on an old tradition and they
can find their kicks in shifting round patterns and they are not in any rush to
find new stuff. They can rummage around the old stuff all their lives. People
become obsessed with not just maintaining a tradition bur with perfecting it.
Some people search for the perfect arrangement of the old patterns and that
is progress for them. Other people want to beat down the walls and find
some new territory.
What Cecil Taylor was doing started in the early 50s. And the results were
as free as anything you could hear. Bur it was not done in a free way. It was
built up very, very systematically but with a new ear and new values. But
there was complete opposition to what he was doing in the 50s. Then when
Ornette hit town, that was the blow. On the one hand there were all the
academic players, the hard-boppers, the Blue-Note people, the Prestige
People, and they were doing stuff which had slight progressive tendencies in
it. But when Ornette hit the scene, that was the end of the theories. He
destroyed the theories. I remember at that time he said, very carefully,
Well, you just have a certain amount of space and you put what you want in
it. And that was a revelation. And we used to listen to him and Don Cherry
every night and that really spread a thirst for more freedom.
But I think the key figure just then was Don Cherry. Cherry was freer, in a
way. He didnt worry about all the stuff that Ornette was worrying about
and his playing was really free. He used to come over to my house in 59
and 60, around that time, and he used to tell me, Well, lets play. So I said

O.K. What shall we play. And there it was. The dilemma. The problem. It
was a terrible moment. I didnt know what to do. And it took me about five
years to work myself out of that. To break through that wall. It took a few
years to get to the point where I could just Play.
It was a process that was partly playing tunes and playing more tunes and
finally getting to the point where it didnt seem to be important and it didnt
do anything for you, to play the tunes. So you just drop the tunes. And you
just played. It happened in gradual stage. There would be a moment here,
fifteen minutes there, a half hour there, an afternoon, an evening, and then
all the time. And then it stayed that way for a couple of years. No tunes,
nothing. Just get up and play. But it all had a lot to do with the musical
environment. You have to get some kindred spirits. And at the time that was
in the air. It was happening everywhere. But I think that jazz, from the time
it first began, was always concerned with degrees of freedom. The way
Louis Armstrong played was more free than earlier players. Roy Eldridge
was more free than his predecessors, Dizzy Gillespie was another stage
and Cherry was another. And you have to keep it going otherwise you lose
that freedom. And then the music is finished. Its a matter of life and death.
The only criterion is: Is this stuff alive or is it dead?
(Reprinted with permission from Steve Lacy)


Evan Parker on improvisation

Evan Parker in a panel discussion on the future of music presented
by the society for the promotion of New Music, summer 1973.
Reprinted in Musics, Issue 1, April/May 1975. Reprinted in Derek
Bailey, Improvisation (Da Capo Press).
I am a performing musician, but I dont use score and its not that the score
has refined itself out of existence, as Werner Goldschmidt seemed to think
was the case for the New Phonic Arts Group. It has never existed for me
except as something to look at and think about, to compare with others of its
type. Now that I am forced to rationalise this attitude, it is along these lines:
if the score represents some kind of ideal performance why does it ever have
to be performed? Surely it would be better for the music-lovers to read the
score, alone or with others, conducted or unconducted. If it is objected that
this attitude is too unemotional then I would reply that the score is itself too
unemotional; and since it concerns itself with the description rather than the
emotions themselves it would be more appropriate to consider score-making
as an esoteric branch of the literary arts with its own criteria rather than as
anything to do with music.(*) In fact I think that this possibility has already
been noted and acted on by some score-makers. That symphony of Nam
June Paik for example, where some of the durations are measured in
hundreds of years. Its a very beautiful score to read. Everyone can

(*) Afterthoughts of Evan Parker, 2003: Thirty years later I now realise that attempts to
characterise Improvisation as something different in kind from Composition was a
category error which could only lead to absurdities. A better distinction would be with
Notation but even that leads to pitfalls when dealing with systematic and memorised
materials as they are routinely used in so called Free Improvisation.


recognise differences between the score and the performance. Things are
added, altered or taken away. While this has presumably always been the
case, the gap between score and performance is perhaps wider in much
contemporary music than ever before. Aloys Kontarskys comments on the
contrast between the austerity of an Earle Brown score which contained only
black horizontal and vertical blocks and lines and its performance in
Darmstadt are very interesting: So the performance contained trills,
glissandi, crescendi, sforzati and even all kinds of solo licks which could not
have been derived with even the best of intentions from the scanty design on
the page. Leaving aside the score as the embodiment of an ideal
performance, a score can also be considered a recipe for possible music
making. Thats an idea I can have much more sympathy with, taking into
account as it does much more than the composer and his music. Other
ingredients that a composer with this attitude might include are:
performability, how much rehearsal time, which musicians will be playing
the piece, where it will be played, even possibly how the audience might
react. Nonetheless the most careful consideration of all the unknowns before
the event cannot guarantee that the music will fit the occasion. There will
still be some slack to be taken up between what the score says and what it
I suppose the implication in all this is obvious. Im suggesting that if anyone
in the production of a music event is dispensable, it is the score-maker, or
the composer as he is often called. My ideal music is played by groups of
musicians who choose one anothers company and who improvise freely in
relation to the precise emotional, acoustic, psychological and other less
tangible atmospheric conditions in effect at the time the music is played.
(Reprinted with permission from Evan Parker)


Herman Melville

In placid hours well pleased we dream

Of many a brave unbodied scheme.
But form to lend, pulsed life create,
What unlike things must meet and mate:
A flame to melt...a wind to freeze;
Sad patience...joyous energies;
Humility...yet pride and scorn;
Instinct and study; love and hate;
Audacity...reverence. These must mate
And fuse with Jacob's mystic heart,
To wrestle with the angel...Art.


On February 11 2002 Olivier Braet and Rita De

Vuyst visited Steve Lacy at his home in Paris. A
literal transcription of that conversation follows.

Olivier: I just brought one book, this is one of my favorite books, its the
Letters of William Burroughs with letters that he wrote to Gysin, Ginsberg
and Kerouac.
S: I read most of those letters of William Burroughs. I dont have that
particular book, but I read a lot of them. Burroughs said that Gysin was the
only man he respected.
O: He loved Ginsberg.
S: Sure he loved Ginsberg, yeah, he loved a lot of people but he really
respected Gysin.
O: Exactly. Did you know that the first time Gysin is mentioned, Burroughs
calls him a paranoid bitch on wheels?
S: Oh yeah? (Laughs)
O: Its typical for paranoid Burroughs just to say that. But later on he started
respecting him.

S: They both knew quite a bit about paranoia, but I think that Brion had
mastered his, whereas Burroughs was fighting his all his life actually.
O: He always remained very suspicious and had a lot of conspiracy theories.
S: And with good reason, too. Some of it is very true! (Laughs)
O: I just wanted to quote one thing, a typical Burroughsian rant, about his
relationship with his publisher. This was after he published Junky, and was
working on Queer. The publisher didnt quite like the Queer title. He
wanted to call the second part Fag. And Burroughs goes into this hilarious
rant in a letter to Ginsberg.
Now look, you tell Carl Solomon I dont mind being called
queer. T.E. Lawrence and all manner of right Joes was
queer. But Ill see him castrated before Ill be called a fag.
Thats just what I been trying to put down uh I mean over,
is the distinction between us strong, manly, noble types and
the leaping, jumping, window dressing cocksucker.
Furthechrissakes a girls gotta draw the line somewheres or
publishers will swarm all over her sticking their nasty old
biographical prefaces up her ass (The Letters of William S.
Burroughs 1945 to 1959: p. 119: Letter to Ginsberg on
S: [laughing] Yeah he was so funny. Wow.
O: Concerning your relationship with publishers. You constantly have to

propose to recording companies. And the executives of those companies are

tied to their marketing and production budgets. The specific aesthetic
categories that are stuck in their minds and the labels they use for your
music is why they probably sometimes refuse to publish your music. What
Im getting at is the perverse effect of categorial thinking, the fact of being
confronted with a public and executives at record companies whore stuck
with certain categories. What are your experiences with that?
S: Well, its a life long struggle. And a damn long struggle, and it continues
to be something between a sport and a war. I made a lot of records. I think
most of them I arranged myself. In other words, I went after them. I wanted
to do this record or this record and I went after companies to be allowed to
do them, get paid for it and let have it come out, you know, do the whole
thing. Its very seldom that a record company comes knocking at my door.
Very seldom. It has happened and some important times it was the other
way around and they came after me. Its like bipolar. Its always: Theyre
the other side. Theyre the enemy in a way. Sometimes you have a good
relationship with a producer but its really rare. Its usually like that: head to
head, eyeball to eyeball. Because theyre coming from a different point.
Its my experience also, and very much so at the beginning, when a producer
wouldnt even listen to the record I made. He didnt care at that point. And it
hurt my feelings. I was so stupid, I though gee, the producer dont even
wanna hear what I did. But later I realized that it was unimportant that he
heard what I did, really. That wasnt the point. The point is that he should do
well and he should get his money.
Sometimes we collaborate, we work together, we can do miracles together
sometimes, and sometimes theres a really good rapport. For example I
have a good rapport now with Daniel Richard from Verve. We just did The
Beat Suite. This is a hell of a venture that we did. The Beat Suite is ten beat

poets set to jazz with a quintet of Irene singing all 10 pieces. Its been done
in December, its been mixed. Its gonna come out in April. Now this is
against all odds, really. That they make so much money with certain artists
that sometimes they can afford to do something with people like me.
O: On the side
S: On the side. Even though it doesnt make them lose money.
O: A prestige thing.
S: Its prestige. Richard likes what I do, hes a fan, you know. Ive known
him for a long, long time. The record should do well enough so that its
justifiable. That they sell fifteen, twenty thousand over a few years and all
that. This record contains the whole lit-jazz thing. It has Kaufman, Kerouac,
Ginsberg, Burroughs
O: Gysin?
S: No Brion Gysin, although the whole record is dedicated to him. Theres
Rexroth and Lew Welch, and Waldman.
O: Important that you mention Irene. You have composed very often based
on a text, and Irene has very often sung these texts on your music. Its seems
amazing almost that jazz journalists have given so few attention to the
dialogue between you and Irene.
S: You know why? Because it hits their weak side. Most of them dont
know beans of literature, poetry, the beat poets, none of this stuff. Theyre

very channeled thinkers of jazz. They may know Louis Armstrong and
Dexter Gordon and all that, but they dont know even Dostoyevsky or Van
Gogh or Beethoven or none of that stuff. A lot of them. Not all of them. Bill
Shoemakers very intelligent. And the guy in Chicago John Corbett knows
quite a few things. Also Art Lange, Peter Kostakis and a few others are the
few people that are up on it. But a lot of the producers, when you say the
word poetry, they panic. And the critics, you know. First of all, they cant
pick on me, so they pick on Irene. Theyve been doing that for twenty, thirty
years now.
O: You wrote an angry letter to Downbeat on this matter.
S: Yeah, I got tired of them picking on her, you know. It was stupid.
Because they cant pick on me, see, they pick on her. Its stupid because if
they realize what she does and how great she is. I think with the new record
theyre gonna eat their words. This one. Before, she came out with like two
pieces on the records, and the critics said: Shes a major distraction. Well,
what can they say now? Shes on all ten tracks. And the words are fantastic.
The Corso and the Ginsberg, theyre beautiful. The lyrics are really high
quality. So Im very curious to see what this record will do.
O: They cant walk around this one.
S: They cant. Its gonna hit them. But well see. Im a little bit weary
because very often before I made a certain record I said: Oh boy oh boy
If this one comes out its gonna open all the doors and people are gonna
blablabla, and it didnt happen, never happened. (Laughs) So, you know,
something can go wrong. The company can go out of business. Who knows?

O: Im not going to ask anything personal about you and Irene, of course.
Were talking about the literature, you, and Irene.
S: Literature was one of the things that brought us together. She was in San
Francisco in the early sixties, before I knew her. She knew Jack Spicer. She
knew Lew Welch. She knew some of the poets. She was just a young girl
with a guitar. She was out there, and some of that stuff she introduced to me.
And a lot of it I showed her. And together we explored that area of writing.
Anne Waldman is an old friend of mine, an old member of my family,
really. And I knew Ginsberg from the fifties too. Burroughs I knew very
well, all of them. So, theres an organic reason for all that. This project, The
Beat Suite, is an organic project that took years to mature, develop and all
that, and finally came together and here it is: recorded.
But well see what happens. It would be nice to perform that stuff in
public. We did a few gigs like that, and we recorded it, and thats it.
But in the meantime Im going to college, and George is teaching in another
college and its hard to perform and survive, you know. Especially when
you do stuff like that. Its unheard off to have a jazz record to come out with
ten vocal pieces and a lot of improvisation.
O: That brings us in a way to some of the techniques the Beats used.
Contrasting and putting together of unsuspected elements as in the collage
technique and the cut-up technique of Gysin, later adopted by Burroughs.
S: Thats what Ive never used myself.
O: You havent.
S: No. Ive never used that. I know about it and Ive enjoyed the results of

that and Ive even recommended it to other people. Actually, Mikhail, the
violinist was here yesterday and we were talking about that. Hes
improvising for the first time in his life, really, with me. And he enjoys it
very much. He has such a (sic.) knowledge of classical music. He knows
hundreds of things, so he has all that what we call baggage, and hes trying
to create his own language, improvising language. And he came to the
conclusion that if you just take a little bit of this and a little bit of that and a
little bit of this, he comes out at his own language, and I said to him: Thats
cut-up technique! And he never heard that before. I said: Thats the cutup. Thats a literary technique they used it in the fifties, and you just find it
for your own playing, you know. And that was true, see. Now he, hes
using that cut-up technique. I never needed that. My stuff was organic, from
a long, long time ago, and I dont need to cut myself up.
O: So you dont use the technique, but you find writers who use it
S: Oh yeah.
O: Not only Gysin used it.
S: John Cage used it in a way. John Cage did a lot of snipping, thats for
sure. And Paul Klee also. Hed choose pictures and cut them up and put
names to them, and all that, you know.
O: Even Czannes landscapes are in a way a combination of multiple
S: Yeah. Optical. Well now, optics is one of my fundamental tools. I would

say that most of what I do in music, and the way I found various things and
the way I work, is through optics. You know, magnifying certain things and
isolating certain things. Theyre optical phenomena, theyre ways of
focusing. And certain elements in the music and certain elements in
literature, and all that. In speech. And its a way of well its a focus. I
think focus is a very, very important concept in my own work.
O: You also dedicated an album to Braque.
S: Oh yeah. Actually were doing a workshop down in Orleans in the art
school this month, for a week, with non-musicians. Young students, art
students. And were gonna do the Braque piece. Were gonna have the
students painting them and were gonna discuss all those little aphorisms.
Thats very interesting. You know that Braque book?
O: Ive never read it, never even held it.
S: Its a small book full of wisdoms for artists. Now that was an interesting
work. Tips. See, that is a work thats been out of print for years. Thats one
of the arguments we have with the producers. The records go out of print,
they dont have a chance.
O: Heres Burroughs talking about Gysins paintings.
He regards his paintings as a hole in the texture of socalled reality, through which he is exploring an actual
place existing in outer space. That is, he moves into the
painting and through it, his life and sanity at stake when he
paints. (The Letters of William S. Burroughs 1945 to

1959: p. 398: Letter to Ginsberg on 10/10/1958).

O: Thats a very action-oriented way of making art.
S: Stepping into it, and backing in and out, sure. This is an early picture of
his. (Lacy points to a painting in his living room.)
O: This is a Gysin?
S: Yeah, of Morocco. I have some others above, but theyre up in the
grainier, or the attic.
O: Lets talk again about categories.
S: How horrible. The trouble with France is that theres too many
departments. And even in the music and theatre, its just departments all the
time. Its really very hard because what we do, its here and there and there
and there. Its in literature, its on contemporary music, its in jazz, its part
of the theatre, its you know, structures language, you know.
O: And you confuse people with that.
S: I normally have to work at jazz clubs, jazz festivals, jazz record
companies, etcetera. And I love jazz. All that I do is jazz. I dont deny my
jazz. But that department stuff, departmental stuff has really been a life long
struggle. Nah its not finished yet. There are things weve been trying to
record for years and years and we havent been able to. Like Treize regards,

a Tsvetayeva cycle. Its been twelve years Ive been trying to get that
O: Now were touching something that can go very far in a discussion. A lot
of innovative music is typified by that fact that the public doesnt yet own
the artistic categories with which they can situate the music, appreciate it,
and accept this new form of artistic expression. So these categories are
everywhere, even in appreciation, not only of the executives, but also of the
public at large. And the other way around, even musicians. For example,
you spoke about the distinction between offensive and defensive jazz. And
you said that both forms can be fertile. When well played they are both at
the brink.
S: Well sure, jazz itself is like out there.
O: And Ive been thinking that could it be that the highest sensation of
freedom could be attained when youre playing defensive music? In that you
dont have to the rules of the music are so internalized and youre so used
to them that you can freewheel and you dont have to think at all while
playing it. While your music doesnt strike me as freewheeling, defensive at
S: No. Ive always taken chances and always playing beyond my control, a
little bit. I mean Im going faster than I should sometimes. Like driving a
car. Its very much like driving. But what you said of the defensive, or the
traditional, you know it depends on the quality, man. I dont care about
anything except quality. I mean if I hear like a Harry Edison playing the
trumpet, or somebody like that, who is an absolute master. And what you
play could be considered like old-fashioned, traditional, or defensive, its

just not true. Its just not true. You see the quality is so high that that puts it
in a category by itself. Which is much more important than those other
categories. Defensive, offensive, that dont mean shit. I said that, you know
thats a cute thing to say for a moment, but its not a real distinction. I was
just trying I was just sort of bragging because my music was more
modern than theirs. I wouldnt take that too seriously, really. It was just to
fill a space, in a way. Its true what I say, but its just not that interesting.
Like Harry Edison is, or somebody older, older, like Benny Carter. What
about Benny Carter, really, you know. Is that defensive or offensive? I mean
its high quality; its such high quality that you wouldnt demean it by
giving it a qualification like that?
O: You do give the impression of looking down on the, for example, the
S: Well, you know, if its boring its boring and theres a lot of re-creative
stuff going on. And recreation, jazz recreation just doesnt excite me. I mean
I find it very uninteresting, and actually much jazz that I hear, really, is sort
of just without interest to me, at this point. Cause Ive heard that before. I
wanna hear something Ive never heard before. And thats the point. Even if
I play myself I wanna hear something I havent heard before. Its not that I
play what Ive already played, I wanna hear something new.
O: OK. Lets really get into the writers now. First I wrote down here The
Russian Connection. You do have a Russian connection. For example the
one record you would take with you on a deserted island, you once said in
an interview, was Le Sacre du Printemps from Stravinsky.
S: Its gotta be a good performance though.

O: What performance would that be?

S: Well, the best one Ive ever heard was a Russian Orchestra. The first time
that it came out of Russia, I think it was in the seventies or the eighties, I
really cant recall. It was a Russian Orchestra. For me it was a revelation.
Ive never heard it play like that, with those Russian rhythms really strong.
And I dont know who the conductor was; but it was like the first recordings
of that from the Soviet Union. But aside from that I like several or different
performances. I dont know. Id have to compare them just before leaving to
the desert island.
O: He conducted it himself also.
S: Well yeah. A wonderful performance, yeah.
O: I like the Leonard Bernstein, amazingly enough.
S: Well, I saw him do that, man. It was hilarious. I mean, he jumped up and
down like a red Indian. You know he was like Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! It was so
funny. We were up at the balcony; I was laughing my head off, really. But,
you know the musicians respected him. He did a great performance, and in a
way if you didnt look. You shouldnt look. So, yeah, he was great man. He
was funny though.
O: It was a good performance, that I remember.
S: Hes very good, yeah. Boulez is quite good too, you know.

O: Well Im a big Bartok fan, and ow no no. Boulez also does Bartok,
nah no not. But thats personal.
S: He was a difficult person, Boulez.
O: I like Bartok conducted by Georg Solti, for example.
S: Aha, yeah. Very good, yeah. Hungarian.
O: Youre working on a cycle on Zamytin?
S: No. Im not working on a cycle by him, but hes one of my literary
heroes. But Ive never done anything with the words of his because its a
novel, you know. It would make a great opera. We, its a book called We.
Its one of my favorite books; Ive read it many times. I recommend it to a
whole lot of people. I think its a masterpiece.
Rita: Its hard to find.
S: Really? It used to be easier to find. Its a magnificent book. Really
brilliant. To think that he wrote that in the twenties. He saw the whole thing
coming. All that whats happening now. He saw that back then, its
O: I gave you the little short introduction on Mikhael Bakhtin. [A Russian
cultural philosopher from the 1920s.]
S: I had a little difficulty because those terms that he uses, theyre
meaningless to me. And you know, like, we who are in this music are so

much closer to this stuff that for us He used terms like, its unthinkable.
But you could imagine a baker in a boulangerie, and hes dealing with the
stuff, hes making bread, you know. What kind of words you think he would
use to talk about that?
O: He would say: Gimme tht, or gimme this and that.
S: Yeah. Pass that shit over here, or this stuff over here. He wouldnt use
terms like those Bakhtin terms; they would be absolutely meaningless to
him. And thats the way I feel about it, you know. I dont need that kind of
elucidation, and that kind of, you know, that kind of distance. Thats an
anathema for me, you know. I run away from that. Adorno, Bakhtin, all
those eh No baby, not for me. Not my, not my eh cup, its not my thing.
It doesnt help me. It makes it harder.
O: Yeah. Its too abstract.
S: Yeah its too abstract. Theres a bunch of people like that around, you
know. Barthes, Derrida, all these people.
O: Bourdieu died the day before your date with Waldron and Avenel at Le
Duc de Lombard.
S: Yeah. We bought a book of his. Absolutely unreadable for me. Both Irene
and I agree that its even more difficult than Lacan, which we also tried.
You know theres a level youve got to find your level. In language, in
wine, in living, the altitude, music, clothing, you have to find your own
level. And you have to live within your level. You cant stick your head up
there and try to live like that, its impossible. It hurts your neck. So I cant

handle those. You know I can handle all this stuff here, but I cant handle a
whole lot of other stuff. You know. Theres a lot of poetry thats out of my
ken, its beyond of my depth. A lot of French I cant handle, music I cant
handle, food, you know. You have limits.
O: But you have bought a book of Bourdieu? A French book?
S: Yeah, the other day we bought one, yeah.
O: I can imagine its eh
S: I couldnt. Not even one sentence made sense to me. It may be great, it
may be wonderful, it may be useful but I, its not for me. Gregory Corso I
understand. That I can get. Burroughs I understand perfectly. Brion Gysin.
Have you seen the Brion Gysin reader that just came out?
O: Ive seen it yeah. I havent bought it yet.
S: He was brilliant. He was really a genius. I mean, he could really write.
And he could really paint. And he could really perform. I mean, he did so
many things. With photography he was sensational.
O: And people couldnt believe that he did all that.
S: People didnt believe that the one person could do all that, that well. I
mean there was Burroughs who believed it, but a lot of people didnt believe
O: They thought that could not be serious, while Gysin was above all that.

He was very serious.

S: He knew what he was doing. He really knew what he was doing. And he
knew what we were doing. He knew what everybody, you know what
Burroughs he knew what everybody was doing. He knew what Duke
Ellington was doing. He knew what Broadway was about. He knew, I mean,
so many things. And plus he knew history, he knew languages, he knew
painting. And he appreciated dance, and theatre, everything. Really, he was
really the most well cultivated person Ive ever met.
O: You have been situated in the free jazz movement, or Free
Improvisation movement, especially in the seventies.
S: In the sixties really. The sixties is when that happened. The sixties was
when it happened to anybody who was influential in that movement. Some
people were already there in sixty. Some people didnt get there until sixtyeight. But in the seventies that was done. That was really done. Thats why I
came to Paris because that was done and it was time to begin reaping the
harvest of what we had discovered in the sixties. I mean we went through
the fire, and we came out of that fire with new perceptions. Then it was time
to do something with those things. And thats why we came to Paris and we
started to do that here. I mean in Rome, we were two years in Rome Irene
and I, sixty-eight sixty-nine, and it was a very important time of research.
We did certain things and all that, but it really began when we came to Paris.
O: Thats when you met Beltrametti?
S: I knew him from Rome. We knew him for a long time, Irene and Ive
know him for a long time.

O: In his short autobiography he mentioned your friendship, and how much

he enjoyed it.
S: He was an important friend and collaborator.
O: And he also went to Japan.
S: Yeah. The Japanese thing is very important for a lot of us. Thats true.
O: To go over your European years. When you came to Paris, you said it
took you five to ten years to crack the city.
S: Well, we had to survive right away; we couldnt wait ten years, so. We
were at a level at that time; everybody was on the same level. There was a
lot of musicians in Paris in the early seventies from all over the world, and
the free thing was very alive. And prices were down. You know we stayed
in hotels, like you stayed in a hotel full of musicians and the rooms cost at
that time I think twenty francs a day. Which was a lot of money for us, at
that time. We were we were we had no money at all. But we worked
all over Paris. We worked in schools, museums, theatres, libraries,
O: Prisons.
S: Prisons, hospitals, outdoors, for the radio, everything, you know. At a
very low level. Very, sometimes very little money. Very little money. But
the music flourished. And gradually things got better until by the eighties we
were earning enough money that we didnt have to do that. Scrounging
around anymore. It was really scratching the seventies, thats why I put that

record out, Scratching the Seventies. Cause it was a scratching period. But
all chickens were on the same level. So there were no stars in Paris at that
time, in that music. There were people more or less well known, but they
werent local stars. Like there are now, theres a few big stars. Like in those
photos. It was a beautiful period then in the seventies, you know.
O: You went to Germany, Holland,
S: Germany, Holland, Italy. There used to be a very important radio and
television program. I guess it was television, really, or radio. In Germany,
Hamburg, called Free Jazz Workshop. And they invited all kinds of
people there to work together and present these on broadcast. And that was
very important. Thats where I contacted with Mengelberg and Derek Bailey
and Han Bennink and all those people. Don Cherry and I were there. And
Irene. It was a wonderful opportunity to work and prepare things and present
them. Then that producer died though. And thats the end of that.
O: So. Lets talk about Lets check my tape Its almost finished. But
I've got second one. I guess we can take a pause.
S: Do you want a beer?
O: I think I could handle a beer.
S: (To Rita) You want a beer?
[ Lacy gets beer Heineken from a can.]
[ Changing of tapes ]

S: Hes [Cormac McCarthy] a very important writer. He wrote some

bestsellers, and theyre making movies out of some of them. He writes about
Mexico and the West and horses, and cowboys. Hes a very important
writer. I read a little bit of Ellroy but I think McCarthy is stronger, but its
O: Epic.
S: Epic, yeah. And you know. Like Melville. Would you like to hear that
Burroughs piece?
O: Yeah, I would love to hear it.
S: Ill play you two things.
O: I hope you can one day play it live.
S: Yeah, but not with the group though like this. Ill play you Kerouac and
O: Yeah, OK.
[ Music
Thermodynamics has won at a crawl
Orgone balked at the post
Christ bled
Time ran out ]

S: Well, that gives you a little idea.

[Oliviers curious about Bourdieus book on male domination Steve
S: I only read what I wanna read. I wont read what wont go down. Its like
trying to eat food that you dont like it wont go down. I think George
Lewis spoke to me about Bakhtin. He knows him. George told me he found
it very interesting. George is more into that kind of thing than I am. George
also reads Adorno and Barthes and all those things. I cant read any of that
stuff. But Zamytin is more important. Zamytin is not difficult at all. Its
simple. Its so simple. The level of the language is very simple. Its very
pure. Its very rich. And very evocative. And very funny. But it's a small
book. You haven't found it? You'll find it. But hes not difficult at all. He
had to leave Russia. They wanted to kill him. He got permission to leave.
Then he died in London.
O: I see here in your library a book of Michaux. He was one of my first
S: That was one of the things that attracted me before I even came to France.
You know in New York, back in the fifties I discovered like the French
cinema, some French music and French literature, poetry and things like
that. And some of those were the things that attracted me, even before I
came here. Also I did study a little bit of French in high school. But I didnt
get very far with it, no. You know, Michaux and Genet and Sartre, some of
the poets like Appolinaire, I knew those things before I even came here.
O: Jean Genet is a good example of somebody who wrote in a classical

style. He wanted to write beautiful. Thats completely different from the

harsh style of Burroughs, although Genet and Burroughs were soul brothers.
S: Again its the quality that kinds. I like very much Cline. And even
before I came here I was mad about Cline. A lot of people were, you know.
And of course in translation, in English those things, of course.
O: He was put in jail in Denmark after the second World War. He had been
wrong on certain things. And the only thing he asked for from his brother
was coffee. I need coffee. The writers gold he said.
S: [Laughing] Im sure he needed cigarettes too. Coffee and cigarettes, both.
O: Coffee and cigarettes. Thats a combination!
O: You have worked all these years on the cycle about the Te-Tao Ching.
S: I worked on that for many years. I discovered that in the late fifties. I
thought about it for many years until I met Irene. I tried to do something
with it, but when I met Irene. And by sixty-six, no, by sixty-seven I had set
the first one. And then I worked on them for the rest of the sixties and the
early seventies until they were quite formed. So I started to play them and
record them. First without the words. The first time we recorded it was
without the words. In fact the record's called "Wordless". Yeah, I think I
have it upstairs. The very first version of that is a recording of seventy-one,
with the quintet but without words, so it's called Wordless. And then by the
end of the seventies they had been recorded with the words. So they took
many years of elaborating, trying out, changing things and al that stuff. And
then, we didn't touch them after that, except "Bone". We continued to do

that for many years.

O: That's my favorite one, actually!
S: But the rest of the cycle got put away, except as a solo thing for me. I still
play the Tao as a solo piece. [Steve pronounces solo distinctly as "soul"] and
I used it also for films, I used it for many many different things. And I also
used it with students a little bit, sometimes. I had a student today and I gave
him "Existence", because it's octave, it's a good octave exercise. So I gave
him that as an octave exercise. I hope in Boston to really use a lot of that
music for students.
O: There's a thing that fascinates me about Taoism and Buddhism.
S: Yeah Buddhism I used that also.
O: There's this thing with all of the black jazz musicians, they have this
thing where a lot of them are very religious. Coltrane, Ayler, they were very
Christian, or they had their own kind of religion.
S: Holy Lord.
O: Now, the European musicians and even writers seem to have this interest
in Zen Buddhism and Taoism. And for some people it's just because it's
exotic. And they lose themselves in Zen Buddhist exercises. And I always
get very nasty reactions from Zen Buddhists whenever I quote Burroughs:
"Show me a good Buddhist novelist. When Aldous Huxley got Buddhism,
he stopped writing novels and started writing tracts."
Now, what with Taoism?

S: Oh, it's very different, very different. First of all, the Tao is one thing, and
Taoism is another thing. And the Tao itself is fragments of what remains
from Lao Tzu. Teachings. And there's more practice in there than religion.
It's not religious at all. However people came along and made a religion out
of that. And that had nothing to do with what its all about, really. Because
what its about is heaven and earth. Theres no god mentioned in the Tao at
all. Its really nature and life and people and correct living. Theres no
religious element in that. But priests came along and made a religion out of
that. And to me thats ridiculous. It has nothing to do with it.
Now Zen also is not a religion. Zen is nothing, nothingness. It examines. Its
a kind of view, Zen. But its also an experience very much like jazz, like
improvisation. Improvisation and Zen is very, very close. Thats why we
were all interested in that. Also painting and Zen is very, very close. Zen is
close to everything because its nothing. And nothing is very close to
everything. Nest ce pas?
The Zen came in, as far as I can remember, back in the fifties, and the
sixties. It came in strong through certain books. Mister Cage was into it. It
was very important and still is very important to me, in fact a cycle I wrote
three years ago is a cycle of Zen, Songs, ten of them. And two of them were
recorded on a record with Roswell Rudd, Monks Dream. The other eight
have never been done, really.
Also, Irene and I are also very much into Trungpa.
O: Rinpoche. He founded the Naropa Institute.
S: Weve both been to Naropa. Theres a whole conspiracy there. The
Buddhist thing is very strong, very important, really.

O: Did you read Burroughs account on his stay in Naropa? Its very funny.
S: No, I didnt. But I heard the other end, when they told me about his stay.
They said he was fun. He was funny and weird, you know. They enjoyed
him being there. He was amazing, he kept everybody on their toes. He
surprised everybody. I heard some tapes he made there, actually, when he
was there. Lectures that he gave, and they were wonderful.
O: Burroughs wasnt allowed to bring his typewriter along, because these
were just distractions, Rinpoche said. Then Burroughs writes: But
distraction is fun. Whats wrong with this? I sense an underlying dogma
here to which I am not willing to submit. Why not have fun? And then he
writes on all sorts of practical stuff. He writes stuff like: And some spacedout Buddhist has put the fire extinguisher behind the Coleman stove. I can
see the flames already falling, while Im trying to reach the fire
extinguisher. Put the fire extinguisher somewhere else! And then he wasnt
allowed to kill bugs either. Then of course you strike a sensitive chord with
the exterminator in him.
S: The Exterminator! Yeah, thats right. And he couldnt bring his gun
either too. Poor Burroughs.
O: No, no. And he once saw a centipede. And he grabbed for something to
smash it. But it was gone. And he saw that as a small miracle. Because
afterwards he realized the climate is too harsh for them to grow any larger.
S: Well, Burroughs was learning to the very end. It was admirable. Because
he was humble enough, in his own genius, to still be able to learn and take
in certain things. He was a child to the very end, really, you know.

O: Ive got a beautiful picture of him, sitting on the front porch of his house,
with his shot gun on his lap. And the first thing I had to think of were the
words of Joseph Goebbels: When I hear the word culture, I reach for my
gun. I could imagine Burroughs saying the exact words, but him saying it
of course reverses the whole thing. Cause he shot at his paintings also.
S: Well yeah, that was part of his technique. But Brion had done that before.
A lot of what Burroughs did in paintings was a copy of Brion. And so not
quite so momentous as when Brion did it. He just started too late, you know.
It was more of a hobby for him. Its ironic that his stuff sold like crazy and
he [Brion Gysin] couldnt sell anything.
O: Well, thats the hype machine I think we should leave it at that.
Weve been talking for so long.
S: Well. We can do more, if you want. Just a little bit.
[Changing of tapes]
S: Were talking about thirty or forty years of work. Or fifty years of work
with the saxophone. So I could go on and on and on, bla bla bla bla bla, for
forty years.
O: I know. Were just scratching the surface.
S: Voila, scratching, yeah.
Rita: Music can express a lot of things in a very short time.

S: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Its as rich as anything. Quotes are like that. You
can see one paragraph who can galvanize you for the rest of your life. For
the one thing that you see in one paragraph, in one phrase. You never forget
it. In music and in painting and in theatre and all that there are lines, there is
proportion, there is harmony, you know, there is cadre, there is space, color,
theres intensity. All those things are common to many different artistic
endeavors. So theres a unity of all artistic endeavors to me, whether its
painting or theatre or music or dance or cinema. I mean, theres a unity
R: Do you visualize? Like Mal visualizes colors?
S: I like to do music that I can see. I can hear it and I can see it. And also
theres a lot of paintings that I can eat. You can like taste it. Consume it.
There are certain paintings that are so delicious where the surfaces are like
Turner, Monet, Kandinsky. With my teeth. You could just avaler a, you
can eat it you can consume it. You can take it in like a wafer, like the holy
wafer. Some of Pollocks things I like. Some of De Koonings. Some of
Rembrandt. Some of I mean, really great paintings can be consumed,
literally. I can like (makes slurping sound) just like (slurp) take it down. And
music is like that too. It can really fulfill.
O: Yeah, you can eat music.
S: You can eat music. There were even a movement in painting some time Eat Art it was back in the sixties, Eat Art, you know! (Laughs)
O: That sounds very much like the sixties!

Rita: Mal sees colors while playing.

S: I can believe that. Hes very sensitive. He knows what hes doing really
very well. He is like sculpting. Now would you call that offensive or
defensive? It just doesnt make sense.
Right now Im reading Im almost finished with the biography of Nadia
Boulanger. Now, she was teaching about music all her life, she was
considered the greatest teacher. She was careful about words and she didnt
wanna publish her thing, you know. Because she had no faith in bringing to
paper. The words as a substitute for music, really.
O: You need to have strong people to be able to put it on paper.
S: There are some people that can put music into words. Theres one jazz
critic who has this gift. Whitney Balliet [a jazz critic for the New Yorker
magazine since 1957]. Hes very old now, hes an old man. He wrote for the
New Yorker. And he had the gift of being able to describe, in words, some
of whats playing. Wonderful.
O: And you can hear the music?
S: You can hear the music. In his words. Its very rare though, thats very
rare. Hes the only one I know that can do that. He could describe some of
these styles in words. You could just hear it. Wonderful.
O: So you have a meeting to go to?
S: Yeah. I have a rendez vous to have dinner with a friend of mine and eh,

eventually, yeah. I have to call him back. Do you live in Belgium?

O: I live in Ghent.
S: In Ghent, also. Everybody lives in Ghent! Ghent is a hip city, eh? And
how did you come here, in a car?
O: No, by train.
S: Oh by train, I see. Are you staying the night?
O: No.
S: Oh. Youre going back.
O: Tomorrow I have to work.
S: I have a rendez vous soon. I have to meet somebody. But we can meet
again, continue that, you know.
O: Yeah, I would like to.
S: How else can I help you? Can I help you in any other way?
O: Ill do my homework, and come back with new questions.
[Cat comes to Olivier]
O: This cat likes being scratched. Burroughs wrote a book called The Cat

S: (Laughs) Oh yeah, The Cat Inside, Brion made the Its true that the
normal edition of that book doesnt have all of the wonderful drawings that
Brion did. Theyre only in the
O: It was a limited edition, yeah.
S: Yeah, it was a limited edition, but its very expensive, I dont have it.
O: No, neither have I.
S: Actually some of those drawings he got from our cat.
O: Yeah he did?
S: Yeah, because he didnt have a cat. He wasnt that much into cats. He
could do anything though. But the Brion Gysin reader is very interesting.
O: Im gonna buy it.
S: Yeah. Its very good. It just came out. I mean, he wrote so well. Did you
read The Process? You know that is one of the best novels I have ever read.
I read it three times. Its so good that it gets better every time you read it.
When you read it you cant help of being astonished how could this guy
write so well. I mean the writing is really so good! But even his very first
book about Uncle Tom, you know, the real uncle Tom. Its a master that
was a gem! And its so well written. He had such good style such craft.

O: And everybody knows him through Burroughs. Because Burroughs, there

was a certain romantic spunk or thing about Burroughs. You know, how he
accidentally killed his wife and all that.
S: Well Burroughs had the star power, really, which Brion never had really.
Brion was more in the distance. Both had great voices. William had a
magnificent voice, and so did Brion. Wonderful voices. I was on quite a few
different things with him, poetry festivals and things like that. Radio
programs, we even did a television show. I met him quite a few times.
O: Here in Paris?
S: Yeah. Ive met Burroughs through Brion in the late seventies. And I knew
him in the eighties also through Brion and different things. And I saw him a
year or so before he died. We were on a French TV show together also.
O: In what year?
S: Phew. I couldnt tell you man. In the eighties, maybe late eighties, I really
dont know man. I like very much his late essays also. About the eh
O: The Adding Machine.
S: The Adding Machine. Great. Terrific. Very good. Full of ideas.

[ End of interview Soup is served ]



Goethe to Felix Mendelssohn

If witches broomsticks thus can bound
Over the solemn score,
Ride on! Through wider fields of sounds,
Delight us more and more,
As you have done with might and main,
And soon return to us again.


Blossoms Steve Lacys Belgian farewell concerts

A personal impression by Rita De Vuyst
Blossoms was Steve Lacys way of saying goodbye to Europe, and
consisted of ten different concerts in Belgium. Ten concerts in ten days, all
in different places, with different partners and styles, coordinated by Cedric
Dhondt. Surrounded by his most loyal fans and friends, Lacy could express
himself fully. His music rich in construction, colour and content was
always adjusted to the moment and the situation.
The first concert was in the Sint-Kwintens Kapel on July 23 2002, Steves
birthday. He played in dialogue with Shiro Daimon, a Japanese dancer who
currently lives in France but returns every year to Tokyo to give
performances. Shiro is educated in the traditional arts of Noh and Kabuki,
and developed a unique, personal style that he baptized Buyutai-Do. He not
only dances, but also uses his voice and plays the typical Japanese Biwa.
Steves and Shiros interplay formed a subtle work of art. Their performance
had a dreamlike, eerie quality, depicting a ritual emptiness, as if Shiro was
summoning lost souls.
The second concert of July 24 took place in Brussels together with Fred Van
Hove on the piano. Although the circumstances were not so ideal the
quality of their performance was very energetic. The same combative
attitude could be witnessed in Steves concert with bassist Jolle Landre of
July 28.
Jolle prefers playing in free counterpoint with Lacys lines, which gave us
both beautifully poetic moments and very offensive moments where Lacy

literally blew away the noise of glasses coming from the counter. After the
concert, Steve Lacy joined Mal Waldron at his table.
In contrast, the solo concert of July 26 in the Zebrapad Workshop was
conducted in an oasis of rest and intimacy. During the first set of the
concert, Steve quoted from Monks repertoire. In the second part he delved
deeper in his roots with Sands. He also played the composition Art,
based on a text from Melville. Before playing Resurrection, a moving tune
dedicated to the recently murdered drummer Oliver Johnson, he quoted
without any irony Jesus Christ: Follow me and you shall live forever.
On July 27 Steve again played in the Sint-Kwintens Kapel with Mikhail
Bezverkhny on violin. Mikhail, who has a classical formation, took the
challenge of playing several of Lacys soloworks. The recording of this
concert is, thanks to the professional work by Michael W. Huon, a
wonderful document.
Mikhail started of with a beautiful rendition of six studies from Lacys book
Practitioners. Then, Steve brought his lifes work: the Tao cycle. The cycle
consists of six parts: Existence, The Way, Bone, Name, The Breath, and Life
on its way. Of the cycle, Lacy played the first three parts. First, Existence, is
the book of change and possibilities, and symbolizes dawn. The Way is the
literal translation of Tao, and refers to the morning. Bone symbolizes
vitality and resilience, and refers to the noon.
In the second part of the concert, Steve improvised with Mikhail on several
of Steves themes. First they brought the Precipitation Suite, a suite
consisting of four parts I Feel A Draft (dedicated to Mal Waldron),
Cloudy, Rain and Splashed. Next, Steve and Mikhail played Cross
Purposes, a piece specifically composed by Steve in February of 2002 for

violin and soprano saxophone.

The first part of Cross Purposes tells about the meeting and the dance. The
second part is more prosaic: a story is being told. The theme of the dance is
briefly repeated.
The last part is the leaving played in a more contemplative manner. We
hear the whistle of a steamboat. The crowd cheers from the quay, the Old
World is left behind and the ship leaves for Boston.

Rita De Vuyst, Summer 2002




Impressions from Blossoms (captured from video): Steve Lacy,

Mikhail Bezverkhny and Shiro Daimon in the Sint-Kwintens Kapel,
July 2002 ( Roger Parry)

Jolle Landre and Steve Lacy live at the Belga Caf (Brussels). Top
right: Lacy blows his horn backwards. Bottom right: Lacy exclaims one
more time

Fred Van Hove ( Jackie Lepage)

Fred Van Hove (on accordion)

and Steve Lacy live in Brussels
( Rita De Vuyst)


The long road
As I composed this puzzle with the findings and the aid of people I was able
to reach, I soon realised that some pieces were missing. So I widened the
circle and stretched it to Japan.
On the solo CD Ten of Dukes of Steve Lacy, produced by Senators Ive
found the address of the Egg Farm near Tokyo where this CD was
registered as homage to Duke Ellington. April 7th 2003 I arrived at the Egg
Farm, just as the sakura (cherry blossoms) were blooming. In Fukaya
station, a city 100 km west of Tokyo, Iris Verfaillie, my journey companion,
and I were welcomed by the daughter of Mr. And Mrs. Saito, the owners of
the Egg Farm. We exchanged our CDs. I received Blues For Aida
produced by Space Who (the former Egg Farm) in 1996, and registered
during a live concert on the 10th of September 1995. Blues For Aida is a
eulogy for Akire Aida, who presented Lacy for the first time in Japon. Blues
For Aida was also the opening tune of the Blossoms concert in duo with
Shiro Daimon, 23.07.02 at the Sint-Kwintenskapel in Ghent. I handed over
the CD The Holy La (Free Lance FRL-NS 0201). Both CDs have the
same opening tune of Theloniuous Monk, Shuffle Boil, and both contain
the tune Retrait with the words of Thomas Gainsborough.
Viewing the concert list of Mrs Saito, who is the driving motor behind the
concerts which she started from 1985 at her own house, it felt strange to see
that we both invited the same musicians such as Mal Waldron, Jolle
Landre, Evan Parker and Steve Lacy. It felt even stranger to see that Fred
Van Hove (Antwerpen, Belgium) had so many concerts there. So that was a

direct indication to put Fred Van Hove ahead of my concert list for the
We visited the new concert hall Egg Farm, situated next to the old family
house. We climbed the stairs of the old family house to the old attic where
Steve Lacys Sextet performed on the June 3rd 1989. Driving us to our
pension, Hotel Kintou Roykan near Fukaya station I showed my gratitude
with another gift : Scratching The Seventies ( Saravah SHL 2082). and a
T-shirt which was left from the Blossoms Concerts with the lines of
As the bell tones fades
Blossom scents take up the ringing
Evening shade.
Parting we didnt need any invitation, I said : I come back, Kazuko Saito
said: I come to Ghent. When is the next concert ?
For those who also want to visit the Egg Farm :
Space Who
Kazuko Saito
140, 1 Kushibiki Okabe-Machi Osato-Gun
Saitan-Ken 369-0212 Japan
E-mail :

Rita De Vuyst


Robert Creeley
The long road

The long road of it all

Is an echo,
A sound like an image
Expanding, frames growing
One after one in ascending
Or descending order, all
Of us rising, falling
Thought, an explosion
Of emptiness soon forgotten
As a kid I wondered
Where do they go,
My father dead. The place
Had a faded dustiness
Despite the woods and all.
We all grew up.
I see our faces
In old school pictures.
Where are we now?



CD contents: Steve Lacy (ss)

solo @ Afkikker, October 30 2001

Mother Goose
1 3. Sands
a) Stand
b) Jump
c) Fall
Naked Lunch
Dead Weight
Mother Goose
Ring of Bone


All compositions by Steve Lacy

Recorded by Michael W. Huon,
Studio Odon 120 the Right Place