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A Fireside Chat With Steve Lacy

By Published: June 5, 2004
FJ: Playing duos with Mal has a level of intimacy that you are accustomed to because you seem at ease playing solo.

SL: That's right, Fred. That has been something I've been doing since thirty years now. And actually, I have one coming up Monday here in Boston. It is challenging. It is not what I call difficult, but it is dangerous. It has got to be good. Otherwise, it is terrible. I can't do it every night. It is an exceptional thing. For me, it is a thing of exception. I am trying to play with the best musicians I can as much as possible and then once in a while, I play a solo concert. It is an exceptional thing, even if I do it a couple nights in a row. I can't do it more than that. Well, it is exceptional. It is a special thing. It's very nice as a thing apart really. For me, it is very important to have done that and I continue to do it.

FJ: What prompted your initial move to Europe?

SL: Well, first, I went in '65 and stayed there a couple of years. Then we went to Buenos Aires for almost a year and then Irene and I came to New York for a year and in '68, we moved back to Europe and we are just coming back now.

FJ: European labels hatOLOGY, Emanem, and Black Saint/Soul Note have extensive catalogs of your music. That is not the case in the States. Do you attribute that to your lengthy residence in Europe?

SL: Well, you know, Fred, when we left in the Sixties, the music that we were doing was rather still underground. There was little interest in it and we couldn't make a living with it. That was out of the question. When I got to Europe, I found that one could make a living with it over there. There was all the different countries, all the different cities, and lots of good musicians here and there and radio stations, record companies, critics, fans, everything. There was everything that was not in America at that time and so I stayed. It did flourish for a long time and now it started to get better in America and I am working more and more here, so it was logical to follow the music back home. The artistic context is very high there. It is an older civilization. It is older in that it goes back further than it does here and the culture is more grown. It is longer grown. That includes painting and music and dance and lots of things like that. Here, it is a few hundred years old and there, it may be a thousand years or more and in some places, there is much more than that. That is an important part because any kind of an art is an organic commodity that is grown under circumstances with influence and inspiration from the surroundings. For example, Italy is a beautiful place and has a very high level of culture and the music, the people understand music extremely well. They listen to opera in their own language and their ears are highly developed really. In America, you have good listeners and all of that and good performers, but it is a younger kind of thing. It isn't so deep as it is over there yet because it can't be. Too little time has gone by. Even jazz is just about a hundred years.

FJ: Perhaps we place too much of an emphasis on pop/rock music.

SL: Well, it is hard to answer that because when I was a kid, jazz was popular. And popular music was quite sophisticated and quite good quality and all of that. Now, there is a whole other thing out there and there is a lot of junk music out there. There is a lot of recreational jazz also and there is a lot of non-music which is viewed as music like rap without any melody or harmony or anything. It is just language with rhythmic accompaniment. So it is a different ballgame right now. It just goes on and on with variations. The good jazz is appreciated in America. I especially like to live in Boston because it is full of very, very good musicians everywhere here of all styles and the classical scene and the baroque scene and the contemporary scene is very, very developed up here and I like that. I was born in New York. I came from there and I went through that whole thing. I don't need to live exactly there right now. Boston is close enough. I can be there in a few hours if I want to be. I feel more relaxed here. The main consideration for Boston was the New England Conservatory offered me this teaching post, which gives me a little security and three days a week I teach and it's a wonderful experience. It is important to be able to teach young people the things I learned the other way and it is a base for me. I can still travel and I can go to New York and play when something comes up. It is a better situation for me. We went through Paris. We did Paris. We were there thirty-two years. We did everything we could do there and it was time to come back home.

FJ: When Maria Callas did master classes at Julliard, students were experiencing a wealth of art. Such is the case I am sure with your own pupils at the New England Conservatory.

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