Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Steve Lacy - The Advent of the Soprano Sax in Modern Jazz

© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“As Dave Liebman put it: 'He's the epitome of art for art's sake. He goes his own way, he plays everybody's stuff - koto guys, Russian poets, guys standing on their heads - and it's always Steve Lacy.' The inspiration of Sidney Bechet got Lacy started on the soprano: at that time he was still Steven Lackritz, but Rex Stewart - one of the older Dixielanders whom the young saxophonist ended up playing with during this period - christened him “Lacy” as an easy alternative.”
- Richard Cook’s Jazz Encyclopedia

"Jazz is a very young art and not too much is known about it yet. You have to trust yourself and go your own way." 
- Steve Lacy, soprano saxophonist

“He insisted on a literary dimension to his work, incorporating texts by novelists, poets and philosophers -- as well as visual-art and dance components, when time and money allowed.

“For someone long considered an avant-garde artist, Mr. Lacy always insisted that nobody could get more avant-garde than Louis Armstrong; his best work was anti-highfalutin and doggedly practical.”
- Ben Ratliff, June 5, 2004 New York Times Obituary

“Steve Lacy, who has died of liver cancer aged 69, was one of the great practitioners of the soprano saxophone and, unlike most soprano saxophonists, he played that instrument exclusively. It was Lacy who inspired John Coltrane's adoption of that delicate, highly strung, distantly oboe-like instrument. Throughout a career of performance, teaching and recording, he paid heed to no fashions.

Lacy's music was personal, exploratory and driven by a quiet passion. While he was an undeviating experimenter, the quirky beauty of his music frequently had more in common with his original model, Sidney Bechet, than the stylistic distance between them would suggest.

Lacy enjoyed fruitful relationships with two formidable pianist-composers - Thelonious Monk and Cecil Taylor. He also worked with Gil Evans, Don Cherry and many European free-improvisers, crossed into contemporary classical music (sometimes with his cellist-singer wife Irene Aebi) and experimental electronics and mixed-media, and confronted himself with the daunting challenge of the unaccompanied saxophone recital. Yet for all his work's variety, Lacy always returned to celebrating Monk, his greatest inspiration.
- John Fordham, June 9, 2004 Obituary, The Guardian


While there is some duplication in the liner notes to these four early LP’s by soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy [1934-2004], collectively, they provide the most information in the Jazz Literature about the early career of pioneering soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy.

Written by Ira Gitler, Martin Williams and Nat Hentoff, three of the most distinguished and discerning of the Jazz critics associated with Jazz during the second half of the 20th century, they astutely point out the special qualities of Steve music and his skills in taking the soprano saxophone - a horn usually associated with the beginnings of the music - into the modern era.

Unfortunately, I missed these recordings when they first came out and was familiar with Steve only through his 1957 appearance on Gil Evans & Ten and Gil Evans - The Great Jazz Standards which followed in 1958.

Some recent research on Gil sent me back to these initial recordings which prompted a sort of epiphany of Steve’s brilliant playing. Fortunately, these four classic albums have been reissued on 2 CDs on Avid Jazz EMSC 1187 with excellent audio clarity and the original liner notes which you’ll find below.


“Not only is Steve Lacy unique because he is playing modern jazz on the soprano saxophone but because in the space of six years he has evolved within the jazz tradition from Sidney Bechet to Sonny Rollins. In neither case, choice of instrument or his development on it, was there anything forced or unnatural. As Steve puts it, "I didn't take it (the soprano) up as a
reason to change. As my ear improved and my taste broadened I began to see its possibilities in modern jazz."

In 1953, Steve went to Boston where he spent a semester and a half at Schillinger House. He had to buy an alto to enter the school as they wouldn't accept him as a soprano student. He was considered somewhat of a curiosity due to his being the only soprano saxophonist and Dixieland musician there. It was while in Boston that he bought his first records by Lester Young and Charlie Parker; he dug Pres but didn't care for Bird and only bought his records to be able to talk about him to the modernists at the school. Steve was also delving further back into the Swing Era and appreciating musicians like Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins and Bill Coleman.

During the summer Steve returned to New York in order to finish high school via one course. He joined local 802 and became a regular member at the Stuyvesant Casino weekend sessions billed as "The Bechet of Today" although the most important part Bechet had in his playing was only in getting him interested in the soprano and not in shaping his style. Some of the musicians with whom Steve appeared in 1953-54 were much admired by him. They included Buck Clayton, Jimmy Rushing, Dicky Wells, Walter Page, Pee Wee Russell, Rex Stewart and Joe Sullivan.

In the same period, Lacy had a few small groups of his own. One included a one-armed piano player; another five-piecer was a winner on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts and was featured on the redhead's morning show for a week. None of Godfrey's other promises were carried out and Steve left with an opinion shared by many others.

Then an important meeting eventually had a profound effect on Lacy. It was with pianist Cecil Taylor. They both dug Ellington and this was the common ground on which they started their musical relationship. Taylor was most influential in getting Steve to listen to a wider variety of jazz and classical music and also to realize that there were other arts and facets of living that would help him as a jazzmen.

The next few years found him closely allied with Taylor. In 1955 they played at a summer resort together and in 1957, the Taylor quartet featuring Lacy opened the festivities at the Five Spot when the most productive of New York's jazz clubs began its career as a home of modern music. Later that year the audience at the Newport Jazz Festival heard the quartet in an effective set.

The gigs, however, have not been plentiful and Steve, instead of prostituting his art, has "gone out and broken stones" as Frank Lloyd Wright would put it. In the past few years he has held various day jobs as a clerk in book and record stores.

When he is not playing, Steve enjoys reading and looking at paintings. His taste encompasses many authors and painters but the names Thomas Mann and Paul Klee were prominent in our conversation. His favorite musicians include Armstrong, Ellington, Ben Webster, Lester Young, Parker, Miles Davis, Monk, Johnny Hodges (on alto and soprano), Sonny Rollins, Milt Jackson and Art Blakey.

Two of his confreres in this recording were with Steve in Cecil Taylor's quartet.

Drummer Dennis Charles is from St. Croix in the Virgin Islands where he was born in 1933. He came to the United States at the age of eleven and later played with various calypso and rock 'n roll groups in New York. Cecil found him at a session and he was soon part of the group. Dennis, who digs Art Blakey, is a musical drummer, "one who hears rhythm as music," Steve says. From his seat, a bit higher than most drummers sit, he listens attentively and responds with the fervor of his whole body.

Buell Neidlinger, born in Westport, Connecticut in 1936, was originally a cellist but took up bass at Yale in 1952 and began appearing with various college bands. Steve met him at a Yale Dixieland reunion. Buell came to New York in 1955 and worked various society-band and Dixieland gigs but went through a metamorphosis when Steve played some Jimmy Blanton and Ray Brown records for him. He now lists Percy Heath and Wilbur Ware with the first two as his favorite bassists and his playing reflects his new outlook.

Wynton Kelly is, like Dennis Charles from the West Indies. He was born in Jamaica, British West Indies in 1931 and came to the United States at the age of four. Raised in Brooklyn, Wynton began working very young and was with the combos of tenormen Ray Abrams, Hal Singer and Eddie Davis at various times in the Forties. He then was an accompanist to Dinah Washington for three years and also played with Dizzy Gillespie's combo. After two years in the Army (1952-54) he returned to the New York jazz scene and was heard with Gillespie's big band in 1957. Wynton's favorites are Art Tatum, Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk.

Lacy's choice of material is diverse and very indicative of his rich, varied background in jazz.

Billy Strayhorn's Day Dream was Johnny Hodges' vehicle with the Ellington band. Steve handles it with sensitive strength. His sound is singular and at times approximates an English horn or oboe. His style is spare with sustained tones, a strong interest in rhythmic patterns without neglecting the harmonic nuances. Although Steve will play long phrases, he does not show an affinity for multiple double-time runs. Wynton who solos here, too, reflects his Powell influence most prominently but through his own looking glass.

Steve takes Alone Together at medium tempo and lends his haunting sound to the haunting melody. Neidlinger has a walking chorus, Steve plays again and Kelly's solo precedes a third Lacy entrance.

Thelonious Monk's Work is heard for the first time since Monk recorded it (Prestige 7075). Everyone is heard in solo on this with Steve at beginning and end. There is a wonderful group swing here.

Rockin’ in Rhythm, the Duke Ellington-Harry Carney tune which opens side B, is a swinger of another sort. Parts of the original arrangement are incorporated and Buell and Wynton solo in addition to Steve.
The calypso, Little Girl Your Daddy Is Calling You, was chosen by Steve to feature the urbanized islanders. The leader is heard only in stating the melody as Kelly and Charles are the soloists.

Steve stretches out beautifully on Easy To Love. The influence of Sonny Rollins is strong here. Wynton has a solo and Buell plays one before Steve returns to soar on out.

Steve, in addition to speaking eloquently on his horn, contributes some interesting verbal comments. Lacy on jazz reads this way: "Jazz is unique because you are watching the process of creation... actually watching someone think in front of you and communicating with his fellow beings."

Steve, who feels that more modesty should be forthcoming from more musicians says “I’ve got a long way to go.

"I agree with him but the "long way to go" to me is the long tenure he will love in jazz if he and the fates are willing..”
- Ira Gitler

REFLECTIONS: Steve Lacy Plays Thelonious Monk

In the years 1957-1958, Thelonious Monk began to receive some long overdue recognition from the general jazz public. Most of this was brought about directly by Monk himself; his groups working for extended periods at the Five Spot Cafe and his wider exposure on LP.

Many musicians had recognized his genius for a long time but most of this was done at a distance. They did not play his music. Outside of 'Round About Midnight, very little of Monk was being played, on record or in person. Isolated performances of Well You Needn't and Off Minor by Miles Davis and Bud Powell were about the only additions to the list. With the greater acceptance of Monk and his music it would seem to follow that more would be drawn from his rich storehouse of compositions by his contemporaries. Such has not been the case. There has only been a trickle of Monk from other leaders and sidemen. In the main, it has been left with Monk to present his own music.

In a 1956 interview with vibist-composer Teddy Charles (originally published in Just Jazz, a British book, and more recently reprinted in Ralph Gleason's Quarterly Jazz) we discussed why Monk's music wasn't more widely played. Teddy, who does play it when he finds compatible musicians, opined that most of the guys found it too hard and/or were too lazy to take the time to try and learn it.

Monk, himself, once said to me, in another interview, "It's not hard to play but I know it, that's all, maybe." Therein lies the crux of the situation. Those who take the time to "know it", if they can, are rewarded. They must take it on Monk's terms and not complicate chords in order to simplify things for themselves. This usually does not occur with the musician who is interested enough to investigate Monk's music.

He is not likely to be a compromiser.

Steve Lacy is such a musician. Playing jazz is a dedication with him; this shows in the intense beauty which his performances produce. He has an awareness and knowledge of the works of great composers and instrumentalists from all of the periods of jazz.

Today, there is a widespread movement among jazzmen (instigated for the most part, by the record companies) towards the playing of show tunes for the purpose of making " hit" albums. Steve, in commenting on Monk's music as we played and discussed the album, said, "These are jazz tunes. There is a large enough repertoire of jazz tunes to keep you from relying on show tunes."

Among Monk's many compositions alone, there is enough material for musicians to explore. Steve has learned thirty of them, one of which, Work, was presented in his Prestige album, Soprano Sax (7125). "To learn them", Steve relates, "I listened to Monk's record; hundreds of times and learned a lot more, in the process of listening and practicing, than merely the tunes themselves. The harmony, melody and rhythm are all interesting in Monk's tunes. I like their shapes and the way they interlock - the harmony gives the shapes colors."

For the recording of the seven Monk tunes he chose to do, Steve picked musicians he had played with before whom he knew to be sympathetic to the material at hand.

Mal Waldron is one of the handful of pianists who has been more than indirectly influenced by Monk. He and Steve played various gigs and sessions together before doing this album. Waldron's understanding and love of Monk's music was a strong aid to the successful final result. While he has functioned mainly as Billie Holiday's accompanist during the past two years, Mal has had time to show his talents as composer-arranger-pianist under his own aegis. Mal-3/ Sounds (New Jazz 8201) is the most recent example.

Steve met Buell Neidlinger at a Yale Dixieland reunion in the early Fifties. When Buell came to New York in 1955, they renewed their friendship. Buell's bass conception was influenced, at that time, by hearing Jimmy Blanton and Ray Brown on record. More recently, he has paid close attention to the work of Percy Heath, Paul Chambers and Wilbur Ware. Gunther Schuller wrote of him, in a recent Jazz Review, "Buell is a continually improving bass player. His tone is rich and full (meaty is the word)." In 1957, Neidlinger and Lacy were groupmates in the Cecil Taylor quartet and have kept in touch, musically and socially, ever since.

Elvin Jones, the drum playing member of the musical Jones family, was another jam session acquaintance of Steve's. In the two years since their first meeting, they have played together at different sessions. The fact that they have both been residents of the "East Village" community of musicians, painters and writers has given them ample opportunity (at the Five Spot, etc.) to know each other better.

The tunes themselves are different in character even when they coincide in key or tempo. None of them, except Bye-Ya, which Zoot Sims did, have ever been recorded before by anyone but Monk.

"They are masculine tunes", says Steve, an interesting and pointed observation in the light of the numerous effeminate jazz offerings we have heard in the past five years. The inner strength of songs like Ask Me Now and Reflections demonstrates that it is not slow tempos and lower decibels which necessarily indicate an effeminate performance.

Lacy has been faithful to both Monk and himself in his interpretations. Essentially the tempos have been kept the same as on the original recordings by Thelonious. The exceptions are Four in One and Skippy, both of which have had their pulses quickened.

All of the tunes were originally done by Monk in the Fifties. Four In One and Ask Me Now date from 1951; Hornin' In and Skippy from a sextet session in May 1952. All four are on Blue Note. Bye-Ya and Reflections were trio performances on Prestige, done, respectively, in October and December of 1952. (They are available on Prestige 7027) Let's Call This, from November of 1953, can be heard on Prestige 7053 in a quintet version with Sonny Rollins, Julius Watkins and Monk.

In addition to his own album, Soprano Sax, which I mentioned earlier, Steve Lacy is also featured on the much praised Gil Evans and Ten (Prestige 7120). Lacy's playing persuaded Evans to employ his services for that album. Steve's work therein, further inspired Gil to include him in that astute arranger's new band, now in rehearsal. Other musicians, such as Miles Davis, have encouraged Steve. I state this not as a huckster who says, "Because Miles digs him, you should or must" but only to point out that if these knowledgeable people have shown interest in him, certainly he rates an audition by you. He is one of the real comers among our younger jazzmen. Rather than using the soprano sax as a prop, Steve has increased its scope in jazz by utilizing its great range, turning its difficult tonal problems into a personal opalescence of sound and thereby transmitting through it a fresh, jazz-evolved conception.”
- Notes by IRA GITLER

The Straight Horn of Steve Lacy

“A Jazz musician, said Steve Lacy once, is a combination orator, dialectician, mathematician, athlete, entertainer, poet, singer, dancer, diplomat, educator, student, comedian, artist, seducer, public masturbator, and general all-round good fellow." He added, "Jazz is a very young art and not too much is known about it yet. You have to trust yourself and go your own way." Those are sentences whose frankness, honesty, and implicit perception have stayed with me a long time. And they come from a young player who has virtually worked his way through the history of jazz: on his first job, a promoter billed him as "Bechet of today" and a few years later he was working with the Cecil Taylor quartet, a group decidedly in the advance guard. The progress was perhaps not slow, but the fact that in the interim, Lacy worked with Max Kaminsky, Pee Wee Russell, Dick Sutton, Rex Stewart, Hot Lips Page, and Buck Clayton may speak for its sureness. Even his teachers encompass jazz history; they include Cecil Scott (who was an important jazz man and leader by 1927), Lee Konitz, and Cecil Taylor. 

Lacy's is also the kind of mind that cuts across jazz history to draw a strong comparison between Thelonious Monk (with whom he began working in 1960) and Louis Armstrong, each of whom he says is a "master of rhyme." (The other such masters he mentions are Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Art Blakey, and Cecil Taylor - which probably reinforces his point as well as any discussion would.)

To put all this in more conventional order, Steve Lacy was born in New York City in 1934. Besides study with the jazzmen mentioned above, he has attended the Manhattan School of Music in New York (as have such jazzmen as John Lewis, Max Roach, and Dick Katz) and the Schillinger School in Boston. His first public appearances came about because he tagged along with Cecil Scott after lessons to the latter's gigs. Later he was leading his own dixieland group. An appearance was arranged on a "Talent Scouts" broadcast, and Gil Evans happened to hear him. Evans was taken by Lacy,
even then.

By late 1956, Lacy was a member of Cecil Taylor's quartet and a little over a year later he was a player and featured soloist with Gil Evans1 orchestra. There was a return to Taylor for a Brooklyn job, in the fall of 1959 (Lacy worked a day job and played every night during that one). Several months later, he was in the very unusual quartet that Jimmy Giuffre was leading at the Five Spot in New York. It had an instrumentation rather like this one: the leader's tenor and clarinet, Lacy's soprano, bass, and drums. That group played a lot of Thelonious Monk's pieces (chiefly at Lacy's suggestion), Monk heard them, and when Monk decided to expand his own group, Lacy was asked to join Charlie Rouse's tenor in the front line.

Lacy’s instrument is a difficult one in several respects. Not the least of them is that it is hard to get jobs if you play soprano saxophone and don't want to double on other reeds - and Lacy doesn't because he is an honest and dedicated enough jazzman to know he has found himself on this one.
"Steve Lacy", wrote Larry Gushee in The Jazz Review, "has turned the special position and difficulties of the soprano sax most successfully to his advantage... His tone... is fresh, unsentimental, detached, neither brassy nor reedy... It makes a brilliant and penetrating impression... "And he adds that "even when he was heard in the context of out-and-out or modified dixieland, it was clear that an original imagination was involved."

That originality had certainly been maintained, it seems to me, in Lacy's subsequent work. And you will not hear the protective gambits of currently hip cliches from Lacy. Donna Lee, Charlie Parker's melody on an harmonic frame with a long standing in jazz, is played often enough so that it must tempt anyone to trot out the bebop stockpile. But Lacy is clearly working on that track - and not working just to avoid the cliches. Notice also Criss Cross; both hornmen clearly know that with this, as with most of Thelonious Monk's pieces, you had better know the melody and the harmony and how they fit, if you really want to play something. After Lacy has stated his boldest variation he quite logically uses a paraphrase of the theme to close his solo. It is the kind of thing a musician of Monk's stature might do, and that Lacy does.

Of the six pieces here, three are by Monk. Besides Criss Cross, Played Twice and Introspection are his. Of Monk's "masculine authority," Lacy has said, "Monk's tunes are the ones I most enjoy playing. I like his use of melody, harmony, and especially his rhythm. Each one that I learned left me with something invaluable and permanent. Monk's music has profound humanity, disciplined economy, balanced virility, dramatic nobility, and innocently exuberant wit." Played Twice, by the way, is fairly recent Monk (if the title seems unduly mechanical to you, hear it and see how really incongruous the theme would be if it were played only once). Criss Cross is earlier Monk, and I think, one of the major pieces by the major composer in jazz after Duke Ellington.

One of Monk's functions in jazz has surely been a kind of consolidation - the kind that the arrival of a major composer like Monk or Ellington always represents. In turn, such consolidation is usually followed by change, and it seems to me that one of the first signs that major change is on its way was the arrival of Cecil Taylor. Here, Air and Louise are both Taylor's pieces. (You can hear Taylor's own, quite different version of Air on Candid 8006, Stereo 9006). I think that Lacy is especially imaginative on Louise and once one has heard the compelling undulations and turns of that solo, its overall cohesion and flow will also occur to him. I would call it probably the best Lacy on record (and quickly acknowledge that it has a strong rival in his solo on Ella Speed with Gil Evans).

Lacy used no piano here because he was simply too used to hearing the unique sound of Thelonious Monk behind him. He picked Charles Davis's baritone as his other horn after hearing him sit it one night at the Five Spot. Davis had been a member of trumpeter Kenny Dorham's group since the fall of 1959.

The other two players were, at the time, fellow members of Monk's sextet. To say that a bassist is "dependable" is to say a great deal, especially since the mid-forties when the bass in jazz groups began to take the rhythmic-percussive lead. To say that bassist John Ore works with a rhythmic virtuoso like Monk, whose sense of time and tempo are the envy of everyone, is to say much more. And by all means hear his introduction on Criss Cross.

The final tribute should surely go to Roy Haynes who's playing here seems to me really superb. Perhaps he is the real heir to the achievements of Max Roach in the forties. He keeps the time and simultaneously provides an astonishingly full and imaginatively varied percussive texture behind the horns. Yet, he is not in anyone's way or merely calling attention to Roy Haynes. As an introduction to all this, listen to him behind Lacy on Air. He is really participating in the music being made here. It is a difficult role; Roy Haynes fulfills it with force and with grace.”
- Martin Williams


“For twelve years, 27-year-old Steve Lacy has been engaged in one of the most challenging assignments in jazz - the full-time mastery of the soprano saxophone, an instrument with unique problems of intonation but also a horn which can be vibrantly rewarding. Lacy has grown impressively, as can be attested by his having been recruited by Thelonious Monk for four months in 1960 and his occasional feature roles in Gil Evans' ensembles. Lacy, however, has become more than a virtuoso of the soprano sax. He is a musician with a rare capacity for brilliantly ordered improvisation of a continually imaginative level.

In this, his most intriguing album so far, Lacy has selected three sidemen who complemented him superbly. Don Cherry, best known for his work with Ornette Coleman, was chosen by Lacy because "of the chances he takes, and those chances pay off. He's not set in a mold. Don is full of surprises, and I expect he often surprises himself." Drummer Billy Higgins has worked with Teddy Edwards, Thelonious Monk, and Ornette Coleman. "Billy," says Lacy, "is a natural. He can play on an ashtray, on the top of a bar or on the floor, and it'll sound beautiful. He has besides a natural awareness of form, a real musicality, so that you can say of his work -unlike the playing of most drummers - that it's melodious. And he gets such a fine sound from anything he taps." Bassist Carl Brown, originally from the West Coast, was introduced to Lacy by Billy Higgins, and Steve has worked with Brown on the Greenwich Village coffee house circuit. "He's got a great, big sound," adds Lacy, "plenty of swing, and he and Billy are real tight. That kind of rapport between a bassist and drummer is essential when you're not using a piano. It's essential 'even if you are."

Four of the numbers in this set are by Steve's favorite composer, Thelonious Monk. The other two are by Duke Ellington, although Something to Live For is primarily by Duke's mirror image, Billy Strayhorn. I've long wondered why younger jazzmen have not explored the remarkable reservoir of early Ellington tunes, and it's a particular pleasure to hear Steve's version of Mystery Song, which was first recorded by Ellington in 1932. This interpretation, incidentally, is slightly different from the recording because Steve learned it from the sheet music.

"Mystery Song," says Steve, "has a haunting melody. The way it's phrased is unusual as is its economy and the way it falls against the harmony, which is in itself extremely interesting." Worth noting is the unique blend between Lacy and Don Cherry. "I've never heard anything like it," says Lacy. "I imagined what it might sound like, but it came out even wilder than I thought. Like on Mystery Song, it's elusive and yet it's plangent. It's stark and yet it's gentle. What also helped is that we're friends so that there's a certain chemistry you can't get any other way. That's one of the many things I learned playing with Monk. Friendship can be more important than anything else. If you can get along with the men you're playing with and establish a relationship, the music will reflect that chemistry."

Lacy regards Evidence as one of Thelonious Monk's masterpieces. "It's a supreme example of economy in jazz writing. There's an absolute
their choice. As with all Monk's work, it's rhythmically challenging. The intervals, moreover, are endlessly fascinating to contemplate - and activate. It's almost always played wrong because people don't really try to figure out everything that's going on within the tune. Another thing about Evidence is that it's a glorification of the way Monk comps. It came originally from what he did with Just You, Just Me, but it has an identity all of its own now."

Let's Cool One, another Monk piece, is described by Lacy as "a deceptively simple piece which rhythm sections especially like, because it's so easy to find a relaxed groove in it." Asked about additional insights he had gained during his own stay with Monk, Lacy answered, "I learned to stick to the point. To not just play something for the sake of playing something. With Monk, you play something because it has meaning. I also learned to try to get more with the melody, to have what I play relate to the melody, to get inside a song. If what you do doesn't have any connection with the melody, why bother to play the tune in the first place? I had been working on this approach before I went with Monk, but he reinforced my conviction that this was the direction for me in jazz."

The third Monk composition on the album is San Francisco Holiday. "When that first came out in a Monk album," Lacy explains, "it was called Worry Later. But that's a wrong title, according to Monk. It's a very jolly song, and although it's in the regular 32-bar form, it has several intriguing elements. For one thing, it's a well-shaped two-part invention with a contrast between the repeated notes and the other line moving down against them in a very clever way." On this track, and throughout the album, Don Cherry, it seems to this listener, contributes some of his most confident work on records so far. I've had the impression in the past that there were times when Don was intimidated by Ornette Coleman, but in this new context, he appears to be fully and resourcefully at ease

The choice of Something to Live For was the result of Lacy's long-term pleasure in the 1939 Ellington recording of the tune with Jean Eldridge's evocative vocal. "She got inside that song, and it stayed in my mind because the melody came to mean a lot to me.” Carl Brown has a resilient solo on the track, and as throughout the album, Billy Higgins’ drumming is flawless in taste, accuracy, and sound.

The final Who Knows by Monk is yet another illustration, Lacy points out, of how carefully each Monk piece is structured. "It's a very intricate melody with the second eight differing from the first eight and going up to a really high point. And listen to the way the melody fits the chords. In Monk's pieces, that isn't a deliberate plan - making the melody fit the chords - but it is the way his tunes work out. They work out perfectly and naturally. I thought I was through with his tunes after studying them for a long time, but I keep going back because I always find new things in them. This man has a body of work - some fifty-two songs that have been recorded. Every single one is different and every one is good. And there's nothing arbitrary about any of his tunes. They're all logical and make perfect musical sense. By contrast, so much jazz is arbitrary. As for Monk, however, the implications of his work are endless and he has certainly provided the best repertory in modern jazz for a small group."

It is this goal Lacy has set for himself - jazz that is both spontaneous and logically shaped, with nothing factitious in its structure or in its emotional overtones. Accordingly, he plays, as this set indicates, unusually lucid, unrhetorical, warmly personal music. And he does it on an instrument capable of a singular range; and sensuous impact of colors. Like Monk, the man he admires so much, Steve Lacy has become an original.”
- Notes: Nat Hentoff

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