Remembering Steve Lacy

Remembering Steve Lacy

by Laurence Svirchev

copyright © 2004 Laurence Svirchev

Steve Lacy, Uh, Uh, Uh. When I got permission from his agent to photograph Steve, she said "Don't be late under any circumstances. He has no tolerance for that. So I showed up on time . . . at the wrong hotel. I rushed across downtown Vancouver just to apologize. I roamed up and down Robson Street looking for him, but no Lacy. I was about to give up, when there he was, standing in front of his hotel. I rushed up, breathless by now and before I could say anything, he said, "Are you Laurence Svirchev? I have to apologize, I completely forgot about our date, can you forgive me?"

We went to a beautiful flower garden. We were both embarrassed and no photos were forthcoming. Then I noticed Lacy's ear was cocked, he was listening to something. I asked if he often listened to songbirds. "Yes, I often do my best composing after listening to birds . . . Oh, you noticed that?" He put his fingers to his mouth and smiled for the first time. I later learned from Bill Shoemaker, perhaps the most incisive Lacy commentator, that this was a characteristic look when he was particularly pleased

Two years later, he came to Vancouver again. I gave him a 16x20 framed photo. He looked at it and said, "If I were running for President of the United States, I'd use this for my portrait. But I'd like to ask a favor. May I give this to my mother. She is in a nursing home; she could put it on her wall."

Another two years. This time I met Steve at his home in Paris. He gave a solo concert off the balcony. Later, I asked him about his mother. He said, "That photo keeps her alive; it's hanging right by her bed."

Steve was all about gentlemanly conduct and kindness. He never criticized another musician by name. No one disagrees that he was the foremost master of his instrument and an amazing composer. His songs were dedicated to a wide range of artists. "Uh, Uh, Uh" was dedicated to Jimi Hendrix. For years, he and only a few others were the lighthouse keepers for the music of Thelonious Sphere Monk. But Lacy was also fearless: he set to music the poetry of Pakistani poet Taslima Nasri in his work, "The Cry." Nasri was under death sentence from religious extremists in her country, and Steve and troupe could have suffered bodily harm by touring the work. Steve Lacy, Paladin.

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