Steve Lacy Plays Thelonious Monk

Recorded in 1958

Steve Lacy soprano saxophone Mal Waldron piano Buell Neidlinger bass Elvin Jones drums

Ind. Title Composer Dur.
1/ Four In One Thelonious Monk 6:01
2/ Reflections 4:09
3/ Hornin'In 5:11
4/ Bye-Ya 4:40
5/ Let's Call This 7:15
6/ Ask Me Now 4:58
7/ Skippy 4:16

Recorded in Hackensack, NJ on October 17, 1958 by Rudy van Gelger.

Liner Notes

[...] 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 !earn them", Steve relates, "I listened to Monk's records 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 be fore 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 B aid to the success ful 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 & 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.

Ira Gitler (reprinted from the sleeve notes)

Blindfold Test: Yusef Lateef

It had long been at the back of my mind to conduct, when the right opportunity arose, a miscellaneous-instrument Blindfold Test. The perfect subject presented himself when, after many years in Detroit. Yusef Lateef moved to Manhattan. […]

All the records on his Blindfold Test, then, featured at least one instrument that is (or was until recently) rare in jazz. He was given no information other than this fact about the records selected. […]

The Records

[…] 3. Steve Lacy. Bye-Ya (from Reflections, New Jazz). Lacy, soprano saxaphone; Mal Waldron, piano; Thelonious Monk, composer.

"I don't know the tune - I don't know who the pianist was, but if it wasn't Monk, he sounded like he was influenced by Monk . . . It could have been Randy Weston.

I didn't recognize the alto saxophonist, but I'd like to say that he had a very good conception of this kind of composition, and he had good control of the freak registers of the instrument also.

It was a very interesting composition - I would give it four stars." […]

Leonard Feather —  07/21/1960 (Down Beat Online Extra)

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