Steve Lacy / Roswell Rudd Quartet:

School Days

It was just there and nobody was doing anything with it - there were all these interesting tunes that Monk had just recorded once years ago, and even he was not playing them himself.

(Steve Lacy - liner notes)

Recorded in 1963

1975 1994 2002

Steve Lacy soprano saxophone Roswell Rudd trombone

Henry Grimes bass (2,3,4,5,6) Dennis Charles drums

Ind. Title Composer Dur.
1/ Bye-Ya Thelonious Monk 9:00
2/ Brilliant Corners 9:45
3/ Monk's Dream 7:15
4/ Monk's Mood 8:10
5/ Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are 10:25
6/ Skippy 6:15
7/ Pannonica 3:25

Mono recording live at Phase Two Coffee House, New York, NY, March 1963 (?) by Vashkar Nandy & Paul Haines. Remastering: Eddie Korvin.

Emanem LP (1975):
Photo: Valerie Wilmer. Sleeve design & notes: Martin Davidson.
Producer: Martin Davidson.

Hat Hut reissue (1994):
Tape restoration by Ansgar Ballhorn & Peter Pfister. CD-master by Peter Pfister.
Cover photo by Larry Fink. Cover art: Ecke Bonk, 94.
Liner notes: Peter Kostakis.
Executive producers: Pia & Werner X. Uehlinger.

Hat Hut reissue (2002):
Mix, CEDAR processing and new CD-master by Peter Pfister (March 2001).
Cover photo by Larry Fink. Graphic concept: fuhrer vienna.
Liner notes: Peter Kostakis.
Executive producers: Werner X. Uehlinger.

Note (cf. LP liner notes): (7) was the second piece recorded and most of it was lost; (2) and (3) were recorded in reverse order; Grimes was not on (1,7) as he was late for the gig.

LP liner notes

Here, at long last, is the first recording to be issued of one of the major groups of the early '60's - the Steve Lacy Quartet with Roswell Rudd and Dennis Charles (and a succession of bassists). This superb quartet lasted for about two and a half years from 1961 to 1964, but only recorded twice for so-called major record companies who then either sat on or rejected the resultant tapes. Fortunately, Vashkar Nandy and Paul Haines had the sense to record the band, and even if this recording made with one microphone (Jimmy Giuffre's) is not perfect, it is infinitely better than the silence that has existed about this group for the last decade [1].

This record contains all the music recorded one evening about half way through the life of the quartet. Most of PANNONICA (the second piece recorded) was lost for some reason or other, but the surviving ending contains such incredible interplay that it was decided to use it as a sort of encore. Also the running order of MONK'S DREAM and BRILLIANT CORNERS has been reversed to make for a better LP side. Otherwise, the music is presented as it was performed. (Henry Grimes is absent from two tracks because he arrived late for the gig!)

For much of the '50's and '60's, Steve Lacy concentrated heavily on Thelonious Monk's music - in fact, this particular band had a repertoire of about fifty Monk tunes [2]. When I interviewed Lacy in 1974 for the short-lived In To Jazz magazine, I asked him why he had studied and played Monk's music for so many years. He replied as follows:

"It had a certain consistency to it, and I wanted to see the proportions of the whole thing and check out the consistency of the language. It was just there and nobody was doing anything with it - there were all these interesting tunes that Monk had just recorded once years ago, and even he was not playing them himself. So it excited me a lot that there was this body of music. I found it the most interesting repertoire around, and it fitted my horn and my personality. It was a challenge, and I was just wild about it. I wanted to learn all those tunes because I wanted to play in the structures. I didn't even know why - I didn't have a why - it was just love, interest. I got into them gradually, one or two; then I'd see three more; then there was another dozen, and it just went on and on. Then I had to go back to the first ones and reconsider them, and I'd find I was doing something wrong and correct that and ... It was just along school.

"Then I met Roswell in the '60's and he joined me because he was wild in that way too. He helped me learn a lot of the ones I didn't know and vice versa. We collaborated and practiced together and we formed this group and just played that stuff because it was a way of going through something to get to something else. We knew there was something on the other side, and we wanted to go through it to see what was there and how it would be after we'd gone through it.

"We played the tunes very strictly, especially at first when we didn't dare deviate at all. We improvised right on the structures whether there were five bars or seven bars or funny keys or whatever. We tried to stick to the letter of the law, whatever that was. The thing is, though, it was a nightly experience -we wanted to play on those tunes every night. So, after a while, if you do things every night you start to take liberties, and the liberty was what interested us - a liberty through this discipline. And sure enough it worked - there was something on the other side, and we began to get through to a kind of freedom, a kind of looseness. It got looser and looser until it sounded like some New Orleans stuff after a while. It must have sounded funny because there was no piano in it, and it was piano music - it must have sounded very spare.

"We invented work by going around New York systematically street by street looking for any kind of place that we could invent a job, and we found, for example, an Armenian restaurant with a downstairs room, and little coffee shops and things like that. We didn't make any money with it, but it was an excuse to play."

Since then, Steve Lacy and Roswell Rudd have gone their own ways to make their own musics [3], while Henry Grimes and Dennis Charles have, alas, virtually dropped out of the music scene (although Charles looks like returning [4]). Hopefully, this belated release of this beautiful music will help to enhance the reputations of five very under-rated musicians.

Martin Davidson (LPs liner notes - 1975)

Footnotes (1979):
1. And infinitely clearer and more realistic than many studio recordings made since then! (Why must double basses sound like rubber bands, and drums like pillows?)
2. Plus a few by Cecil Taylor & Kurt Weill.
3. The original Emanem release of School Days did directly inspire Black Saint to arrange a reunion resulting in Trickles (1976).
4. Dennis Charles has returned! One of the few recent New York City joys has been his playing, especially with Claude Lawrence.

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