Sam Newsome

Sam Newsome
"The potential for the saxophone is unlimited." - Steve Lacy

Monday, August 13, 2012

My Five (5) Favorite Steve Lacy Quotes

Soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy not only gave us great music to appreciate and learn from, but he always had a very poetic way of speaking—filled with insight, wit, and wisdom. Here are a few wise words from Lacy, most of which addressing the importance of originality and doing your own thing. Many of these quotes are from the Jason Weiss book Conversations, a collection of interviews by Lacy.

1. You have to sound sad first of all, then maybe later you can sound good.

I totally agree with him. Getting to something really great or profound musically, doesn’t come without a lot of trial and error.

2. People don't want to suffer. They want to sound good immediately, and this is one of the biggest problems in the world.

I have witnessed this many times just hearing people practice. It’s as though they rather sacrifice improving than having a bystander hear them sound awful. Kenny Werner often says that we often play when we should be practicing, and we practice when we should be playing.

3. Jazz is like wine. When it is new, it is only for the experts, but when it gets older, everybody wants it. 

I've definitely seen this happen with bebop. When it first came into existence it received a lot of criticism because it created a new paradigm for how jazz was created and appreciated. Nowadays people are listening to Bird and Monk in the background while sipping on their Cinnamon Dolce Frappuccinos at Starbucks.

4. There is an awful lot of what I call recreational jazz going on, where people go out and learn a particular language or style and become real sharks on somebody else's language. 

This is probably more prevalent today than at any other time in history. Many musicians don’t seem to be taking the extra step of after learning a language, personalizing it and making it their own. Here’s an interesting story. A friend of mine went over to Ron Carter’s place. I can't remember the reason. I think it was something to the affect that their wives were friends. But when he arrived he was surprised to find Ron Carter in his music room transcribing Paul Chambers. Apparently he does this a lot. I think this is a classic case of what I mean by taking it the extra step. Because Ron didn’t let the process stop at him playing Paul Chambers' ideas. And he certainly didn't choose to make a career out of it--which happens a lot today with many contemporary players. He used him as a way of getting to his own thing. And that’s what it’s all about. No matter what you're learning, never loose sight of the target you're aiming for--which is you.

 5. It starts with a single sound. If there's something in that sound, then it's worth continuing. 

I think many soprano players can relate to this. Many players that I’ve interviewed often spoke of being intrigued by a single sound, which sent them on a journey of a lifetime—myself included!


  1. Great stuff!

    I would add this: don't believe what you hear. When someone tells you that you played fantastic but you know it was, well, a lot less than that, accept the compliment but don't believe it.

    Same holds true when someone tells you you sound awful and you know you were getting at something real. Hear what is said but don't believe it, either.

    The standard is you. Only you know when you are living up to it.

  2. I remember that one well. It definitely holds true.


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