Soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy, whose avant-garde approach to his instrument influenced John Coltrane and others, died of cancer Friday (June 4) in Boston. He was 69.

Soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy, whose avant-garde approach to his instrument influenced John Coltrane and others, died of cancer Friday (June 4) in Boston. He was 69.

Born Steven Lackritz in New York, he began studying piano and clarinet but took up the little-used soprano sax after hearing the early recordings of Sidney Bechet. He began his career playing Dixieland, and was renamed "Lacy" by trumpeter Rex Stewart.

Lacy branched into exploratory terrain during the '50s, when he spent two years with pianist Cecil Taylor, whose left-field combos were beginning to define the free jazz movement. He also worked with pianist/composer Thelonious Monk; later, he would become a noted interpreter of Monk's work, co-leading a group with trombonist Roswell Rudd. Lacy also performed with composer/arranger Gil Evans.

After hearing Lacy perform in New York, fellow Monk alumnus Coltrane, whose principal instrument was the tenor sax, took up the soprano; his famous 1960 recording of "My Favorite Things" reflects Lacy's approach to the instrument.

Lacy relocated to Europe in the late '60s and co-led freewheeling bands with his wife, cellist/vocalist Irene Aebi, that fused free jazz, dance and poetry. He received a MacArthur Fellowship grant in 1992, and subsequently returned to the United States, where he taught at the New England Conservatory.

He is survived by Aebi.