Jeremy Steig, Jazz Flutist, Dies at 73
By PETER KEEPNEWS
JUNE 2, 2016
Jeremy Steig in an undated photograph. Adelaide de Menil/Condé Nast, via Getty Images
Jeremy Steig, an acclaimed jazz flutist and the leader of one of the first jazz-rock bands, died on April 13 in Yokohama, Japan. He was 73.
The cause was cancer, said his wife, Asako Steig, who announced his death on his website
in late May.
“He didn’t like to read about musicians’ deaths in newspaper obituaries,” Ms. Steig explained in an email when contacted. “He wanted me to delay the announcement of his death, so that it wouldn’t really be ‘news’ to be written up.”
Most jazz flutists are saxophonists who double on the instrument and play it only occasionally. Mr. Steig was a rarity: Flute was his first and only instrument. And in the view of many critics and musicians, he was a master.
The guitarist Vic Juris, who performed and recorded with Mr. Steig, praised him in an interview as an innovative player whose “use of overtones and singing into the flute reminded me of the way Hendrix played the guitar.” He also noted that Mr. Steig was “one of the few flutists who incorporated the entire flute family into his composing and recording,” including bass flute and piccolo.
Mr. Steig began performing professionally while attending the High School of Music and Art (now the Fiorello H. La Guardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts) in Manhattan. He was 21 when he recorded his first album, “Flute Fever,”
produced by the celebrated talent scout John Hammond and released by Columbia in 1963.
In the fertile Greenwich Village music scene of the middle and late 1960s, Mr. Steig regularly crossed genre lines. “I used to sit in with everybody,” he said in a 2000 interview
. “With rock bands, too. I found I could keep my ‘soloing integrity’ while playing over a funky beat.”
The band he assembled to accompany the singer-songwriter Tim Hardin in 1966 evolved into Jeremy & the Satyrs
, which incorporated jazz ideas into a rock context. It was a new approach but not a unique one: Jazz musicians like the vibraphonist Gary Burton and rock groups like Blood, Sweat & Tears were working along similar lines.
“We decided that we’d invented jazz-rock,” Mr. Steig later recalled. “Of course, there were about 50 other people who had come to the same conclusion.”
Continue reading the main story
Jeremy & the Satyrs released an album on Reprise in 1968, but broke up shortly after that. A year later, Mr. Steig drew praise for his work in a more conventional jazz context, on the pianist Bill Evans’s Verve album “What’s New.”
He went on to record for several labels, most recently his own, Steig Music.
Jeremy Steig was born on Sept. 23, 1942, in Manhattan. His father was William Steig
, the celebrated New Yorker cartoonist and writer of popular children’s books including “Shrek.” His mother, the former Elizabeth Mead, was an arts educator.
He played the recorder from the age of 6, and at 11 he began studying flute with Paige Brook of the New York Philharmonic. After a year, he later said, he knew that he wanted to play the flute for the rest of his life.
When Mr. Steig was 19, a motorbike accident left one side of his face paralyzed. After several months he resumed playing with the aid of a makeshift cardboard mouthpiece that kept the air from pushing his lips open. He eventually rebuilt his facial muscles and was able to play without it.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Steig is survived by a sister, Lucinda Franceschini, and a half sister, Margit Steig. He lived in Yokohama.
An artist as well as a musician, Mr. Steig did the cover ar
t for a number of his albums. In recent years he had devoted as much time to painting and drawing as to music, and he and his wife had put together several “digital picture books”
While Mr. Steig was not well known beyond the jazz world, on two occasions his music was heard by a much larger audience.
In the animated feature “Shrek Forever After”
(2010), the fourth in the series of revisionist fairy-tale adventures based on his father’s creation, Mr. Steig provided the music played onscreen by the Pied Piper. And his 1970 record “Howlin’ for Judy”
was sampled by the Beastie Boys on their 1994 hit single “Sure Shot.”
“I made more money from that sample than from any of my records,” Mr. Steig told the website All About Jazz
in 2004. “It saved my life at the time.”