Phil Lasley, 1940 – 2018

Phelbert “Phil” Lasley III was born in Detroit on March 27, 1940, and was known mainly as an alto saxophonist. He came from a musical family and wanted to be a musician since five years of age. He told Jim Gallert that “at first I wanted to be a piano player because my mother played. She could really play the blues and worked after hour joints around Detroit.” His family moved a lot so Lasley attended schools on both the East and West sides of the city. At Grisel Junior High he met future Detroit jazz stars pianist Kenny Cox and drummers Ike Daney and George Davidson. They would often hang out at Joe Brazil’s house and learn from more estab- lished players. Tenorist Donald Walden, two years his senior, taught him chord changes by studying Charlie Parker.

His first job was at 15 at the Pingree Mother’s Club. Shortly after High School he worked full time with the Ralph Kirk Quartet at the Spot Bar, the Garfield Lounge, and the Stinson Hotel. One night at the Stinson pia- nist Billy Taylor and his trio came in after their gig. They encouraged Lasley to try New York and within a week he and a drummer friend were on a Greyhound bus to the Big Apple. He heard “edge stuff” from pianist Cecil Taylor and drummer Sonny Murray, and became friendly with John Coltrane.

Most of Lasley’s work was with back-up bands for popular acts and from 1962 to 1967 he was a member of vocalist Chuck Jackson’s band. The Motown studios lured him back to Detroit for about a year, but the deal was not as sweet as he had thought. Aretha Franklin’s band brought him back to New York where he found that the days of show bands was over. He did find work with Sam Rivers, Tommy Turrentine, Walter Bishop and Latin bands. Lasley also tried teaching jazz at the Greenwich House of Music and man- aged Omar’s a jazz club in the Village with his wife Trudy.

In 1981 he returned to his hometown where he played jazz at night and did manual work during the day. He worked for a year with Teddy Harris’ group at Bomac’s Lounge downtown and had the pleasure of playing in a tight group with bassist Rod Hicks, and drummer Lawrence Williams. The group also played some of Lasley’s compositions like “NKenge’s Blues” and “Lady T Diana.” Lasley eventually formed his own quintet, Fire!, which worked regularly at the Montreux-Detroit Jazz Festival for a few years.

Lasley went through some tough times in his last years. He met and mar- ried Carmen Arguelles, a gifted painter, sculptor, and photographer. During the several years they were together, she helped Lasley manage his career, often at the expense of her own, which finally separated them. Lasley ended up in a neat one bedroom apartment in a Senior Center near Wayne State University, but began having serious health issues. He ended up at a nurs- ing home in Novi with a broken body and his fabled wit intact. We recently found out from an unofficial source that he passed away in August, 2018.