Drummer Lawrence Leathers was found dead in the Bronx on June 2, the victim of an apparent murder. (Photo: Courtesy YouTube)
Drummer Lawrence “Lo” Leathers, a vital presence in the New York jazz scene who won two Grammys for his work with vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant, was the victim of an apparent murder on Sunday at his apartment in the Bronx, where he lived with his girlfriend. A suspect — an acquaintance of Leathers’ girlfriend — has been charged with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. Leathers was 37.
Leathers, a drummer with a clean, uncomplicated style, was a regular at New York jazz institutions such as Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, Smalls and even the Village Vanguard, the club where, as a part of Salvant’s backing ensemble, he recorded the singer’s album Dreams and Daggers, winner of the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album in 2017. The Michigan native began playing drums professionally at 15 and moved to New York City in 2007 to attend the Juilliard School.
While at Juilliard, Leathers he forged strong musical partnerships with bassist Paul Sikivie and pianist Aaron Diehl, classmates who would later join him in Salvant’s touring ensemble. Leathers was also a member of bands led by bassist George DeLancey, organist JC Stylles and trombonist Melissa Gardiner, as well as a mentor to a generation of young drummers coming up in New York. On social media, tributes and remembrances poured in from friends and colleagues.
“So shocked and saddened to learn of the untimely departure of master drummer and all around beautiful human being, Lawrence Leathers,” wrote keyboardist Emmet Cohen on Facebook. “He was so loved and universally respected. Lawrence had more friends than anyone I know— not just acquaintances, but true, deep friendships with histories, loyalties, and inside jokes.”
“Heartbreaking to hear of such an amazing soul who left us too quickly,” said drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. in a post on Facebook. “As touring musicians we get so caught up in traveling and being successful that we forget to check in with each other sometimes, beyond the music. I miss this kat and I want to send love to the NYC jazz scene and his family, because we are all hurting from this incredible loss.”
Another fellow drummer, Nate Smith, posted the following on Twitter: “The loss of this young man has weighed heavily on my heart today, as I’m sure it has for all of the people who knew, loved and worked with him. Lawrence Leathers was a brilliant young drummer. Gone far far too soon.”
E.J. Strickland, whom Leathers considered a mentor, took to Twitter to post his thoughts as well: “Lawrence Lo Leathers was one of the most musical, swingingest, honest drummers out here,” Strickland wrote. “Whenever I saw him play, I learned a great deal more about accompaniment, feel, & touch. Conversation with him was always a pleasure, as well. He always gave me a lot to think about.”
Below is a video of Leather performing the tune “Ears to the Ground” with the George DeLancey quartet, with DeLancey on bass, Stacy Dillard on saxophone, Diehl on piano and Leathers on drums. In a review of Dreams and Daggers, JAZZIZ noted the ensembles “fearless approach” to the music. That’s certainly on display in the impeccably swinging drumming exhibited by Leathers here.