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Jazz World Mourns Slain Lansing-Born Drummer


UPDATE: A "Homecoming" celebration of the life of Lawrence Leathers has been scheduled for Saturday, June 29th at the New Mount Calvary Baptist Church on West Miller Road in Lansing. There will be a public viewing at 9 a.m. and a service at 10 a.m., followed by burial at Chapel Hill Memorial Gardens. A man and a woman are in custody, facing charges of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.

A Lansing-born Grammy Award-winning jazz drummer was found murdered Sunday in New York City. Lawrence "Lo" Leathers was 37. A suspect is in custody. He was a prodigy, playing as a toddler and playing professionally at the age of 15, attending the Juilliard School and winning Grammys in recent years.

Leathers played on two of Cécile McLorin Salvant’s three Best Jazz Vocal Grammy-winning albums.

WKAR's Scott Pohl talks with Diego Rivera of the MSU College of Music about Leathers' life and career.

POHL: How did you come to know Lawrence Leathers?

RIVERA: I came to know him through Michigan State University. He was a student at J.W. Sexton High School in Lansing. I believe when I first heard him, I was finishing up my studies at Michigan State and he came in right around the time when I made the transition from student to teacher.

I had an opportunity to play with him. I formed a band between myself and a bassist that splits his time between New York and Detroit, and then a piano player that's now a professor in Seoul, Korea. We had a standing gig at Harper's in East Lansing for the better part of two years, and we really formed a musical and a personal bond. We grew a lot musically, personally. And, you know, some of my fondest memories are learning to play music and learning more about ourselves, you know, in that band with Lawrence.

POHL: Describe his style. What made his playing stand out?

RIVERA: Like any great jazz musician, the best ones are really a reflection of the person that they are. Lawrence was straightforward, and he was kind of a tell it like it is kind of person. There's a risk there because if you're not necessarily a good person at heart, you know, you run the risk of being not so nice a person.

Lawrence was very, very direct, but he was incredibly genuine and incredibly soulful. He was so supportive, he was so giving. He was going to let you know what he thought. He was going to be loving, nurturing, try to make everyone feel like they're the most important person in the room, and his playing was no exception. That's exactly the way you felt when you played with him. It was direct. It was very rooted in tradition, and rooted in the advice and the mentorship of his teachers and his peers. He was the real deal. He was he was an honest and genuine musician.

Scott Pohl is a general assignment news reporter and produces news features and interviews. He is also an alternate local host on NPR's "Morning Edition."
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