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04-24-2005A tribute to Arnie Lawrence

"The blues is the sound a baby makes when it cries for the first time, 'cause after that he knows it'll get picked up and it's all show business."
--Arnie Lawrence, as quoted by John Popper in the "Harmonica Information Press"

"As we wonder aloud/Do they understand what the music means?/You know a baby/Singin' the blues when it first screams"
--Blues Traveler, "As We Wonder"

Arnie Lawrence sang the blues for the first time on July 10th, 1938. A New Yorker through and through, he was born on that date in Brooklyn, and lived, worked and played there for nearly his whole life. Beginning his studies on the clarinet before he even became a teenager, it was in his teenage years that he switched to the alto saxophone which became his trademark sound. Early on in his career he played with legends such as John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, and played both high- and low-profile gigs alike. A stint on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson was followed by tours around the world with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, Liza Minnelli and Blood, Sweat & Tears.

In 1986 - right around the time a little group called the Blues Band was just started to get their feet under them in Princeton, NJ - the New School University in New York had charged school dean David Levy with founding a new program, one that would offer a Bachelor of Arts in Jazz and Contemporary Music. Levy turned to Arnie Lawrence to assist him in launching the new program, and that fall, the program began, accepting 36 students at its campus in Greenwich Village. One year later, John Popper had graduated from Princeton High School and enrolled in the New School, with his bandmates soon to follow. Taught by Lawrence and drummer Chico Hamilton, the class provided a musical foundation for a hungry fledgling band. "At an early class taught by Arnie Lawrence and Chico Hamilton," John once wrote, "the entire room, filled with music students on establishing a solid groove, is asked to freeze and wait in silence. If done right, the groove hangs in the air, effortlessly in the hearts and minds, and even physical realm of all there. Then at an instant's notice, at any point, everyone can continue to jam as if it had not stopped at all. For in a real sense it hadn't."

Brendan Hill and Bob Sheehan would join John the next year, and meet other longtime musical friends as classmates under Arnie, among them Spin Doctors Eric Schenkman and Aaron Comess. But despite all that they learned in their class, the best lesson they ever received was to simply go play live. Once they were able to make enough to support themselves playing shows, they left and the rest is history. Arnie continued to teach at the New School for ten more years, guesting with the band frequently over that time, including twice during the New Year's Eve 1995 celebration. But in 1997, he felt a strong calling to teach abroad, and moved around the world to Jerusalem, where he founded the International Center for Creative Music, and played and taught there until his passing a few short days ago.

"A world without music would be truly a wasteland", Arnie had been known to say in the past. The world without Arnie will be that much barer without his presence, but much, much richer because of it.


Arnie's son Erik has also asked us to share this with friends, fans and family...

It is with great reverence that I share the news that my father, Arnie Lawrence, has passed from this earth Friday, April 22nd, 2005 near his home in Israel after a brief illness. A master saxophonist and legendary teacher, he put his heart and soul into his music, into teaching and gave a large piece of it to anyone who needed it. His accomplishments go far beyond what my meager mind can express on this or any day. His career spanned from sitting at the feet of Ben Webster to "rock and roll guru" and honorary member of many bands, including Blues Traveler and Spin Doctors. He created the New School Jazz program, and an even further reaching program in Israel, bringing Jews and Arabs together through music. We are all his children and his message of love and creativity will continue to grow.

I remember Pops telling me that Ben Webster advised "You're only as good as your rhythm section" when he was 16 years old. I can't tell you how many rhythm section players have told me they never played as well as they played with him.

Oddly, I heard the news of his passing just before entering a recording studio in Brooklyn, near where he was born. I was playing his old King alto, we were to play a traditional African funeral march. When I finally got myself together to walk into the studio there were two framed album covers on the wall, chosen because the engineer's girlfriend liked the '60's style artwork. My father had played on both of them. I figured perhaps I was doing just what I was supposed to be doing.

Talk has begun for a memorial service in at St Peter's Church in NYC on July 10th, his next birthay at 7pm and the establishment of a scholarship fund in his name. Please feel free to forward this email to any of his friends around the globe. And please email me at this address at any time for more information.


May peace and music be with you always.
Erik Lawrence

Finally, Aaron Comess has announced a jam session to be held in Arnie's honor:

Please come down to the NIGHTINGALE BAR to join in on a memorial jam in remembrance and celebration of ARNIE LAWRENCE.

Monday, May 2nd at 10:00 PM.

Arnie recently passed away in Israel where he had been living....He was a great man who touched many people with his music and charismatic personality...He was a true visionary who inspires us to be artistically unique and free .......let's hang-out and make some music in honor of him.....

Bring your instruments and amp if you want to play
(**I'll have a drum set there)

NIGHTINGALE is at the corner of 13th and 2nd avenue in Manhattan, NY

10:00p.m. -??

Hope to see you there,
Please pass this around to whomever you feel appropriate.

Aaron Comess