By Jared T. Miller
Lawrence Lucie, a guitarist who played with many of the legends of jazz and taught music for several decades at Downtown’s Borough of Manhattan Community College, died last Friday at the age of 101.
He was living at the Kateri Residence, a nursing home on the Upper West Side, at the time of his death.
Born in Emporia, Virginia on December 18, 1907, Lucie began his jazz career at age 19 when he moved to New York to study banjo at the Brooklyn-Queens Conservatory. One of his first gigs was with Duke Ellington, filling in for the jazz legend’s banjo player for a week at the Cotton Club, according to The New York Times. Ellington hired him as a temporary replacement, though he quickly became renowned for his guitar playing as swing bands began to incorporate the instrument into the music of the day. He went on to play with several other greats: Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, he played guitar for Benny Carter, Fletcher Henderson and Coleman Hawkins. He also played with jazz greats Billie Holliday, Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong, and was Armstrong’s best man at one of his weddings.
“He was a wonderful gem of a person, absolutely,” Laurence Wilson, who chaired the B.M.C.C.’s music department during Lucie’s tenure there, said in a phone interview. “I’ve never heard anyone say a bad word about him, and for someone [who’s been] in the business for so long, that’s not something to be taken lightly.”
Lucie had been on B.M.C.C.’s faculty for 30 years until he retired a few years ago at the age of 97. Throughout his career he became known for his skills as a rhythm guitarist, holding a steady beat rather than stealing the spotlight with soloing. Most recently, Lucie performed solo shows at Arturo’s, a Greenwich Village restaurant that offered him a regular slot on Sundays until he left in 2005.
“He was just a wonderful man,” said Lisa Giunta, co-owner of Arturo’s and daughter of the restaurant’s namesake founder. When asked how she felt about Lucie ending his career at Arturo’s, she commented simply, “We’re very blessed.”
Lucie was married to Nora Lee King, a jazz guitarist and singer with whom he recorded later in his career. The couple also had a show on public-access cable television in New York City for a number of years. In the 1980s the two opened Toy Records, a record label for which they recorded several easy listening albums.
Though no information about any survivors was available, Lucie and his wife did not have children.
She died in the 1990s.
On Lucie’s 100th birthday, Lucie told a New York Times reporter the advice that he said accounted for his longevity and success in jazz: “I didn’t have but one woman at a time. I didn’t drink a lot of whiskey. I did what my father told me to do.”