Mentor and Teacher on Jazz Scene, Dies
By Ben Ratliff, New York Times.
Arnie Lawrence, a jazz saxophonist and pioneering educator who helped found
the jazz program at the New School University in New York and started an
innovative program to train young jazz musicians of both Jewish and Arab
backgrounds in Israel, died on April 22 in Jerusalem. He was 66 and lived in
Jerusalem. The cause was lung and liver cancer, said his son Erik Lawrence.
Mr. Lawrence grew up in the Brownsville area of Brooklyn and was playing professionally in the Catskills at age 12. In the early 1960's he worked in Los Angeles for two years, including a stint with Chico Hamilton's band; he
can be heard on one of Mr. Hamilton's better-known albums, "The Dealer."
By 1963 he had returned to New York, working with Clark Terry, among others,
and in 1967 joined the house band of Johnny Carson's "Tonight" show as lead
alto player. He stayed with the show until it moved to Los Angeles, in 1972.
Later in the 1970's he worked with Dizzy Gillespie, Liza Minnelli, and
Blood, Sweat and Tears, and led two groups, Treasure Island and Children of
But it was perhaps Mr. Lawrence's career as an educator that made the
biggest impact on the jazz world. He started in the mid-1970's, with
artist-in-residence jobs in Kentucky and Kansas. In 1986, he helped found
the jazz and contemporary music program at the New School in Manhattan, and
became a full-time faculty member. The program became known for an
unorthodox, less academic approach, breaking down the walls of the
institution to take the students out into the jazz scene in the city. He was
a mentor to a generation of New York jazz musicians, including Brad Mehldau,
Roy Hargrove and Larry Goldings.
In 1997 Mr. Lawrence moved to Israel, founding the International Center for
Creative Music, Jerusalem. With some public support and his own savings, he
attempted to bridge the Jewish and Arab worlds through jazz education,
though he insisted that he was simply bringing musicians together and did
not care what their backgrounds were.
"I've been called naive and stupid and perhaps a bit crazy," he told a
reporter for United Press International in 2001. "Maybe I am. But I have
The school was housed in a building offered by the Jerusalem municipality's
department of culture, but it was not accredited; it had no tuition,
diplomas or age requirements, and the emphasis was less on music-theory
instruction than on the cooperative experience.
Mr. Lawrence also promoted two charities working for peace and for the
safety of children in conflict areas, God Bless the Child and Blues for
For a time, he ran a small club in Jerusalem called Arnie's Jazz
Underground, and before rising tensions made it impossible, he played with
Jewish and Palestinian musicians at the Flamingo club in the West Bank city
In addition to his son Erik, of Putney, Vt., Mr. Lawrence is survived by his
wife, Liza, of Jerusalem; his sons Scott, of Ellicott City, Md., and Danny,
of Jerusalem; two daughters, Marya, of Manhattan, and Jana, of Shreveport,
La; a brother, Howard, of New York; and seven grandchildren.
New York Times article, April 29, 2005
Arnie Lawrence - a message from his son Erik
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.
May peace and music be with you always.
Arnie Lawrence's Band of Angels
Nizar Francis - Oud & Vocals
Wisam Aram - Darbuka
Elias Habib - Daf & Percussion
Daniel Ron - Piano & Surprise Guests
Arnie Lawrence and his Band of Angels have
been showcased in special concerts in New York, California, and
Florida, as the featured band of the International Association of
Jazz Educators Conference (2001, 2002, as seen on CNN Worldbeat
monthlong feature broadcast to 215 nations) and in Beijing as part
of The China Tour (2001, as seen on China Cultural Television (CTT)
and Israel Television), as well as opening Daniel Pearl World Music
Day (Oct, 2003, CNN & ITV News) from the King David Hotel and
the West Jerusalem YMCA Terrace.
Saxophonist Arnie Lawrence, has often been referred to as an
Underground Legend. He is an immensely talented and soulful
player who leaves a lasting impression on everyone who hears him.
He is recognized as world class Jazz musician and is the
possessor of a prodigious saxophone technique, but his true gift
is his ability to touch people through his playing, exploring and
illuminating the recesses of the emotional palette.
In 1986 Arnie put his performing and recording career on the
back burner and for the next ten years threw himself into an
education project that became known as the New School for Jazz
and Contemporary Music in New York City. As the creator and
co-founder Arnie drew the talent that would make The New School
arguably the top educational center for young musicians to study
with the masters. His teaching style is uniquely his, drawing
from his education in the aural tradition of jazz. Arnie's
students from the school are spread all over the globe, and a
short list of his well known students includes; Roy Hargrove,
Brad Mehldau, Larry Goldings, John Popper, Peter Bernstien and
In 1997 Arnie left the New School, picked up his New York
roots and moved to Jerusalem, Israel, where he founded the
International Center for Creative Music, Jerusalem, where he
currently teaches. The ICCM is an educational facility where
young Israelis and Palestinians study music and life skills
together along with students from around the world.
Arnie Lawrence passes on the baton
By Barry Davis, Jerusalem Post.
Arnie Lawrence, jazz musician and teacher extraordinaire, died last Friday at the age of 66. Arnie was the kind of guy about whom you could truly say, once met never forgotten. I certainly will never forget him or how much I learned from him over the six and a half years I knew him.
Arnie never did anything by halves and he made an immediate impact after arriving in Jerusalem in 1997 after a four decade-plus career in the jazz community in America. He was born in Brooklyn in July 1938 and began playing clarinet at the age of 13. He was initially influenced by the Latin bands he heard in his youth but was also drawn to mainstream jazz. He soon made the transition to tenor and then alto saxophone, and it was the latter that was to remain his primary instrument for the rest of his life.
His artistic endeavors in the States took him around the country, to Kansas as well as the West Coast and East Coast, and brought him professional joint ventures with titans like trumpeter Clark Terry, saxophonist-flutist James Moody, drummer Max Roach and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie.
Musically, Arnie spread his net just about as wide as it would go. Besides his straightahead jazz work he also made forays outside the strict boundaries of the genre. He achieved wider exposure during the 1970s, with a spell with innovative rock band Blood, Sweat and Tears, and a 10-year berth on Johnny Carson's famed The Tonight Show brought his face and sound into the living rooms of millions of Americans.
But, it was possibly as a teacher that Arnie found his true calling. When New York's New School University decided to establish a jazz program in the mid-80s it was to Arnie they turned. Many of the thirtysomething jazz lions in today's New York scene graduated from that program.
Arnie brought his passion and dreams to this country and wasted no time at all in setting up shop in Jerusalem. He established a small school, called the International Center for Creative Music, in Ein Kerem and soon all manner of youngsters began flocking there. As far as Arnie was concerned, music was just that. He didn't differentiate between the genres or cultural origins. He taught Jewish, Christian and Moslem children and youths, imparting to all of them an unsullied love of his craft. It is the type of added value you can only get from a teacher who is uncompromisingly devoted to his work.
Arnie was, to say the least, a colorful character. When he moved here he also shipped a white jag over from New Jersey. He cut quite a figure driving through the streets of Jerusalem in a car that looked it had been copied and pasted straight from a fairy tale.
I first met Arnie when I interviewed jazz legend James Moody, who was brought over in December 1998 to play with Arnie's and some of his budding students in Jerusalem and Haifa. After that I accompanied Arnie to all manner of gig, and was in his entourage to the IAJE (International Association of Jazz Educators) conference in New York in 2001 - the largest gathering of musicians in the global jazz calendar - and, later that year, to China.
Besides his musicianship it was Arnie's ability to convey a sense of fervor and joy through his music that won over his audiences. Even in China, a country not generally known for its embracing of improvised western music, the public in Beijing were enchanted by his playing and the mixed cultural offering he gave them. Besides jazz, there were plenty of Jewish and Arabic motifs at the concerts, and an intriguing and ultimately highly fruitful confluence with classical Chinese music artist, internationally known pipa player Yang Jing. Yang subsequently performed with Arnie and Max Roach at the Israel Festival in Jerusalem.
Nothing, it seemed, could quell Arnie enthusiasm and belief in a better future. John Lennon presumably had characters like Arnie in mind when he put together the lyrics of his 1971 release "Imagine": Imagine all the people, living life in peace… You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll join us, and the world will be as one." That, in a nutshell, was what Arnie Lawrence was about.
A recurrent Arnie theme was to use music as a bridge between people of different cultural backgrounds, and on opposite sides of conflict. During his long career he worked with musicians from many different musical disciplines and ethnic origins. He performed with cantors, in churches, and with Cubans, Chinese and Arabs. He found a common language with all of them. Arnie did his utmost to span cultural and political gaps. He worked with the Beit Hageffen Arab-Jewish Cultural Center in Haifa, and had a weekly spot at a club in Ramallah until the outbreak of the second Intifada made things a little too hairy, even for Arnie.
A couple of years ago he set about providing Jerusalem with a jazz home all of its own when he opened "Arnie's Jazz Underground" in a basement below the Alexander Restaurant on Derekh Hebron, that offered live jazz and related musical genres on a seven day a week basis. At the time he said: "It will be just like a New York house of jazz where you can hear music every day of the week. It's modeled on the great jazz clubs I've seen, and played at, in my life - like Birdland, the Village Vanguard, the Village Gate, Sweet Basil's, Small's and Ronnie Scott's in London. There'll be a touch of inspiration from all those places."
Arnie may not have been a millionaire but he was never short on inspiration or ambition. When I once asked him if he was ever concerned about making ends meet he simply said: "jazz musicians are warriors, not worriers."
The Sunday before Arnie died, many of his former students got together at Hadassah Hospital for an impromptu musical gathering. It was a joyous and moving occasion and the frail wheelchair bound Arnie, somehow, found the strength to play saxophone for a few minutes and sing. It was his and the students' way to say goodbye and thank you.
Jerusalem and the Israeli musical community are richer for Arnie's energy and enthusiasm, and his testimony will live on for many years through his talented and inspired students.
"We Love You Forever"
By George V. Johnson Jr.
Jazz Saxophonist, Arnie Lawrence will be dearly missed and I'm fortunate we crossed paths. A great musician and communicator. My trip to Israel was a wonderful experience and opened lots of eyes on what he was all about when folks say he was an underground legend. The preivous year Max Roach and James Moody travelled there as well.
During all the tensions in Israel Arnie was still travelling into those same places teaching students no matter what race and danger that surrounded him. He was well respected by Arabs, Jews, and Christians.
I don't think there was another musician on the face of the earth with
his gift of communicating with jazz music. By doing so he took the
world treasure Jazz to another level to lift "mankind'. Arnie showed
the world that Jazz music was a better vehicle to communicate and bring
people of all races together than bombs and bullets.
The United Nations could have used a person of his stature sitting
in on their negotiations. Just the thought of how we performed
in those different places without being harmed showed the respect people
had for him. During the height of all the tensions we musicians stayed
at the Mt Zion Hotel owned and operated by Palestinians and the club "Arnie
Jazz Ness" was owned and operated by them as well. It was only about 1/4
mile from the Holy City of David and King Solomon's Temple.
I walked to the Wailing Wall, prayed for world peace each day and thanked
God for bringing me there. Jews and Palestinians attended the club
to hear us each night without any incidents. They listen, laughed, drinked,
ate and sat together throughout each performance. The people loved
every moment and you could see on their faces that our music touched their
hearts and souls. Arnie's Band of Angels consisted of Jews, Arabs and Americans.
The musicians were superb! That alone showed the respect they had
for him and the love they had for the Art Form "JAZZ". Arnie Lawrence
was the co-founder of the New School in New York City. It is now one of
the best learning Institutions of Jazz in the World. Some of today's most
prominent musicians have attended the New School.
After leaving the United States he travelled to Israel, where he founded
the International Center for Creative Music, Jerusalem and developed satelite
programs throughout the region. His courage and dedication to Jazz
Music will be dearly missed. Perhaps a University and Monument should be
erected in Israel in his honor to remind the world of this great human
being. Arnie Lawrence's name should go down in history like
Bird, Dizzy, Miles, Trane, Monk, Ellington, and Basie.
Long live Arnie Lawrence one of the the Greatest Communicators and Ambassadors
of Jazz Music!
We love you forever...
George V Johnson Jr.
Jazz, ethnic music & funk... the Israel Jazz