[JPL] Living to 100, and Looking Back on a Legacy of New York Jazz

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Wed Dec 19 11:07:39 EST 2007

December 19, 2007
Living to 100, and Looking Back on a Legacy of New
York Jazz 
Lawrence Lucie no longer has the jet-black hair, the
stylish suits or the dexterity that made him one of
the pre-eminent rhythm guitarists in the jazz world.
But he can still draw a crowd.

On the eve of his 100th birthday on Monday night, Mr.
Lucie, sitting in a wheelchair, could not go 20
seconds without receiving an embrace, a pat on the
back or a handshake from one of the many jazz
connoisseurs gathered at the offices of the musicians’
union in Midtown Manhattan. The well-wishers were
there to pay homage to his legacy.

And it is quite impressive.

He is the last living person to have performed with
Duke Ellington at New York’s legendary Cotton Club. He
played with Benny Carter at the Apollo Theater in
1934, the year it opened its doors to black customers.
He played with Louis Armstrong for several years and
was the best man at his wedding.

“The most amazing thing about him is how many great
musicians he worked with,” said Dan Morgenstern, the
director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers
University, who was at the party. “It’s like a whole
living history of jazz. He’s on so many important

Though Mr. Lucie does not share the fame of some of
the stars he played with, the appreciation for him was
clearly evident Monday night.

The celebration included performances by jazz
musicians. People sang “Happy Birthday” and showered
him with gifts and cards. Mr. Lucie seemed to be
taking all the attention in stride.

After a woman greeted him with a kiss on the cheek, he
smirked and said, “See, I know everybody.” Later, he
pointed toward the birthday cards on a table in front
of him and said, “I’ve got a lot to read tomorrow.”

Another celebration for Mr. Lucie was held on Tuesday
at the Kateri Residence, a nursing home on the Upper
West Side, where he has lived for more than two years.
There, two men played guitar, Mr. Lucie was given
three cakes, and he received a letter signed by
President Bush and his wife.

Mr. Lucie said he hoped to attend a party that the
Duke Ellington Society was holding in his honor on
Wednesday night at St. Peter’s Church, on Lexington
Avenue at 54th Street.

He said he could not have imagined all the publicity
when he moved to New York from his home in Virginia as
a teenager more than 80 years ago to study guitar.

“I was just worried about playing,” he said. “I just
feel very lucky to be alive.”

Mr. Lucie was born on Dec. 18, 1907, in Emporia, Va.,
and he started learning music nearly as soon as he
could walk. His father was a jazz musician who also
worked as a barber. By the time he was 8, Mr. Lucie
was playing with his father’s band, said Phil Schaap,
a jazz historian and professor at Juilliard.

When he was 19, Mr. Lucie moved to New York to pursue
his passion for the guitar. He worked as a barber
during the day and studied at the Brooklyn-Queens
Conservatory, Mr. Schaap said.

Around 1931, Mr. Lucie filled in for a week at the
Cotton Club for Duke Ellington’s guitarist. Mr.
Lucie’s career blossomed between 1932 and 1934, when
he played with Benny Carter. After that, he worked
with the likes of Fletcher Henderson, Coleman Hawkins,
Jelly Roll Morton and Billie Holiday.

“Larry had the goods,” Mr. Schaap said.

Mr. Lucie taught guitar at the Borough of Manhattan
Community College for more than three decades, until
about three years ago, Mr. Schaap said. In the 1970s,
he started a jazz show on a Manhattan cable TV station
with his wife, Nora Lee King. It ended when she died
in the 1990s. Mr. Lucie played gigs in the city for
most of the past 80 years. His final show was at
Arturo’s, a restaurant and bar in Greenwich Village,
where he gave a solo performance on Sunday nights
until 2005.

Mr. Lucie said his father’s advice helped him enjoy
his success in jazz and his longevity.

“I didn’t have but one woman at a time,” he said. “I
didn’t drink a lot of whiskey. I did what my father
told me to do.”


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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