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Saxophonist Arnie Lawrence Dies

Alto saxophonist Arnie Lawrence died Friday in Jerusalem at age 66. Lawrence had a successful career and played with many artists, including Charlie Palmieri, Chico Hamilton, Clark Terry and Tito Rodriguez. He was also a member of the Tonight Show Orchestra for Johnny Carson and was the cofounder of the New School University Jazz & Contemporary Music Program.

Lawrence was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. on July 10, 1938 and began studying clarinet at age 11. By age 17, he was leading groups on the “Jazz Unlimited” series presented at Birdland in New York and early on, played a double bill with John Coltrane. He was soon playing with bands and artists such as the Frank Foster Big Band, the Duke Pearson Big Band, Charles Mingus, Thad Jones and Maynard Ferguson.

Lawrence made his first recording with Chico Hamilton on the latter’s 1966 album The Dealer and became a longtime member of Hamilton’s groups and albums. The following year, Lawrence joined the Tonight Show Orchestra as a featured soloist and performed with guests including Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, B.B. King and Tony Bennett. When the show moved to Los Angeles in 1972, Lawrence decided to stay behind in New York to work on music there.

Lawrence did not confine himself to solely jazz gigs and was a member of Blood, Sweat and Tears in 1974 and in 1978, embarked on a 14-month world tour with Liza Minelli. He also recorded albums with the Spin Doctors in 1996 and 1999.

After working with the New School in the late 1980s and 90s, Lawrence left the country in 1997 and moved to Jerusalem, where he founded the International Center for Creative Music. The Center is an educational facility where young Israelis and Palestinians study music along with other international students.

A memorial concert will be held in his honor at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Manhattan, N.Y. on July 10. New School University will also hold a memorial concert at a later date and establish a scholarship in his name.

Lawrence is survived by his wife, Liza, and their son, Danny, in Israel. Lawrence is also survived by four children from his previous marriage to Sheila Lawrence: Dr. Jana De Benedetti in Shreveport, La.; Erik Lawrence in Putney, Vt.; Scott Lawrence in Ellicott City, Md.; and Marya Lawrence Hart in New York City. He is also survived by seven grandchildren and his brother, Howard Finkelstein of N.Y.

Originally Published