Lawrence Leathers, 37, was found dead in the second-floor stairwell of his apartment building on East 141st Street just before noon. He performed under the name Lawrence Lo Leathers.
Police say he was involved in a dispute with his girlfriend, 41-year-old Lisa Harris, who also lives in the apartment, when 28-year-old Sterling Aguilar put Leathers in a chokehold as Harris punched him in the head and sat on his chest.
JALC joins the jazz community in mourning Lawrence Lo Leathers.— Jazz at Lincoln Center (@jazzdotorg) June 3, 2019
From performances including Jazz for Young People concerts in Rose Theater, to memorable sets in The Appel Room, to Late Night Sessions at #Dizzys, he brought his spirit to all our stages. https://t.co/snyBkc8rkT pic.twitter.com/x5LbiTJAbT
Both Aguilar, of Brooklyn, and Harris are charged with manslaughter and criminal negligent homicide.
The medical examiner ruled the cause of death to be homicidal asphyxia with compression of neck, and the investigation is ongoing.
According to the criminal complaint, Aguilar held Leathers in the chokehold for 30 minutes -- so tightly that he allegedly broke the victim's neck.
The complaint also says Harris sat on the victim's chest and punched him several times in the face while Aguilar administered the death grip.
Investigators are still sorting out how the incident started.
Leathers, originally of Michigan, won two Grammy Awards backing singer Cecile McLorin Salvant as a member of the Aaron Diehl Trio.
"We called him our prince," vocalist and WGBO radio host Lezlie Harrison said. "Yeah, he was a prince. Everybody had their way of greeting Lawrence, or him greeting them, with a bow."
He was just as much a perfect gentleman as he was a highly skilled musician, Harrison said, and he jazz world is left with a gaping void.
"His swing, the way he could keep time, and the way he could ride a rhythm," she said. "For a young cat like that, he was pretty bad. And bad meaning excellent."
Leather was already playing drums professionally at the age of 15, and he attended The Juilliard School before going on to play with greats like Wynton Marsalis and at venues like Lincoln Center.
"I got a call from a friend, and I was like, 'You got to be kidding me,'" Harrison said. "He was a sought-after drummer. Everybody wanted to work with him...He played with such feeling. I loved playing with him because he did all those pretty things behind me, as a vocalist...He would certainly be a legend, and I guess that's what he is now."
Carlos Abadie is the general manager at Smalls, a tiny jazz bar in the West Village where Leathers was a fixture.
"I'm gonna love him forever, and I'm gonna miss him forever," Abadie. "Always be a hole in my heart without him around...And it made you feel good just to be around him. He knew how to make people feel good to create warmth. He was always just a warm soul to be around."
Leathers was supposed to perform there Monday night.
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