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Lawrence Leathers, Grammy Award-Winning Jazz Drummer, Found Dead at 37 in Building Stairwell

Grammy-winning jazz drummer Lawrence Lo Leathers died Sunday in New York City after an alleged assault. He was 37.

lawrence-leathers_getty-Paul CHARBIT : Contributor
(Photo: Paul CHARBIT / Contributor, Getty)

Leathers was discovered unconscious in the stairwell of his Bronx apartment building and pronounced dead at the scene by emergency medical technicians, according to the New York Police Department.

Two suspects, Lisa Harris, 41, and Sterling Aguilar, 28, were arrested Monday and charged with assault in connection with the musician's death.

According to ABC News, police upgraded the charges against the suspects to first-and second-degree manslaughter and criminal negligent homicide.

The Associated Press reports that just before his death, Leathers was allegedly involved in a dispute with Harris (his girlfriend). Police told the AP that Harris allegedly punched Leathers before Aguilar allegedly put him in a chokehold.

Known for his swinging drumming, Leathers was an established drummer on New York City's jazz scene after first arriving there from his native Michigan to attend the Juilliard School. He was scheduled to perform in an after-hours jam session on Monday at Smalls Jazz Club in Greenwich Village, where he frequently played.

The musician said he first realized his passion for drumming when he was a child at church.

"I used to go up to the drums after every service and tap on 'em," he told Capsulocity in 2012, as reported by PEOPLE. "There was something about the feeling, the beat. It spoke to me, you know what I mean? The swing patterns... But anyway, that was the moment when I decided I want to play drums."

While in New York, Leathers formed a trio with pianist Aaron Diehl and bassist Paul Sikivie, which saw success as the backing band for singer Cécile McLorin Salvant. Leathers earned his two Grammy awards playing for Salvant, on 2015's For One to Love and 2017's Dreams and Daggers, which both won for best jazz vocal album.

In a 2015 interview with Lansing City Pulse, Leathers said he sought to entwine his steady-minded drumming with Salvant's vocals.

"A lot of time, people play with vocalists and there's a separation between the vocalist and the rest of the band," he said, as reported by The New York Times. "She's just another instrument on the bandstand."

Salvant paid tribute to Leathers with a silent and caption-less Instagram video featuring him playing the drums.

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A post shared by Cecile McLorin Salvant (@cecilemclorinsalvant) on

Leathers also studied and performed with a number of elder musicians, including trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, who became a mentor, supporter and occasional jam-session partner.

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Fellow drummer E.J. Strickland posted a lengthy tribute to Leathers, calling him "one of the most musical, swingingest, honest drummers out there."

"We need more real ones like this, y'all," he wrote. "Rest well, soldier. You are greatly missed by us all."