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

Grammy-winning jazz drummer Lawrence Leathers, 37, died Sunday in New York City in an apparent domestic violence incident

Lawrence Leathers
Photo: Paul CHARBIT/Gamma-Rapho via Getty

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

Leathers was discovered unconscious in the stairwell of his Bronx apartment building and was pronounced dead at the scene, a spokesperson for the New York Police Department confirmed to PEOPLE.

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

Their charges were later upgraded to first- and second-degree manslaughter and criminal negligent homicide, according to a criminal complaint obtained by PEOPLE.

The complaint says Aguilar allegedly held Leathers in a chokehold for approximately 30 minutes as Harris sat on his chest and punched him several times in the face.

His cause of death is listed as homicidal asphyxia with compression of neck, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

The drummer was an established presence on New York City’s jazz scene after first arriving in the Big Apple from his native Michigan to attend the famed Juilliard School.

He was scheduled to perform an after-hours jam session Monday at Smalls Jazz Club in Greenwich Village, where he played frequently.

Leathers said he first realized his passion for drumming in grade school, when he attended church and was instantly drawn in.

“I used to go up to the drums after every service and tap on ‘em,” he told Capsulocity in 2012. “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.”

His mentor at the church, Joe Lane, recalled Leathers’ natural-born talent to NPR after his death.

“I’ve never seen anyone in my life pick up any instrument he wanted to and play it almost instantly,” he said. “And not just music. He did that with everything. Anything that he wanted to. The hardest thing about this whole thing is, he was a guy who was very difficult not to love.”

While in New York, Leathers formed a trio with pianist Aaron Diehl and bassist Paul Sikivie, which found success as the backing band for singer Cécile McLorin Salvant.

Leathers – who also found a mentor in acclaimed trumpeter Wynton Marsalis — 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.

Salvant paid tribute to the musician Monday with a soundless Instagram video that featured Leathers playing the drums.

During the Capsulocity interview, Leathers explained that his style was difficult to put into words.

“My style, I don’t know how to describe it,” Leathers said. “Deeply oriented in swing. I don’t play a whole lot of flashy stuff. Listening, that’s one of my biggest assets.”

The drummer also elaborated on his plans for the future, explaining how important it was for him to give back to the community.

“I want to be playing, man. I want to travel, I want to create music,” he said. “I want to put smiles on people’s faces, frowns on people’s faces, I want to teach, man I want to give back. That’s, to me, being successful.”

“Always positive, supportive & loving,” fellow drummer E.J. Strickland posted on Instagram. “We need more real ones like this, y’all.”

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