Corrections or additions?
This article by Richard Skelly was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on
July 15, 1998. All rights reserved.
Jon Lucien & His Groove
Vocalist Jon Lucien has had more than his fair share
of grief in his 56 years. Yet he laughs easily and often while
on his life and times. A free spirit, Lucien came to New York in 1962
from the British Virgin Islands. After 14 years in New York, he moved
to Los Angeles. Since then the vocalist, composer and
has lived in Portugal, spent part of the 1980s back home on the island
of Tortola, and, for the last two years, he has been based in Las
On July 17, 1996, Lucien’s daughter, Dalila, was among the hundreds
who perished on TWA Flight 800, bound for Paris when it inexplicably
burst into flames and fell into the ocean off Long Island. Some years
ago Lucien lost his other daughter, Zeudi, who was only two years
old when she drowned in the family pool.
"Singing and composing has been a sort of therapy for me," he
explains in a telephone interview from his home in Las Vegas.
was my second daughter that I lost," he says. "I took it
The resulting stress and depression left him without sight in his
right eye. Lucien dedicates "Endless Is Love," his current
album for the Newton-based Shanachie Records, to his daughter "and
to all who perished on TWA Flight 800, July 17, 1996."
Lucien and his band will play Club Bene on Friday, July 17, two years
to the day after the Flight 800 tragedy. Does he plan to make some
sort of statement of remembrance from the stage?
"I don’t get into all of that, I don’t like to drag my life out
in the street like that," he says. While the death of his second
daughter, who would have been 18 that September, hit him really hard,
Lucien takes comfort in the fact that his two sons, Hanif and Jamil,
are still with him.
"I can’t just walk around draggin’ for the rest of my life,"
he says of the long road to recovery from his daughter’s tragic death.
"I don’t think my daughter would want me to be like that."
Growing up on on the island of Tortola, Lucien recalls he was exposed
to a wide variety of South American musical styles, including music
from Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic, where his father
was born. His father led a Latin jazz band. Lucien recalls getting
up on the couch to play along on the upright bass at family jam
His father also taught him piano and guitar. He earned a reputation
around the Virgin Islands as a bassist who could sing at the same
time, he recalls.
"I started playing very young, when I was 9 or 10, I’d plunk along
with him on bass," he recalls, "We listened to short wave
radio and I’d get to hear people like Jerry Butler, [gospel singer]
Mahalia Jackson, Fats Domino, Ruth Brown, that whole classic R&B era
Being surrounded by so many musicians from his father’s Latin band,
who would frequently stop by the house for impromptu jam sessions,
"music just became a part of my life. My father would say, `Okay,
tonight, you’re going to play piano.’"
Lucien’s big break as a vocalist didn’t come until after he had been
living in New York City for some time, in the early 1970s, when he
sang at the Apollo Theater. "I had been playing weddings and bar
mitzvahs before," he recalls, "I had a record out and nothing
really happened with the record, but I got attention and the chance
to sing at the Apollo." Even though Lucien spent many a long
at the Apollo as a patron, not being from this country, he didn’t
realize that the chance to perform there was considered the apex of
their careers for many American singers.
"When I finished singing, the owner of the Apollo, while he was
paying me, said, `You’ve passed the test.’ I said, ‘What test?!’ I
didn’t know I was under such scrutiny," he says, laughing.
After performing on weeknights in New York jazz clubs with people
like harmonica player Toots Thielemans, trumpeter Joe Newman and other
well-known jazz personalities, Lucien would find himself singing at
weddings and bar mitzvahs on the weekends in order to live
"I did well. I was able to buy me a brand new car and live in
Forest Hills and all that kind of stuff, even though sometimes I would
cry after gigs," he recalls, laughing.
Why would he cry if he was doing so well financially? "Because
the level of musicianship, you know. Sometimes you would get together
with guys for a wedding and the music would really swing, and other
times, you’d get together with some guy who’s a principal at a school
in the daytime," he says, laughing. "He doesn’t have much
interest in what he’s doing and the level of musicianship would be
"It would go from one extreme to the other, these great club dates
during the week and then these weddings and bar mitzvahs on the
In 1972 Lucien’s RCA Records effort, "Rashida," put him on
the musical map as a vocalist and helped him put an end to his weekend
wedding business. The album was nominated twice for a Grammy for the
arrangements, he notes. In 1976, Lucien moved to Los Angeles and
became part of a growing West Coast jazz clique of studio musicians.
He worked with pop and jazz musicians, including the Pointer Sisters,
Sarah Vaughan [the Newark-raised jazz vocalist], Herbie Hancock, Wayne
Shorter, Stanley Clarke, and Oscar Brashear.
At Club Bene, a room he says he enjoys playing because of its spacious
stage and good acoustics, Lucien will be accompanied by Bill O’
piano, Greg Jones, bass, Myra Casales, percussion, Kim Plainfield,
drums and Dan Carillo, guitar. "I always have a wonderful time.
Some people come up from Virginia and Philadelphia to see me,"
Like Nancy Wilson, Lucien’s vocal leanings defy easy categorization.
He sings jazz, but he also sings pop tunes and ballads. Like Wilson,
he doesn’t want to limit himself to jazz and blues songs.
"I’m a singer. I sing whatever I have to sing, whatever I want
to sing," he explains. "Endless Is Love" demonstrates
his eclectic tastes, with familiar Bacharach-David compositions like
"The Look of Love," Christopher Cross’ mega-hit,
in addition to Lucien’s own compositions. "But don’t call me a
pop singer," he continues.
"I’ve always been in this Catch-22 because I’m not exactly a jazz
singer. Because I do so many varieties of singing, it presents a
of what is Jon Lucien? And the answer is Jon Lucien is a
and musician and vocalist who’s got his own groove."
— Richard J. Skelly
$25. Friday, July 17, 9 p.m.
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