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Jon Lucien, 65; songwriter, singer who eluded easy labels finally found his niche in smooth jazz

August 23, 2007|Jon Thurber | Times Staff Writer

Jon Lucien, a singer who used his rich, expressive baritone to pioneer smooth jazz years before it was fashionable to do so, died Saturday at a hospital in Orlando, Fla. He was 65.

Lucien died of respiratory failure and complications from kidney surgery, according to his wife, Delesa. He had undergone a kidney transplant two years ago, she said.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, August 24, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part Page Metro Desk 2 inches; 72 words Type of Material: Correction
Lucien obituary: An obituary of singer Jon Lucien in Thursday's California section said that one of the singer's daughters died in a pool accident at the age of 5. She was 2. The article further stated that Lucien's 17-year-old daughter killed in the crash of TWA Flight 800 was the twin sister of the previously deceased daughter. She was not. Also, among Lucien's survivors is a stepdaughter who lives in Los Angeles.

With his blend of Caribbean and Brazilian rhythms and a suave style, Lucien emerged on the music scene in the early 1970s with a recording contract for RCA. But although his early albums drew devoted fans, the records never sold in large numbers.

An original performer and songwriter, Lucien performed music that wasn't easy to categorize. Although stores generally placed his records in the jazz bins, they weren't straight-ahead jazz and they didn't easily fit into the traditional pop or R&B categories.

The issue of genres hurt his chances for radio airplay, but he ultimately found success when the smooth jazz format came along in the late 1980s and '90s. This was more than a decade after he recorded some of his best-known songs, including "Rashida," "Lady Love," "Hello Like Before" as well as his cover of Antonio Carlos Jobim's classic "Dindi."

Writing in The Times in 1979, jazz critic Leonard Feather praised a performance by Lucien, which featured pianist Herbie Hancock, for his "resonant baritone, assured timber and phrasing, the West Indian piquancy of his announcements." But Feather also noted that standards were not Lucien's strength and that "contemporary material works better for him."

Born Lucien Harrigan in Tortola, British Virgin Islands, and raised on neighboring St. Thomas, he was the oldest of eight children. Born into a musical family, he was a fan of Nat "King" Cole. In his early teens, he began playing bass in his father's Latin jazz band.

A few years later, Lucien moved to New York to play at resorts in the Catskill Mountains. He was spotted by an RCA official during one of those gigs and signed to a contract, his wife said.

In addition to RCA, he recorded for CBS, Shanachie and Mercury as well as his own Sugar Apple label. He had a large following in England and played to packed auditoriums on a tour there in the mid-1990s, his longtime drummer Kim Plainfield told The Times on Wednesday.

He was struck by personal tragedy on two occasions. In the early 1980s, his 5-year-old daughter drowned in a backyard swimming pool; and in 1996, her twin sister, then 17, was among the 230 people killed in the crash of TWA Flight 800 off Long Island, N.Y.

In addition to his fourth wife, Lucien is survived by two sons, a daughter, four brothers, two sisters and two grandchildren.

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jon.thurber@latimes.com

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