Elliot Lawrence, who led a big band in the 1940s and 50s, won a Tony Award for conducting on Broadway and spent nearly half a century leading the orchestra playing on the Tony’s annual broadcast, died on July 2. Manhattan. He was 96 years old.
His son, Jamie, confirmed his death at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
A trained pianist, Mr. Lawrence was a leader from a young age and founded a youth ensemble called the Band Busters at the age of 12. In his 20s, he formed Elliot Lawrence and his Orchestra, which has been voted the world’s most promising new big band. Billboard’s college polls of 1947 and 1948.
His later work as the conductor of the Tony Awards orchestra – a job he received for his success on Broadway and television – earned him two Emmy Awards.
“He was happiest in front of the orchestra,” said Jamie Lawrence. also a musician and conductor.
Large group period II. It was weakening after World War II, but Mr. Lawrence’s orchestra found success in colleges, balls and concerts. He traveled 65,000 miles in 1949 alone.
The members of the group are diverse saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, who wrote some arrangements and trumpeter Red Rodney. He has performed at the Paramount Theater in Manhattan and the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles.
“He knew how to rehearse and had great ears” Joe Soldo, He said over the phone that he played the saxophone in Mr. Lawrence’s band from 1949 to 1951. “They had instruments like a separate oboe and a French horn. He brought classical input to his arrangements.”
However, Mr. Lawrence decided to stop touring in 1954 after Ollie Wilson, a trombonist in his band, gave him bad news about some of the other musicians.
“He came to me on the road one night and said, ‘El, I’m sorry to tell you this but 14 out of 16 in the group were addicted. Only Ollie and I were clean” Mr. Lawrence recalled in an interview in 2009 With the alumni magazine of the University of Pennsylvania, his graduate school.
He occasionally reunited the band in various configurations to record albums such as “Elliot Lawrence Plays Gerry Mulligan Arrangements” (1955), “Swinging at the Steel Pier” (1956), and “Jazz Goes Broadway” (1957).
By that time he had begun to find work in television. In 1959 he conducted a 42-piece orchestra that television presenter Ed Sullivan took to the Soviet Union.
While there, the choreographer was one of the many artists on the tour. Gower Championhas asked Mr. Lawrence to be the musical director of “Bye Bye Birdie,” which will open on Broadway next year.
Mr Lawrence was leading. “Goodbye Birdie” the orchestra – on its way to the Tony nomination – when composer Frank Loesser hired him for the same job in his new musical, “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” It opened in October 1961.
Their cooperation was fruitful. Mr. Lawrence won a Tony, one of seven awards for the series, including best musical and best actor (Robert Morse).
Elliot Lawrence Broza was born on February 14, 1925, in Philadelphia. His father, Stan Lee Broza He was the founder and director of the local radio station WCAU. He and Elliot’s mother, Esther (Malis) Broza, He produced the long-running variety show “The Horn and Hardart Children’s Hour” on radio and later on television.
Elliot started taking piano lessons at the age of 3. In 1930, he contracted polio that affected his fingers and neck, but he recovered and started playing again, and by the age of 10 he was accompanying his mother at parties as she sang songs from the Great American Songbook. their home.
He continued to perform with the Band Hunters in his family’s “Children’s Hour”. He attended the University of Pennsylvania at age 16 on a music scholarship and became student director of the marching band, he recalls, writing jazz arrangements for the school’s fight songs when the football team faced the Army at a sold-out play at Franklin Field in Philadelphia. .
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in music in 1944, Mr. Lawrence took over WCAU’s on-air house band. A year later he formed his big band. He changed his last name to Lawrence at that time and made Broza his middle name.
In 1949, as a 24-year-old veteran bandleader, he devoted himself to music as well as 17 members, two of whom included singers, grossing $300,000 a year, but still with salaries, transportation, uniforms, booking agent fees, and other expenses.
“You can see that’s not a way to get rich quick,” Mr. Lawrence told The Kansas City Star. “My dad is my business manager. I don’t have to worry about my money being stolen.”
The big-band job gave way to directing on Broadway, and he directed eight more shows after “How to Succeed”, including “1776,” which opened in 1969. Conductor of the Tony Awards orchestra, a concert that will last until 2013.
In addition to his Emmys for his work on the Tonys, Mr. Lawrence also won an Emmy for musical direction of the television specials “S Wonderful, ‘S Gorgeous, ‘S Gershwin,” a tribute to George and Ira Gershwin. 1972 and “Night of 100 Stars” (1982), an all-star variety show celebrating the centennial of the Actors’ Fund of America.
Television credits include: He wrote music for soap operas such as “The Edge of Night,” for which he won two Daytime Emmys and two ABC Afterschool Specials, earning him two more Daytime Emmys.
He also wrote the music for the opening sequence of “The French Connection” (1971). “Network” (1976). But Jamie Lawrence said most of the “Network” score was cut.
“Paddy Chayefsky came into the editing room and said, ‘I don’t want to listen to music,'” said Mr. Lawrence, referring to the screenwriter of the film. “Just wanted dialogue”
“My father,” he added, “was very proud of this score.”
In addition to his son Jamie, Mr. Lawrence’s surviving daughters Alexandra and Mia Lawrence; another son, Danny; and five grandchildren. His wife, Amy (Bunim) Lawrencedied in 2017.
Ricky Kirschner, executive producer of the Tonys broadcast, remembered Mr. Lawrence as a gentlemanly leader of the orchestra until he was almost 90 years old.
“Think about it,” he said over the phone. “It’s a three-hour show with 15 performances and you have to arrange and rehearse music for every possible winner. And when they say who the winner is, you have to be quick enough to play with the director in your ear telling you to cut it 20-30 seconds later.”
“Consider doing this when you’re 88,” he added.