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Jazz Balladeer Jon Lucien; A Forerunner of Fusion

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By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Jon Lucien, 65, a singer and songwriter of ultra-romantic ballads whose recordings found a broad audience on smooth-jazz radio stations in the 1990s, died Aug. 18 at Florida Hospital in Orlando, near his home in Kissimmee. He had respiratory failure and complications after kidney surgery.

Mr. Lucien was a forerunner of the melange of sounds dubbed fusion. His melodic and rhythmic influences ranged from his native Caribbean -- calypso, in particular -- to the beats of jazz, bossa nova, soul and R&B.

Layered above this musical stew was a formidable baritone in the mold of Luther Vandross that specialized in lyrics of everlasting love. This preference was highlighted in songs he wrote, including "Lady Love" and "Rashida." His fans were also enamored of his version of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Dindi."

Mr. Lucien was never considered a commercially successful performer. Critics were often unkind to his deep, caressing style backed by prolific stringwork.

"Macho clothed in velvet" was how his appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1975 was marketed. "Affectation clothed in rhetoric," New York Times reviewer John Rockwell wrote after the show.

The disco craze, combined with Mr. Lucien's cocaine habit and other personal problems, all but cemented his demise.

He returned to the Caribbean, where he worked to recover his health, and he reappeared on the U.S. musical scene in 1991. He caught on with enough radio play to ensure continued demand in concerts and clubs worldwide.

He was also said to have a particularly strong following in England among acid-jazz fans and soul revivalists who enjoyed his early music.

Mr. Lucien embraced what he thought was his music's highest quality. "I would say that my sound is a romantic sound," he told an interviewer in 1997. "It's water. It's ocean. It's tranquility."

Lucien Harrigan was born in Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands, on Jan. 8, 1942. "Billy" Harrigan, as he was known, was raised in St. Thomas by his blind, guitar-playing father and became a self-taught pianist, guitarist and bassist.

At 19, he came to the United States to sing at a Catskills Mountains resort in Upstate New York.

Renaming himself Jon Marcus Lucien, he worked at the fringes of entertainment, performing in commercial jingles and also at bar mitzvahs and weddings on Long Island. One wedding guest was an RCA music producer who gave Mr. Lucien his card and asked him to go in for a test.

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