A New Jersey native, Josh Lawrence was born in 1982 in Princeton and raised in Browns Mills, a community just outside of Fort Dix in the Pine Barrens. At age 10 he picked up the trumpet but his formal training didn’t begin until his family moved back to Princeton and he enrolled in the public high school. There he studied with Dr. Anthony Biancosino, a celebrated educator whose Studio Band dominated national band competitions throughout the 80s and 90s. Biancosino’s music program would later be immortalized in fellow alumnus Damien Chazelle’s film Whiplash. In 2000 Lawrence won a scholarship to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. There he studied with John Swana, Charles Fambrough, Trudy Pitts, and Jimmy Bruno while cutting his teeth after hours at Ortlieb’s Jazzhaus, the now defunct club where young musicians could sit in and jam with Philly’s jazz elite. Lawrence tapped into the city’s burgeoning neo soul scene recording with Erykah Badu, members of The Roots, Jazzyfatnastees, Jazmine Sullivan, and Boyz II Men among others. He also formed his first band The Monday Quintet with vibraphonist Behn Gillece, although the unit never released a commercial recording.
Upon graduation Lawrence moved to New York working as a sideman across a range of genres while studying improvisation with pianist Barry Harris and sitting in at jam sessions in the city. In 2008 he met his future wife Ola Baldych, a graphic designer and photographer, who encouraged him to move to Europe to pursue his career as a bandleader and recording artist. The following year Lawrence released his debut trio album Roots, moved to Poland with Baldych, and took his new band on the road. He also collaborated with a handful of Polish, German, and Norwegian artists on performances, recordings, theatrical plays, and films. In 2010 Lawrence was offered a position at his alma mater and relocated with his new wife back to Philadelphia where he struck up a friendship with Orrin Evans and joined the pianist’s Captain Black Big Band. With a new album and high profile gig under his belt, Lawrence became a stalwart of the Philly jazz scene working with saxophonist Bobby Zankel’s Warriors of the Wonderful Sound, bassist Anthony Tidd’s PACT, guitarist Matt Davis’ Aerial Photograph, trumpeter Terell Stafford’s Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia, and singer Laurin Talese. In the subsequent years he released his second trio album One Night in Atlanta, scored filmmaker Dave Jannetta’s documentary Love & Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere, and composed The Harlem Suite, a five-movement work for the Captain Black Big Band commissioned by Revive Music and premiered at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.