Tommy LiPuma, a beloved producer and label chief whose work with jazz and pop artists would result in more than 30 Grammy nominations and sales of more than 75 million albums, died Monday evening in New York City after a brief illness. He was 80.
LiPuma had a key A&R job at A&M in its formative years, was a co-founder of Blue Thumb, was an A&R exec/producer at Warner Bros. in the late ‘70s, a Senior VP at Elektra and the Verve Music Group chief from the mid-1990s to 2011.
He played a crucial role in the careers of George Benson, Diana Krall, Al Jarreau, Barbra Streisand and Natalie Cole, in each case working with them on million-sellers and Grammy winners. "Tommy was always breathing whatever needed to be breathed into my spirit," Dr. John tweeted.
He not only worked with musical giants, he helped them create significant records in their careers. He produced Streisand’s The Way We Were, Miles Davis’ Tutu, Benson’s Breezin’, Cole’s Unforgettable: With Love, Anita Baker’s Rhythm of Love, Leon Russell’s final album, Life Journey, Everything But the Girl’s The Language of Life, Dave Mason’s Alone Together, Jimmy Scott’s return to recording, All the Way, Dr. John’s In a Sentimental Mood, a pair of Dan Hicks albums and a dozen albums by Krall plus her upcoming 5/5 release, Turn Up the Quiet.
LiPuma also recently produced Paul McCartney’s Kisses on the Bottom, for which he won the fourth of his five Grammys, and an album for trumpeter Dominick Farinacci.
LiPuma won an Album of the Year Grammy for Cole’s Unforgettable: With Love and Record of the Year Grammy for Benson’s “This Masquerade.”
"Music has lost an icon,” said Sir Lucian Grainge, Chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group. “There are very few who have had Tommy’s ear for talent, let alone his track record of hits. I know I speak for everyone at Universal Music, and in the music community, when I say we will forever be grateful for Tommy’s brilliant creativity, kind heart and passion for music. His legacy will continue to inspire and guide us.”
"Tommy LiPuma was not only a brilliant A&R man and record producer but a gifted executive as well," notes Mo Ostin. "It’s no secret that the role he played at Warner Bros. Records added to the company’s luster. Everybody loved Tommy and he will be missed."
"Tommy was a giant among men," recalls Shep Gordon. "Writing this, a big smile comes across my face thinking of the late nights with Tommy, Bob Krasnow and George Greif—and that they are reunited. Hope there's lots of great pasta and wine up there. You will be missed!"
"Tommy LiPuma was an industry giant whose name became synonymous with sophisticated pop and jazz," reads a statement from Recording Academy chief Neil Portnow. His productions resulted in a Record Of The Year GRAMMY with George Benson for “This Masquerade,” an Album Of The Year trophy for Natalie Cole’s Unforgettable With Love, as well as GRAMMYs with Diana Krall and Paul McCartney. He also established or had significant leadership roles at labels such as Blue Thumb, A&M, Warner Bros., GRP and Verve. Our deepest condolences go out to Tommy's family, friends, and creative counterparts."
A native of Cleveland, LiPuma was a sax player who first went to work locally as a record promoter. He moved to Los Angeles to work as a promotion man for Liberty Records, then to New York as a song plugger. That led to producing, his first Top 30 hit coming with The O’Jays’ "Lipstick Traces (On a Cigarette)" in 1965.
A year later, he joined A&M, producing hits such as The Sandpipers’ "Guantanamera" and Claudine Longet’s gold album Claudine.
In 1969, he and Bob Krasnow co-founded Blue Thumb, where he would work with The Crusaders, The Pointer Sisters and Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks among others.
The Warner Bros. Records job started in 1974 and he worked with Brazilian and smooth jazz artists such as Antonio Carlos Jobim and The Yellowjackets.
A move to Elektra resulted in him producing mega-sellers for Baker and Cole. He then became president of the GRP and Impulse! labels, which led to the promotion to chairman of Verve Music Group.
Krall, Dr. John, Jarreau, Russell, The Clayton-Hamiton Jazz Orchestra and Christian McBride honored LiPuma at last year’s Tri-C JazzFest Tommy LiPuma’s Big Birthday Bash in Cleveland. In 2012, the Cuyahoga Community College opened the Tommy LiPuma Center for the Arts.
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