Tommy-lipuma

Tommy LiPuma, a five-time Grammy winning pop and jazz record producer whose passion for music and musicians resulted in career-changing albums for a range of artists, including Randy Newman, George Benson, Bill Evans, Natalie Cole, Paul McCartney and Diana Krall, died on March 13. He was 80. [Photo above, courtesy of Cuyahoga Community College]

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A long-time fan of my writing, both for The Wall Street Journal and JazzWax, Tommy was a dear friend. In addition to lunching together regularly, we spent time at his home in Westchester County listening to albums, talking about jazz and his early years in the record business. During those get-togethers last year, I conducted a three hour interview with him that I have yet to transcribe. 

Tommy was always generous with his support and encouragement. He was passionate about everything, and tended to relate best to those who matched his zeal for music and life. I was in tears yesterday morning when I heard the news.

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Knowing Tommy as I did, it was easy to see why he was so successful. Enormously energetic and relentlessly upbeat, Tommy was as sensitive as he was pragmatic. He knew innately the type of orchestral settings that suited artists and how to get their best work, which often worked wonders for sales. His final project was producing Diana Krall’s new album, Turn Up the Quiet, due out fro Verve on May 5. Having heard the album, I can tell you that it puts Diana back in the game on an extremely high level, with lush, Claus Ogerman-like string arrangements by Alan Broadbent and her own wandering jazz ensemble. Her voice is superb, and the album is going to win multiple Grammys.

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Tommy began his career as a saxophonist who turned to barbering in Cleveland to make ends meet. By the end of the 1950s, Tommy entered the music business as a record promoter—bridging the gap between record labels and radio stations. In 1961, he joined Liberty/Imperial Records in Los Angeles as a producer, departing for A&M in 1965. [Photo above of Tommy LiPuma behind the center chair courtesy of Tommy LiPuma]

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One of his early hit singles was Guantanamera, in 1966. A section of the song had to be narrated in English, and he was having trouble finding the right person to do it. When Tommy went into the studio to illustrate what he was looking for, the demo he recorded was so perfect he used it, uncredited, in the song. That’s his voice you hear on the record.

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Tommy’s career was meteoric. His passion for jazz and pop allowed him to fuse the two into a highly unremarkable formula. He co-founded Blue Thumb in 1969 before selling it and moving to Warner Bros. in 1974, where he recorded albums with Bill Evans and Barbra Streisand among others. He also had top executive jobs at Elektra (1990-’95) and Verve (1994-2011), where he was chairman emeritus from 2004 to 2011. He then worked on a project-by-project basis, which included Grammy-winning albums by Diana Krall and Paul McCartney.

Tommy is survived by his wife, Gill, and their daughters Jen Monti and Danielle Wiener, and their grandchildren Matty, Julia, Chloe and Ava.

Here are my favorite tracks that Tommy produced:

Here’s one of the first sides Tommy produced—the O’Jays’ Lipstick Traces (1965)…

Here are the Sandpipers singing Guantanamera (1966). That’s Tommy’s English narration starting at 1:48…

Here’s Chris Montez’s The More I See You (1966)…

Here’s A Bad Donato (1970) by João Donato…

Here’s George Benson’s cover version of Leon Russell’s This Masquerade (1976)…

Here’s Bill Evans’s You Must Believe in Spring (1977)…

Here’s Eumir Deodato’s Whistle Bump (1978)…

Here’s Miles Davis’s Amadla (1989)…

Here’s Natalie Cole singing Unforgettable (1991) with her father’s recording…

Here’s Diana Krall singing Claus Ogerman’s arrangement of Walk on By (2009)...

Here’s Paul McCartney with Tommy LiPuma being interviewed on McCartney’s Kisses on the Bottom

And here’s Diana Krall’s Night and Day from her new album, Turn Up the Quiet, with arrangements by Alan Broadbent. It was Tommy’s final project. Bravo, Tommy!…

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