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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Tommy LiPuma--An appreciation

Tommy LiPuma talks about the Tommy LiPuma Center for Creative Arts at Cuyahoga Community College

Few music industry executives had the history of producer Tommy LiPuma, wh died Monday at 80. Few, too, were as beloved by their peers.

Most recently a creative consultant for Univeral Music Publishing Group, the Cleveland native got his start as a radio promoter in Los Angeles for Liberty Recofrds. In the 1960s he worked for A&M and helped found Blue Thumb Records—all the while gaining such proficiency in record production that his eventual credits would include recordings by the likes of Paul McCartney, Barbra Streisand, Willie Nelson, Leon Russell, Miles Davis, Natalie Cole, George Benson, Dr. John, and Diana Krall, whose forthcoming May album release Turn Up the Quiet is one of several produced by LiPuma.

"Music has lost an icon," said Lucian Grainge, chairman/CEO of Universal Music Group, in a statement. "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."

LiPuma had also served at labels including Horizon and Warner Bros. He ran GRP and Impulse, and became chairman of Verve when the three labels merged (Verve is now part of Universal).

"Tommy LiPuma was not only a brilliant A&R man and record producer but a gifted executive as well," said Mo Ostin, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame executive who ran Warner Bros. "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."

Joe McEwen, who worked for Warner Bros. label Sire Records and is now VP of A&R for Concord Music Group, was an executive producer of Jimmy Scott's album All the Way, which LiPuma produced for Sire in 1992.

"Tommy radiated warmth and life," said McEwen. "He was passionate about music, the artists and the records he made, and was an original in every way: a complete music person who learned the trade from the ground up--packing records, hustling songs for publishing and producing records that became a part of the soundtrack of our lives."

Russ Titelman was another estimable Warner Bros. label A&R executive and record producer.

"Tommy and I met in the '60s in L.A.," Titelman recalled. "We both moved east in the early '80s. He was one of the greatest producers that ever lived. He was also one of the kindest people on earth. And he was a lover and appreciator of the best things in life--music, food, wine and art."

LiPuma, noted Titelman, was also "a lover and collector of people. He had the best convoluted, hysterical stories and he was loved by everyone who knew him. A man of grace and style in a world that is increasingly lacking in those areas."

Citing LiPuma's production of George Benson's "The Masquerade," which won the Record of the Year Grammy in 1977, and his production of Natalie Cole's Unforgettable With Love, which won Album of the Year in 1992, and other Grammys won with Krall and McCartney, Recording Academy president/CEO Neil Portnow summed it up succinctly: "Tommy LiPuma was an industry giant whose name became synonymous with sophisticated pop and jazz."



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