Tommy LiPuma

Biography

One of the music industry’s most innovative and uniquely creative forces for more than four decades, Verve Music Group Chairman Emeritus Tommy LiPuma’s legendary career is record business history in the making. With 29 gold and platinum records to his credit, more than 30 GRAMMY® nominations, and three GRAMMY Awards, he is one of the most successful pop and jazz producers ever. His keen ear for the magic of what makes a hit made him one of the industry’s most respected executives at A&M, Blue Thumb, Warner Bros. and Elektra, before joining The GRP Recording Company as President in 1994. GRP was renamed The Verve Music Group in early 1999, after Seagram’s acquisition of Polygram resulted in a merger of GRP and Verve Records.

All of these accolades have not changed the core of LiPuma’s basic approach to his many areas of musical endeavor.  As Chairman of Verve, Lipuma’s goals were to “sign the best talent and make the best records.” He was also dedicated to “developing artists focused on long term solo careers,” he said. 

By choosing to transition into the position of Chairman Emeritus in 2004, LiPuma decided to spend more time in the studio, handing over the reigns of the label group’s day-to-day operations to respected industry veteran Ron Goldstein, who now holds the title of President and CEO. By returning to the studio full time, LiPuma has returned to the very essence of what has driven him to be one of the most sought-out producers in the business – his keen musical insight and pristine sensibilities.  “I can’t always put my finger on why I know something will work. It’s more the chills factor I look for — honing in on that artist whose music reaches inside you and takes you somewhere. There’s no scientific formula for hitting the mark, but that’s part of the excitement and challenge for me.”

Under LiPuma’s guidance, The Verve Music Group-with four imprints, GRP Records (contemporary jazz), Verve Records (mainstream and traditional jazz), Impulse! (catalog reissues), and Blue Thumb (world music, blues, special events, and soundtracks)—made tremendous strides in the industry, holding the highest jazz market share in the history of the label. A dominant and consistent mainstay on Billboard’s jazz charts, The Verve Music Group continues to place multiple titles among Billboard’s traditional, contemporary, and catalog jazz rankings. 

One of the greatest success stories of LiPuma’s career is the extraordinarily popular vocalist/pianist Diana Krall.  Under LiPuma’s guidance, she has earned major international renown as a musician and has been catapulted to the rank of A-list celebrity. Her 1996 album All For You ranked near the top of the Traditional chart and stayed in the Top 25 for over two years. Her 1998 recording Love Scenes was in the Number One spot in three different calendar years, and was the first jazz album ever to be certified platinum in Canada. When I Look In Your Eyes (Verve), released in 2000, earned two GRAMMY Awards and was certified platinum. The Look of Love (2001) debuted in the Top 10 of Billboard’s Top 200 Albums chart, and was certified platinum within six months of its release. 2002’s Live in Paris took home the GRAMMY for Best Jazz Vocal Album. LiPuma has produced each of these acclaimed recordings as well as her most recent titles —2004’s The Girl In The Other Room and 2005’s Christmas Songs – both of which he co-produced with Krall. In mid-2006, LiPuma will put the finishing touches on the as-yet-untitled new Diana Krall album, a big band and quartet recording, co-produced by Krall as well, due in September.

Among the other artists who call The Verve Music Group home are: Natalie Cole, Gladys Knight, Wayne Shorter, Roy Hargrove, Charlie Haden, Regina Carter, Lizz Wright, Mindi Abair, Jamie Cullum, Brian Culbertson, Brazilian Girls, Rhett Miller, Jackie Greene, Susan Tedeschi, Teddy Thompson, and Joe Sample.

Beginning his career as a professional sax player, LiPuma became a record promoter in his mid-20s, joining M.S. Distributors in his hometown of Cleveland in 1960. A year later he moved to Los Angeles to do promotion for Liberty Records. Still with Liberty, LiPuma transferred to New York as their local promotion man; he later switched to the company’s music publishing department, where he plugged songs and supervised demo sessions with writers like Randy Newman and Jackie DeShannon. He cut his first commercial record with the O’Jays, a regional hit called “Lipstick Traces.” In 1965, LiPuma was hired to be the first staff A&R man at the newly launched A&M Records, where he earned gold records with the Sandpipers (whose single “Guantanamera” was his first gold record) ,Chris Montez, and others.

In 1969, LiPuma joined his friend Bob Krasnow as a partner in Blue Thumb Records, whose catalog is part of the Universal Music Group’s holdings. Among their eclectic signings were Ike and Tina Turner, The Pointer Sisters, Dave Mason, The Crusaders, Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks, T. Rex, and Mark Almond. In 1973, he earned a platinum record producing Barbra Streisand’s legendary #1 album The Way We Were.

LiPuma began his first stint with Warner Bros. in 1974 as a staff A&R producer, helping launch the label careers of George Benson, Al Jarreau, and Michael Franks and recorded albums with Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joao Gilberto, and Claus Ogerman. After a brief time back at A&M in 1978, where LiPuma led the newly formed Horizon Records, working with Brenda Russell, Seawind, Dr. John (for whom he later produced the duet “In A Sentimental Mood” with Rickie Lee Jones), and David Grisman, he returned to Warner Bros. as Vice President, Jazz and Progressive Music. As producer and talent scout, he worked with the artists who made Warner Jazz one of the most successful jazz labels in the industry: Randy Crawford, Patti Austin, Bob James, David Sanborn, Earl Klugh, Everything But the Girl, The Yellowjackets, Joe Sample, and the late Miles Davis. During his years with Warner Bros., he earned platinum records as producer for works by Benson and Klugh and gold records for Jarreau, James, and Sanborn. LiPuma’s first recording with Benson, the multi-platinum Breezin’, won the 1976 GRAMMY Award for Album of the Year and featured the Top Ten single “This Masquerade,” which won a GRAMMY for Record of the Year. Other GRAMMY-winning projects produced by LiPuma during this era are Jennifer Holiday’s Say You Love Me (1985), James/Sanborn’s Double Vision (1986), Miles Davis’ TuTu (1986) and Dr. John/Rickie Lee Jones’ “Makin’ Woopee” (1990).

In 1990, LiPuma joined Elektra Records as Senior Vice President, A&R, rejoining his old partner Krasnow, who was label Chairman. While at Elektra, he produced Natalie Cole and Anita Baker, and brought Sanborn, The Story, and Wayne Shorter to the label. His work on Cole’s breakthrough album Unforgettable (which was produced by LiPuma, Andre Fischer, and David Foster) earned LiPuma a share of the 1991 GRAMMY for Album of the Year. He also produced Cole’s platinum follow-up, Take a Look, as well as her 2002 Verve Records debut, Ask A Woman Who Knows.

LiPuma reflects, “When I came to GRP in the mid-’90s, my plans were simple. I wanted to consolidate the roster, reinstate Blue Thumb as an active label, and re-establish Impulse! as a force to be reckoned with as it was when Impulse!, Prestige, and Blue Note led the market in the ’60s.” 

Having reached those goals, LiPuma has embarked on the next phase of his impressive career with a forward-facing outlook and a renewed focus on producing, including artists on other labels.  In fact, LiPuma did a few cuts for Michael Bublé’s platinum smash It’s Time (Reprise).  He has also recently helmed albums by Gladys Knight, Randy Crawford, Joe Sample, and Mark Sholtez. “Looking back, I feel it is my great privilege to have been given the opportunity to work with some of the greatest artists of all time,” adds LiPuma. “If someone would have told me when I was starting out that I would have made a difference in the careers of these musicians, I would not have believed it. I’m pleased to still have the opportunity to nurture performers whose vision I believe makes a difference.”

In addition to producing, LiPuma is also dedicating more time to his second passion – art. Over the past thirty years, LiPuma has become one of the leading collectors of 20th Century American modernist art.   Works from his collection, which features pieces from such artists as Marsden Hartley, John Marin, Arthur Dove, and Alfred Maurer, have been displayed at numerous museums and galleries, from the Berry Hill, Hollis Taggert, and Salander-O’Reilly galleries in New York City to The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Georgia O’Keefe Museum (Santa Fe, NM), and The Demuth Museum (Lancaster, PA) – even as far away as Tokyo, Japan. Additionally, the Cleveland Museum of Art in LiPuma’s hometown presented the exhibition “Modern American Masters: Highlights from the Gill and Tommy LiPuma Collection” in 2004. 

Tommy LiPuma Discography

YEAR ARTIST ALBUM LABEL

1965 O’Jays Comin’ Through Imperial

1966 Chris Montez Time After Time A&M

1966 Sandpipers Guantanamera A&M

1967 Claudine Longet Hello Hello A&M

1968 Roger Nichols Trio The Roger Nichols Trio A&M

1968 Steve Young Rock, Salt & Nails A&M

1969 Nick DeCaro Happy Heart A&M

1969 Southwind Ready To Ride Blue Thumb

1970 Gabor Szabo High Contrast Blue Thumb

1971 Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks Where’s the Money Blue Thumb

1972 Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks Striking it Rich Blue Thumb

1972 Mark Almond II Blue Thumb

1972 Gabor Szabo Magical Connection Blue Thumb

1973 Nick DeCaro Italian Graffiti Blue Thumb

1973 Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks Last Train to Hicksville Blue Thumb

1973 Phil Upchurch Darkness, Darkness Blue Thumb

1973 Various Artists "Lemmings" Blue Thumb

1974 Dave Mason Alone Together Blue Thumb

1974 Barbra Streisand The Way We Were Columbia

1975 Michael Franks The Art of Tea Reprise

1975 Dave Mason Head Keeper Blue Thumb

1975 B.W. Stevenson Down By The Ocean Warner

1976 George Benson Breezin’ Warner

1976 AL Jarreau Glow Warner

1977 George Benson In Flight Warner

1977 Michael Franks Sleeping Gypsy Warner

1977 Joao Gilberto Amoroso Warner

1977 Al Jarreau Look To The Rainbow Warner

1977 Claus Ogerman Gate of Dreams Warner

1978 George Benson Weekend in L.A. Warner

1978 Michael Franks Burchfield Nines Warner

1978 Dr. John City Lights Horizon

1978 Neil Larsen Jungle Fever Horizon

1979 George Benson Living Inside Your Love Warner

1979 Michael Franks One Bad Habit Warner

1979 Dr. John Tango Palace Horizon

1979 Neil Laren High Gear Horizon

1979 Brenda Russell Brenda Russell Horizon

1980 Larson-Feiton Band The Larson-Feiton Band Warner

1980 Stephen Bishop Red Cab to Manhattan ABC

1981 George Benson Collection Warner

1981 Randy Crawford Secret Combination Warner

1981 Bill Evans You Must Believe In Spring Warner

1981 Brenda Russell Two Eyes A&M

1982 Randy Crawford Windsong Warner

1982 Neil Larson & Buzz Feiton Full Moon Warner

1982 Claus Ogerman Cityscape Warner

1982 Various Artists "Casino Lights" Warner

1983 Randy Crawford Nightline Warner

1983 Yellowjackets Mirage A Trois Warner

1984 Michael Ruff Once in Lifetime Warner

1985 Patti Austin Gettin’ Away With Murder Warner

1985 Jennifer Holiday Say You Love Me Geffen

1985 Yellowjackets Samurai Samba Warner

1986 Miles Davis Tutu Warner

1986 David Sanborn/Bob James Double Vision Warner

1986 Yellowjackets Yellow Jackets MCA

1987 Aztec Camera Love Warner

1987 George Benson/Earl Klugh Collaboration Warner

1987 Miles Davis Siesta (soundtrack) Warner

1987 Jennifer Holiday Get Close To My Love Geffen

1989 George Benson Tenderly Warner

1989 Miles Davis Amandla Warner

1989 Joe Sample Spellbound Warner

1990 Everything But The Girl The Language Of Life Atlantic

1990 Michael Franks Blue Pacific Warner

1990 Ricky Peterson Night Watch Warner

1990 Joe Sample Ashes to Ashes Warner

1990 Joe Sample Invitation Warner

1990 Mark Whitfeld The Marksman Warner

1991 Natalie Cole Unforgettable Elektra

1992 Jimmy Scott All the Way Sire

1992 Various Artists "Glengarry Glen Ross" Elektra

1993 Natalie Cole Take A Look Elektra

1994 Anita Baker Rhythm Of Love Elektra

1994 Natalie Cole Holly & Ivy Elektra

1995 Dr. John Afterglow Blue Thumb

1995 Diana Krall Only Trust Your Heart GRP

1995 David Sanborn Pearls Elektra

1996 George Benson That’s Right GRP

1996 Diana Krall All For You Impulse!

1996 Danilo Perez PanaMonk Impulse!

1996 Eric Reed Musicale Impulse!

1996 Luis Salinas Salinas GRP

1996 Horace Silver The Hardbop Grandpop Impulse!

1997 Dave Grusin Two for the Road GRP

1997 Donald Harrison Nouveau Swing Impulse!

1997 Diana Krall Love Scenes Impulse!

1997 Horace Silver A Prescription for the Blues Impulse!

1997 McCoy Tyner What the World Needs Now Impulse!

1998 George Benson Standing Together GRP

1998 Russell Malone Sweet Georgia Peach Impulse!

1998 Danilo Perez Central Avenue Impulse!

1998 Eric Reed Pure Imagination Impulse!

1999 Diana Krall When I Look in Your Eyes Verve

1999 Horace Silver Jazz Has a Sense of Humor Verve

2000 Russell Malone Look Who’s Here Verve

2000 David Benoit Here’s To You, Charlie Brown GRP

2000 George Benson Absolute Benson GRP

2000 Danilo Pérez Motherland Verve

2001 Shirley Horn You're My Thrill Verve

2001 Marc Antoine Cruisin’ GRP

2001 Russell Malone Heart Strings Verve

2001 Diana Krall The Look of Love Verve

2002 Natalie Cole Ask A Woman Who Knows Verve

2002 Kenny Rankin A Song For You Verve

2003 Lizz Wright Salt Verve

2003 Danilo Perez ...Till Then Verve

2004 Diana Krall The Girl in the Other Room Verve

2005 Michael Bublé It's Time Reprise

2005 Diana Krall Christmas Songs Verve

2006 Gladys Knight Before Me Verve

2006 Diana Krall From This Moment On Verve