Profile of a legend: Tommy LiPuma

8:46 AM, Apr 27, 2012   |    comments
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 CLEVELAND -- In a blaze of fireworks and flares, Cuyahoga Community College unveiled the name of its new arts building- Tommy LiPuma Center for Creative Arts.

Tommy LiPuma is a legend in the music industry, having produced dozens of albums with some of the biggest names in the business: Barbra Streisand, Sir Paul McCartney, Natalie Cole, to name a few.

But despite LiPuma's three Grammys, dozens of nominations, and other accolades, he tells Channel 3 that seeing his name on a building in his hometown of Cleveland took his breath away.

LiPuma admits, "I had a little bit of difficulty getting out of the car. My legs were a little weak at the knees."

But to get to this point wasn't easy.

LiPuma was born and raised in Cleveland. He says he always had a love of music, but it was a childhood illness helped foster his passion. LiPuma says he was bedridden from 9 to 12 years old, and during that time, he listened to the radio next to his bed.

He listened to, and fell in love with, the music of Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, and Lewis Jordan among others.

A self-described dreamer, LiPuma says school wasn't for him.

After graduating high school at 20 years old, LiPuma went to work for this father, a barber.

LiPuma started his own barbershop near Playhouse Square in Cleveland. He played music several times a week as well.

It was at that time, that he was introduced to industry movers and shakers and got his first job as a song plugger.

LiPuma says his rise in the industry was a mixture of luck and drive, "A lot of these things were dropped in front of me but you have to have a little bit of sense about what to pick up and what to make of it. Part of it was also the feeling that if I didn't succeed, I had one thing to go back to and that was the barber business."

Along the way, LiPuma met and made stars, including Diana Krall and Gladys Knight, Ike and Tina Turner, The Pointer Sisters, among dozens of others.

LiPuma says most artists are a joy to work with, but admits the creative process can be challenging, "There have been a few bumps in the road and individuals I would rather not mention," adding, "You have to be a combination of a psychiatrist and a diplomat."

LiPuma says while he didn't make too many mistakes, looking back, he did pass on one artist he wish he hadn't- songwriter, Jim Webb.

Still, LiPuma says he's listens to his instincts and usually is right.

When asked about his thoughts on the current state of the music industry, and music itself, LiPuma pauses.

He says there are many current artists he admires, like the Black Keys, Adele, Eminem, but worries not enough artists bother to deeply understand music history.

LiPuma says he'd like to teach students about music history, and appreciating all those that came before.

He equates it to artists like Pablo Picasso and Claude Monet, "All of them painted like the masters. They knew what happened prior to them. They were aware of the Renaissance and the great painters and they painted in that great style and then they found their own style.

At 75 years old, one might think LiPuma has nothing more to explore, nothing more to prove- and while the latter is correct, he says he'll never stop learning or immersing himself in music. He adds, however, that he's a little pickier about his projects.

LiPuma says, "I just want to do things that excite me and if it's not fun...later!" 


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