Tommy LiPuma's longtime friend Ben Sidran took part in the Tri-C JazzFest's 2016 opening event, Tommy LiPuma's Big Birthday Bash, celebrating the Cleveland native's 80th birthday. (Joe Kleon, www.joekleon.com)
Chuck Yarborough, The Plain Dealer
By Chuck Yarborough, The Plain Dealer
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on June 23, 2016 at 11:29 PM, updated June 24, 2016 at 1:39 PM
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Coming up with a way to pay homage to Cleveland producing legend Tommy LiPuma on the precipice of his 80th birthday could have given the folks at the 37th annual Tri-C JazzFest pause.
Could have. But didn't.
The best way to honor a man whose 50-plus years in the music business have produced 33 Grammy nominations and five wins is -- no-brainer here -- with music.
And man, what music, from fellow legends Dr. John, Al Jarreau, Leon Russell and the irrepressible Diana Krall. The notes that filled Playhouse Square's Connor Palace were as sweet as the memories for the man who actually began his career just a few hundred yards from this very stage.
Of course, those few yards were on the second floor of a Playhouse Square building . . . and that career was as a barber like his father. From such humble beginnings arose a man whose dreams of being a saxophonist segued into becoming one of the best and most prolific producers in music.
As host for "Tommy LiPuma's Big Birthday Bash,'' Christian McBride, a four-time Grammy winner, noted, LiPuma "went from cutting hair to cutting hit records.''
Cuyahoga Community College President Alex Johnson said it pretty well when he noted that Thursday night's celebration -- not unlike Wednesday's parade for the Cleveland Cavaliers -- was for one of the city's own, who just happens to belong to the world as well.
Even luminaries such as Herb Alpert and Lani Hall (with a horribly off-key and funny rendition of "Happy Birthday"), Barbra Streisand (with a Tommy LiPuma bobble head, complete with LiPuma's signature round eyeglasses), Sir Paul McCartney, Willie Nelson, Randy Newman, Elvis Costello and the late Dan Hicks joined the party, via videotaped message.
But it was the live music from Dr. John -- resplendent in a royal purple outfit and his trademark rhinestoned fedora -- and the great Jarreau with his trademark vocal percussion, Russell and the sultry Krall that made the night.
Cleveland's own Dominick Farinacci, a Tri-C alum who recorded his album "Short Stories'' with LiPuma and Al Schmitt at Tri-C in 2015, also got into the act, performing "Tango'' off that album.
Hosted by McBride, the 2015 artist in residence for the Tri-C JazzFest, who chose the night to debut his own custom-made LiPuma specs, the evening evolved into a serenade to the man whose studio genius led to the sale of 75 million records worldwide.
Superbly backed by the Los Angeles-based Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, each artist performed four songs, including Russell doing his own "The Masquerade,'' which turned out to be the very first Grammy-winning tune, done with the great George Benson, save for show-ender Krall, who turned in a stunning multisong set that showcased her emotive alto and fingers that moved with hummingbird speed and lightness over the piano keys.
That's only fitting, since her partnership with LiPuma has resulted in an astounding 25 million records, one of the most commercially successful unions in jazz. And there's more to come, as Krall revealed that she and LiPuma will be pairing up again this fall for another album.
Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Dr. John and Russell and Grammy winner Jarreau all had to use canes to make it to the stage, but their music showed the whimsy, art and love that LiPuma and his longtime engineer partner, Schmitt, were able capture so well and so often.
"It's been a long trip, thank you for coming and . . . I love you all,'' an emotional LiPuma told the crowd.
And the feeling was mutual. That was clear as organizers presented him with a massive cake and they -- we -- serenaded him with our own chorus of "Happy Birthday.''