“I’m overwhelmed,” said producer and native son Tommy LiPimua at the end of last night’s three hour (with a 20-minute intermission) tribute concert that took place at Connor Palace. The performance honoring LiPuma's 80th birthday featured some of jazz and pop’s top acts. It successfully kicked off the 37th annual Tri-C JazzFest, which continues today and tomorrow at Playhouse Square with a slew of concerts and events. You can see a slideshow of photos from the concert here
A veteran producer, LiPuma has received 36 Grammy nominations that resulted in five wins. He’s been involved with 36 gold and platinum records. He’s worked at labels like A&M, Blue Thumb, Warner Bros., Elektra, the GRP Recording Co. and the Verve Music Group.
Back in 2012, the board of trustees of Cuyahoga Community College named the College’s arts center the Tommy LiPuma Center for Creative Arts in recognition his support of the Cuyahoga Community College Foundation. He still comes to town as a special guest lecturer and adviser and shares knowledge with students, faculty and staff through frequent visits during the academic year.
Last night’s concert featured A-list acts such as Dr. John, Leon Russell and Diana Krall, who served as headliner. Many other stars sent their wishes via video. Elvis Costello thanked LiPuma for their many “conversations,” and Willie Nelson wished him another 80 years. Randy Newman played a bit of “Happy Birthday” on piano, and the late Dan Hicks hummed away on his harmonica in tribute to the man. Paul McCartney led a cheer for LiPuma as he wished him a happy birthday. That's not to mention Barbra Streisand and Herb Alpert, who also sent their well wishes.
The concert itself included many highlights. Trumpeter Terence Blanchard joined Dr. John, who wore a plush purple suit, and delivered an intense solo that made you wonder just what kind of lung capacity the guy has got. Al Jarreau hobbled onto stage with the help of a cane but was clearly happy to perform. His voice still sounded seductive.
With his bushy white beard and cane, Leon Russell looked like some kind of wizard but he sounded sharp as he sat at the piano and delivered “A Song for You” in his distinctively gentle voice. Accompanied by a percussionist and bassist, trumpeter Dominick Farinacci offered a take on “Tango” that sounded like something you might hear on the streets of Argentina.
It all led up to Krall’s performance. Dressed in an elegant black dress and red heels, she didn’t disappoint. At one point, she started to choke up as she thanked LiPuma for his work with her. “But there’s no crying in jazz,” she said before she became too emotional. Her sultry voice left a lasting impression as she delivered songs such as “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” with undeniable grace and elegance.
At concert’s end, host Christian McBride brought the performers on stage to present LiPuma with a gigantic cake, putting an exclamation mark on a terrific event that brought together a diverse group of local jazz fans, both young and old.