Tappan Zee Records was formed in July 1977 by pianist and
arranger Bob James. Named for the bridge and the river
James often crossed on his way home from New York City recording
sessions, the specialty label was distributed by industry giant,
There, James had found great popular success as director of
progressive A&R (1975-77), overseeing substantial hits for
Paul Simon, Neil Diamond, Maynard Ferguson and Kenny Loggins.
Tappan Zee afforded James the opportunity to be in the
studios more often, recording
more of his own music and choosing those with whom he wanted to
record. Indeed, James recorded prolifically during this time.
Tappan Zee issued all of Bob Jamesís solo recordings
between 1977 and 1984 (and one of his two collaborations during
this period with guitarist Earl Klugh) as well as a handful of
records by other artists between 1977 and 1980. In that time,
Tappan Zee Records - guided nearly single-handedly by the
musical vision of Bob James - set the standard for what fusion
jazz sounded like in the late 1970s.
James brought to Tappan Zee Records many of the lessons he
learned while a session player and arranger for Creed Taylorís
CTI Records (1971-76): distinctive leaders, large all-star
orchestras, a good mix of dramatic, exploratory tunes and
popular covers, first-call rhythm players (Eric Gale, Ron
Carter, Steve Gadd, Idris Muhammad, Ralph MacDonald),
exceptional production (in collaboration with engineer Joe
Jorgensen) and iconic gatefold covers (designed by the great
Paula Scher, who was on the CBS staff at the time).
He also brought to Tappan Zee such friends from CTI as publicity
director Didier Deutsch and artistic director Peter Paul.
Recordings by James, Richard Tee, Wilbert Longmire, Mark
Colby and Mongo Santamaria were often overseen by James and
Jorgensen or like-minded composer, arranger and staff producer
Tappan Zee also issued guitarist Steve Khan's solo debut (TIGHTROPE),
reissued Bob James four CTI recordings (made between 1974 and
1976) and worked outside its own formula, issuing some of
pianist JoAnne Brackeenís finest-ever recorded work (KEYED
IN, ANCIENT DYNASTY) and, pop singer Allen Harris's
little known OCEANS BETWEEN US.
Surprisingly, though, Tappan Zee never issued recordings by
Gary King (d. 2003), a talented songwriter and distinctive electric
bassist who appeared on most of Tappan Zee's recordings, or
composer Jay Chattaway, who become better known several years
later as a composer for film and television (STAR TREK: THE
NEXT GENERATION, STAR TREK: VOYAGER).
Zee Records quietly disappeared when interest and sales in
fusion jazz began to wane in the early 1980s. As the music began to become considered "contemporary
jazz," the sound changed and Bob James left Columbia in
1985 to begin a successful relationship
with Warner Bros. Records.
The Tappan Zee logo would appear in a small corner of
occasional Bob James records on Warner Bros. and Koch, a privately issued soundtrack
from 1994 (HAPGOOD) and most of the Japanese reissues Bob
James' recordings - although none can really be considered true
"Tappan Zee" releases (however much Mr. James controls these
Tappan Zee sound was a grand, if brief and regrettably long-gone moment in jazz - now
celebrated in the many samples today's musicians pluck from the
sources which predate Tappan Zee Records are also worth
considering here as a part of this sound's impressive legacy:
Gabor Szabo's MACHO (Salvation/1975
- Bob James's first production), Maynard Ferguson's PRIMAL
SCREAM (Columbia/1975) and CONQUISTADOR
(Columbia/1977), Hubert Laws's ROMEO & JULIET
Freddie Hubbard's exceptional and unjustly reviled WINDJAMMER
(Columbia/1976) and two albums by guitarist Eric Gale (who was
originally said to be signed to Tappan Zee), GINSENG WOMAN
(Columbia/1977) and MULTIPLICATION (Columbia/1978).
ZEE PRODUCTIONS (1977-1989)