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, Columbia Records. 

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 Jay Chattaway. 

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).

Tappan 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 releases).

The 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 rich catalog. 

Additional 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 (Columbia/1976), 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).




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