Sax and woodwind player extraordinaire Gene “Cip” Cipriano died yesterday. Many people don’t know who Cip was, but it’s possible nearly everyone in the world who watches films or listens to recordings produced in Hollywood has heard him at some point.
It was widely claimed that Cip was the most recorded man in Hollywood. He had worked with nearly every nearly major artist you can name – Harry James, Frank Sinatra, Henry Mancini, John Williams, Elvis Presley, Miles Davis, Judy Garland, The Beach Boys, The Monkees. He was part of The Wrecking Crew studio musicians who played on countless record dates. He played on 50 years of Oscar ceremonies. The word “legendary” is often thrown around loosely, but Cip was the real deal, a true legend of Hollywood.
Cip became a legend because he was a phenomenal musician and simply a great guy with whom to work. I was on several dates with Cip where he played seven or more different instruments, even into his 80s. In addition, for the relatively few woodwind players who double on the instrument, oboe is often one of their weakest. It’s a hard instrument that takes a lot of practice to achieve a good consistent tone. However, Cip was a guy who could play a burning sax solo on one tune, then turn around and play beautiful classical oboe on the next.
Beyond his musical abilities, Cip was simply a fun guy to have on a session. He brought a positive energy and encouraged everyone to not take it all too seriously. I remember on one Oscars break we asked him about his earliest years doing the Oscars. He mentioned he enjoyed André Previn as music director. When we asked why, he answered, “Because he didn’t give a s–t about any of it! We all had a great time!”
Cip was also known for his famous “Yo!” greeting to everyone. People loved to recount the time he yelled “Yo Barbra!” to Barbra Streisand (with whom he had recorded numerous times) loud enough to be heard on TV as she walked past the orchestra to receive an Oscar.
I was fortunate to have worked for many years with Cip and to have been a part of a small group that would occasionally go for dinners. Danita Ng-Poss and I were the “kids” in the group when music contractor and copyist Bill Hughes used to hold court at one of his favorite restaurants with a select group of musicians. The group often included Rick Baptist, Sal Lozano, Harold Wheeler, Tom Ranier, Ashley Irwin, Trey Henry, and of course, Cip.
I’ll share one personal remembrance of my time with Cip. Around 2015 we were doing pre-records for the Emmys at Capitol Studios. A group of us, including Cip, went down the block to a restaurant for lunch. We were all chatting and suddenly realized we needed to hurry back or we were going to be late for the afternoon session. We quickly paid our bills and rushed down the street. Cip was getting on in years, so he wasn’t able jog with everyone else. I told the rest to go on ahead. I’d walk with Cip, who was already breathing heavily.
Cip and I were walking as fast as Cip could manage. Just before we reached Capitol, Cip asked me, “Do you think we’ll be late?” I did not look at my watch, and just lazily said, “Yeah, probably.”
Cip found my nonchalance hilarious. We were going to be late for the Emmys! Already out of breath, he began laughing so hard that he was almost unable to breathe. He held on to a light pole to keep from falling over, and, now concerned for his health, I grabbed him and gave him a shoulder to lean on.
After a concerning minute, Cip caught his breath, looked at me and asked, “What are you going to tell them when you walk in late?” I replied, “I’m going to tell them, ‘I was with Cip.'”
He chuckled while leaning on me as we began walking again, and said, “That just might work.”
Of course it worked. Nobody was going to question Cip.
– written by Jason Poss