Born in Chicago in 1933, Jones moved with his family to Seattle when he was 10. A gifted trumpet player by his teens, he won a scholarship to Schillinger House in Boston but left soon after when he was offered the job as a trumpet player with Lionel Hampton. It was with him that Jones' skills for arranging came to prominence. Moving to New York, he became an arranger, working with artists the calibre of Dinah Washington and Ray Charles. After touring with Dizzy Gillespie's band, he secured a deal with ABC-Paramount and began leading his own band. In Paris, he studied composition with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen. However, touring with a big band nearly proved the financial ruin of him. Thankfully, he was offered the job of Musical Director of the New York division of Mercury Records. Within a matter of years, he had been promoted to the Vice President of the company, which, according to the 1990 documentary of his life, The Lives Of Quincy Jones, was a landmark. He was the first African-American to hold such a position in a white music company.
Jones' life alone would fill pages and pages, so let us concentrate on his enormous body of music. After making his debut recording with Quincy Jones and the Swedish/US All Stars on Prestige in 1953, his first ABC-Paramount album, This Is How I Feel About Jazz, was released in 1957. It was followed by Go West, Man later the same year. For many, The Birth Of A Band is where it really got started - released on Mercury in 1959, it contained his take on 'Tuxedo Junction' and Lester Young's 'Tickle Toes'. Working with incredible players like Zoot Sims, Kenny Cleveland and Benny Golson, it swung, with modern, accomplished arrangements by Jones. The Great Wide World Of Quincy Jones (1960) and Newport '61 were fine captures of this era. 1961's I Dig Dancers was a fantastic up-tempo collection that contained the Jones original, 'Pleasingly Plump'.
After releasing The Quintessence on the Impulse imprint, Big Band Bossa Nova from 1962 surfed on the wave of popularity for bossa nova, the music that had just been imported to America from Brazil. Working with a tight unit, including Lalo Schifrin, it featured Jones' take on 'Desafinado' and 'On The Street Where You Live'. Most importantly, it contained Jones' own composition, 'Soul Bossa Nova', with Roland Kirk on flute. Its lively, sprightly, off-kilter beat became a hit all over again in the late 1990s when Mike Myers took it as the theme for his daft series of box office sensations, the Austin Powers films. Although recorded in 1964, the instrumental's timeless modernity saw new generations dancing the world over.
1964 was a frantic year for Jones, with further releases, Hip Hits and Golden Boy. Quincy Jones Explores The Music Of Henry Mancini paid homage to the venerated film composer's work, and its release coincided with Jones' move in to the world of film soundtracks himself, one of the very first African American to do so.
After scoring The Pawnbroker, he made Quincy Plays For Pussycats. Quincy's Got A Brand New Bag followed, which showed an artist in tune with developments in popular music, displaying an affinity with the music of Motown and James Brown. In the mid 1960s, Jones worked with Frank Sinatra, whom he'd first met in 1958, on Sinatra's albums with Count Basie, It Might As Well Be Swing and arranging and conducting the legendary Sinatra at the Sands.
Jones spent most of the rest of the 1960s as an in-demand film composer, scoring works such as The Italian Job, In The Heat Of The Night and Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice. In 1968, Jones and his writing partner Bob Russell became the first African American composers to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song, 'The Eyes Of Love', from the film Banning.
Jones signed a deal with A&M and went off in a funkier direction with 1969's Walking In Space, its title track a 13-minute variation on the song from the Hair musical with Valerie Simpson on vocals. Alternating between soundtracks and his own work, Smackwater Jack in 1971 continued his new groove, featuring the best in contemporary covers, and also his themes to the TV classic Ironside and the Sean Connery crime caper vehicle, The Anderson Tapes.
1973's You've Got It Bad Girl featured Stevie Wonder covers as well as Jones' incredible version of The Lovin' Spoonful's 'Summer In The City', driven by Dave Gruisin's electric piano and Eddie Louis' swampy organ, it was later sampled by Nightmares On Wax, for their influential track, 'Les Nuits'.
Body Heat (1974) and Mellow Madness (1975) saw Jones moving further towards jazz-funk. In 1974, Jones suffered a life-threatening brain aneurysm, and as a result he gave up playing the trumpet. However, after a period of convalescence, he reappeared with many more projects. After his I Heard That! album, he returned to scoring. This was no ordinary job - it was the soundtrack to the groundbreaking TV series of Alex Haley's legendary and attitude-altering book, Roots. A 28-minute suite, described by allmusic's Richard S Ginell as "a timely souvenir of a cultural phenomenon." It won Jones an Emmy Award.
Energised by this experience he returned to the studio and created Sounds... And Stuff Like That in 1978, a rip-roaring album inspired by the disco boom, featuring the best contemporary players. While scoring the film, The Wiz, he worked with Michael Jackson. His production of Jackson's next three albums, Off The Wall, Thriller and Bad, defined the very essence of popular music - joyous, accomplished, multi-platinum works that made Jackson the world's biggest star. Jones' Qwest Production stable knew no bounds, producing era-defining work by George Benson, The Brothers Johnson and Donna Summer. During this period, he released the album that he is best known for as a solo artist, The Dude. It was a true collaborative effort that married all of his knowledge with a set of scintillating, modern songs, from the tender ballad 'Just Once', the Stevie Wonder co-write 'Betcha Wouldn't Hurt Me', and 'AI No Corrida', the stomping song named after the classic Japanese erotic movie. The song was co-written by Blockhead Chaz Jankel.
With his production duties at a pinnacle, Jones didn't release an album under his own name until 1989. He worked again with his old friend, Frank Sinatra, on his final studio album alone, L.A. Is My Lady in 1984. Jones' score for Steven Spielberg's The Color Purple was Oscar nominated on its release in 1985.
When Jones did return to recording himself, it was spectacular. His star-studded, forward-thinking autobiographical 1989 album, Back On the Block, picked up six Grammys for Jones and one for his long-serving engineer Bruce Swedien at the 33rd ceremony in 1991. It was a fantastic updating of his sound, embracing hip-hop, soul and contemporary R&B, with a roll call of virtually every significant figure in African-American popular music present, from Ella Fitzgerald to Ice T, Dizzy Gillespie to Luther Vandross, Sarah Vaughan to Barry White.
The success of the album was followed with his Q's Jook Joint in 1995, an album that featured another stellar cast. After 1999's From Q With Love, it was to be another decade before Jones returned with another album. In the meantime the fascinating The Original Jam Sessions 1969 was released in 2004, a funky, earthy collection of music that Jones recorded for The Bill Cosby Show. It demonstrated that although Jones was by now known mainly as a purveyor of slick, contemporary jazz, working with Ernie Watts, Eddie Harris and Milt Jackson, he could create a rare, funky groove, too.
Q: Soul Bossa Nostra, released in 2010, was a fitting tribute to the then 76-year-old music legend. With Jones acting as executive producer, he asked artists to interpret favourite moments from his catalogue. The album is a suitable tribute to Jones' talent. As a result, artists the calibre of Mary J Blige ('Betcha Wouldn't Hurt Me'), Amy Winehouse ('It's My Party'), Akon ('Strawberry Letter 23') and Jamie Foxx ('Give Me The Night'), performed contemporary, respectful versions of some of the greatest records Jones had been associated with throughout his 50-plus-year career.
It is unsurprising that there have been a considerable number of collections of Jones' work across the years. The Best Of is a handy one-disc summation of his career; The Ultimate Collection is a great bringing together of the popular end of his catalogue; Summer In The City looks at his 1970s jazz and Quincy Jones' Finest Hour neatly summarises his earlier work, ending in 1978.
Jones told Q magazine in 1990, "Here's how I look back at 40 years in music: each category you get into cross-indexes; you get one hard-core category and it has its tributaries." For an artist of the magnitude of Jones, who has always been looking at the cross-indexes, it is difficult to know where to begin, as his work has been a constantly shifting playground of discovery. His cultural significance at times has overshadowed his work, yet it is through the medium of music that Quincy Jones made and sustained his name. There is much to enjoy, and with an open mind, there is much to explore.
With ears dead set on the trends of the moment but still drawing now and then on his jazz past, Quincy Jones came up with another classy-sounding pop album loaded with his ever-growing circle of musician friends. Disco was king in 1978 and Jones bows low with the ebullient dance hit "Stuff Like That" -- which is several cuts above the norm for that genre -- along with a healthy quota of elegantly produced soul ballads. Yet amidst the pop stuff, Jones still manages to do something fresh and memorable within the jazz sphere with a gorgeous chart of Herbie Hancock's "Tell Me a Bedtime Story." Hancock himself sits in impeccably on electric piano, and violinist Harry Lookofsky painstakingly overdubs one of Hancock's transcribed solos on 15 violins. Despite the cast of hundreds that is now de rigueur for Quincy Jones, the record does not sound over-produced due to the silken engineering and careful deployment of forces.
Words - Richard S. Ginell
Now running his own Qwest label and a thousand other things, Quincy Jones still owed one more album to A&M -- and he gave them a blockbuster, one that reached number ten, yielded three hit pop singles and made a star out of soul balladeer James Ingram. "Ai No Corrida," and the leadoff track, is the Quincy Jones hit method par excellence -- great pacing, superb sound, a catchy tune, a hot Ernie Watts tenor sax solo and you can dance to it, too. Stevie Wonder's irresistible synthesizer hooks lift his "Betcha Wouldn't Hurt Me," and Q and omnipresent composer Rod Temperton are far-seeing enough on the title track to anticipate the rise of rap. But where does all of this pop wizardry, soon to assume mythic dimensions on Michael Jackson's Thriller, leave the jazz listener? Yes, Quincy has thought of you too, however briefly, on Ivan Lins' wistful "Velas," where perennial house jazzer Toots Thielemans eloquently returns, taping his part in Belgium. Obviously, though, the main purpose here is to make hit pop singles, and The Dude does a pretty good job of that.
Words - Richard S. Ginell
Having let eight years pass since his last A&M album, Quincy Jones made his debut on his own label with his most extravagant, most star-studded, most brilliantly sequenced pop album to date -- which could have only been assembled by the man who put together "We Are the World." Jones was one of the first establishment musicians to embrace rap, and one of the first to link rap with his jazz heritage; it's hard not to be moved by the likes of Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, James Moody, Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Zawinul, Sarah Vaughan, and George Benson electronically appearing on "Birdland" and trading brief licks with the likes of Kool Moe Dee and Big Daddy Kane on "Jazz Corner of the World." Later, jazz buffs would vilify Jones for not taking fuller advantage of this one-time constellation of jazz stars, but at the time, it seemed like a marvelous dialogue between the old and the new.
Of course, as he well knew, celebrating jazz history is not the surest route to a blockbuster hit record, so there are plenty of radio-friendly urban pop productions here, with Herbie Hancock and George Duke on keyboards, and Siedah Garrett and 12-year-old Tevin Campbell on vocals. Despite the presence of an enthused Ray Charles, Chaka Khan, and the Brothers Johnson, the overly busy techno remake of "I'll Be Good to You" doesn't cut the Johnsons' original -- nor does "Tomorrow." Ultimately the most popular track would be the most tedious for the jazz listener, "The Secret Garden," with a parade of smooth soul balladeers producing make-out music at length. Yet Back on the Block remains a strikingly durable piece of entertainment, and in hindsight, a poignant signpost of the changing of the guard.
Words - Richard S. Ginell
One of the worst ways to capture a rockin' live performance is to record a concert in Las Vegas. The crowd for James Brown's DVD Live From the House of Blues is a typical aging baby boomer audience who reacts to Brown's music like they are up past their bedtime. His Body Heat, however, is a much better choice for the fan who wants to relive the magic, not simply appreciate that the rock legend is still living. The concert contained in Body Heat was recorded at a much earlier age and in a small club -- and it shows. His passion and libido are in full force. One can tell a lot by the man's sweat. James Brown is sweating profusely as he takes the stage in this aptly titled video that, even with only ten tracks, includes more get-up and produces more body heat than Live From the House of Blues.
In Body Heat, Brown is wearing bell-bottoms and a gold chain that scream '70s but also have a hint of the late-'60s rambunctious soul that was his trademark. The live performance in Body Heat is exuberant, rowdy, and sensual, and captures his exhilarating stage show and marvelous athleticism. And that is important, for while Brown has always surrounded himself with A+ musicians, his later concerts seem rote, sterile, and uninspired. For those who are looking to "get up offa that thing," this DVD is the one for them. The short set list and lack of DVD extras will not be negatives because the concert is such a success.
Words - JT Griffith
Quincy Jones had jazz fans wondering when he released his killer Gula Matari album in 1970. That set, with gorgeous reading of Paul Simon's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" with a lead vocal by none other than Valerie Simpson, pointed quite solidly into the direction Jones was traveling: unabashedly toward pop, but with his own trademark taste, and sophistication at the forefront of his journey. Its follow-up, Smackwater Jack, marked Jones, along with Phil Ramone and Ray Brown in the producer's chair, and knocked purist jazz fans on their heads with its killer meld of pop tunes, television and film themes, pop vocals, and big-band charts. The personnel list is a who's- who of jazzers including Monty Alexander, Jim Hall, Pete Christlieb, Joe Beck, Bobby Scott, Ernie Royal, Freddie Hubbard, Jerome Richardson, Ray Brown, Jaki Byard, Toots Thielemans, and many others. But it also hosted the talents of new school players who dug pop and soul, such as Grady Tate, Bob James, Joe Sample, Chuck Rainey, Paul Humphries, Eric Gale, and others. And yes, Simpson was back on this session in an epic reading of Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On,'" that featured Carol Kaye and Harry Lookofsky on soulful, psychedelic jazz strings and a smoking harmonica solo by Thielemans. The title cut, of course, is a reading of the Gerry Goffin and Carole King number, done in a taut, funky soul style with Rainey's bassline popping and bubbling under the entire mix and James' Rhodes and Thielemans' harmonica leading the back until the funky breaks by Tate, and some tough street guitar by Arthur Adams host an enormous backing chorus and a "mysterious" uncredited male lead vocal. Other highlights include a rocking version of the television theme from Ironside, and "Hikky-Burr," the now infamous theme from the Bill Cosby Show with a guest vocal from Bill.
The version of Vince Guaraldi's "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" is one of the loveliest tracks here, and sets in stone a gorgeous model for the meld of complex jazz harmonics and a lithe pop melody. The album's final cut is a Jones original that sums up the theme of the entire album. Entitled "Guitar Blues Odyssey: From Roots to Fruits," it travels the path of Robert Johnson and Skip James through toJimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton with stops along the way at Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery, and Grant Green. Guitarists Beck, Hall, and Gale, as well as Freddie Robinson, all do their best mimicking on this lovely, musical, labyrinthine montage that moves back and forth across musical history. It works like a charm with Brown's upright and Rainey's Fender (electric) bass work (alternately), and the beatcraft of Tate. This set has provided some key samples for rappers and electronic music producers over the years -- and there's plenty more to steal -- but as an album, it is one of Q's true masterpieces, recorded during an era when he could do no wrong, and when he was expanding not only his musical palette, but ours.
Words - Thom Jurek
Fresh from the sudden success of Jazz Samba and "Desafinado," Stan Getz asked the 28-year-old, strikingly gifted Gary McFarland to arrange a bossa nova album for big band as a follow-up. Getz is always his debonair, wistful, freely-floating self, completely at home in the Brazilian idiom that he'd adopted only a few months before. McFarland usually keeps things nice and spare (although "One Note Samba" is uncharacteristically cluttered and a bit too discordant for the material), letting his pungent voicings stab the air now and then, while allowing the soloists all the room they want within the confines of producer Creed Taylor's tight timings. Four of the eight songs are by McFarland (none of which would become standards), and Getz makes relaxed impressions with "Manha de Carnival" and "Chega de Saudade." Jim Hall takes the role of acoustic guitarist from Charlie Byrd with his usual fluidity, and Hank Jones ruminates in a boppish way on piano. This album also charted quite respectably (number 13) in the first flush of the bossa nova boom.
Words - Richard S. Ginell
The Quintessence is perhaps the most accurate title ever given to a Quincy Jones & His Orchestra recording. Issued in 1961 for Impulse!, this is the sound of the modern, progressive big band at its pinnacle. Recorded in three sessions, the core of the band consists of Melba Liston, Phil Woods, Julius Watkins, and bassist Milt Hinton and pianist Patricia Brown on two sessions, with bassist Buddy Catlett and pianist Bobby Scott on another. The trumpet chairs are held alternately by players like Freddie Hubbard, Clark Terry, Thad Jones, and Snooky Young, to name a few. Oliver Nelson is here, as are Frank Wess and Curtis Fuller. Despite its brevity -- a scant 31 minutes -- The Quintessence is essential to any appreciation of Jones and his artistry. The deep swing and blues in his originals such as the title track, "Robot Portrait," and "For Lena and Lennie" create staggering blends. They are beautifully warm, with edges rounded, but the brass section is still taut and punchy. The reeds cool the heat enough to give the rhythmic dialogue in these tunes its inherent strolling swing.
Elsewhere, on Thelonious Monk's "Straight, No Chaser," the time is speeded up to nearly dizzying intensity, and it's played like a big band popping bebop with incredible counterpointed double solos happening between trombone, muted trumpet, and Brown's piano. Though only 2:27 in length, the piece packs an entire harmonic universe into its furious pace. Benny Golson's "Little Karen," is, by contrast, held in character: lithe, limpid, and fluid, it's the ultimate laid-back, midtempo ballad. That said, with the brass charts being notched up just enough, it's got the kind of finger-popping groove that makes it irresistible. The solo spot taken by Nelson is pure knotty bop. What is beautiful about this recording -- and every second of the music -- is that because of its brevity, there isn't a wasted moment. It's all taut, packed with creativity and joy, and without excess or unnecessary decorative arrangement. It doesn't get much better than this.
Words - Thom Jurek
Other than a handful of one-offs, producer, composer, and arranger Quincy Jones has been busy outside of the music world, acting as a film producer and a cultural ambassador. Q: Soul Bossa Nostra is his first proper "new" album in 15 years, though it revisits tracks he either composed, recorded, or produced previously with a host of the current era's most popular artists from the R&B, pop, and hip-hop worlds. Given his rep, the star power here is not surprising, but re-recording classic songs with new singers -- or in some cases adding vocals to a track that never had them at all -- is risky. Soul Boss Nostra feels like a tribute exercise -- assembled more for radio play and to attract the holiday and single-track download markets -- than a creative one. One need only go to the remake of Shuggie Otis' classic "Strawberry Letter 23," which Jones produced for the Brothers Johnson in 1977. The vocal and production by Akon employ shimmering, slippery hip-hop rhythms, Auto-Tune, and layers of programmed keyboards and backing vocals, without the tune's signature bassline! It's thin and hollow. The oft-sampled hit "Soul Bossa Nova" appears here as a collaboration between Naturally 7 and Ludacris (who has sampled it himself). Jones' new arrangement is streamlined; it lacks the dynamic punch and humor of the hit.
Q composed "Ironside" for the '70s television series; he uses the original orchestral and vocal tracks with a rap by Talib Kweli on top. It's better, but still feels disconnected. Why Jones re-arranged and re-corded "Tomorrow" with John Legend is a mystery; this version is void of the warmth of Tevin Campbell's from 1990. Campbell is here on a remake of Al B. Sure/Barry White track "Secret Garden" that keeps White's original vocal, and adds Campbell's with Robin Thicke, LL Cool J, Usher, and Tyrese. It is utter lacking in finesse or emotion. "Get the Funk Out of My Face," with Snoop Dogg, at least retains the Brothers Johnson feel; his rap almost works. "P.Y.T." is remade here by T-Pain and Thicke with so much Auto-Tune, it sounds like a cartoon soundtrack. Amy Winehouse's remake of "It's My Party" (which Jones produced for Lesley Gore in 1962), is tepid. Bebe Winans' reading of "Everything Must Change" is easily the set's classiest, most soulful track; it stands out beautifully from the dross. Given Jones' legendary stature and reputation for taste, this set feels unnecessary at best, and downright cynical at worst.
Words - Thom Jurek
This compilation focuses on the Quincy Jones' Orchestra – one of the quintessential post-modern big bands. Most of its tracks come from his Mercury Records catalogue of the early 1960s. Among the best are a 1964 version of ‘The Pink Panther’; ‘Baby Elephant Walk’ (from the same session); ‘After Hours’ from 1963 and ‘Dear Old Stockholm’ from 1961. It also features pianist, Lalo Schifrin, guitarists, Kenny Burrell and Jim Hall, Clark Terry on trumpet and on saxophones – & Zoot Sims, Roland Kirk, Phil Woods and James Moody. If you want to hear what a great big band sounds like then this is the album to get.
Verve Ultimate Cool compiles a cross section of some of arranger/composer Quincy Jones' recordings that lean heavily on his more jazz-oriented works. Most of these recordings are from the '50s and '60s, though a few are more contemporary. This is a laid-back collection perfect for a romantic evening or dinner date.
Words - Matt Collar