Monday, October 7, 2013

Quincy Jones: His Life in Music

By Clarence Bernard Henry

 Genre: Jazz,  R&B

I want to start with my own assessment of Quincy Jones. What Duke Ellington was to the 30s and 40s, Quincy Jones was to the 60s and beyond. Their ability for composing and arranging stretched Jazz out of its limits and into all type of popular music including classical and motion picture scoring. Ellington was the premier jazz composer and arranger for the first half of the 20th century. Quincy Jones was the same for the last part of the 20th century.

I first heard of Quincy Jones when I was in high school in the 60s and while I was considering a career as a professional musician. My peers and I idolized Mr. Jones and wanted to emulate him. He was an exceptional arranger. His score for the film In the Heat of the Night was a cornerstone of jazz and blues understatement. He was a pretty good trumpeter too. Then about mid-70s things changed. We thought he sold out as his music evolved into popular music as he spent more time producing pop records and arranging for pop artists. We were wrong. He wasn't selling out. He was changing the course of American music. It is almost impossible now to hear any R&B or soul-tinged hit without hearing the influence of Quincy Jones.

This new perspective on Quincy Jones is titled simply Quincy Jones: His Life in Music and is written by Clarence Bernard Henry. The emphasis is on "Music" as most all of it is about the music and only a little about his life outside the concerts and studios. There is a first chapter that is a biography but if that is what you want, you would be better off reading Quincy Jones' own autobiography, Q. His Life in Music is a rather thin book at 192 pages with more that a third of it being discography and footnotes. It is quite scholarly and very crowded. I'm not sure anyone can do his music justice in under 200 pages but Mr. Henry tries. Aside from the first biographical chapter, they are divided into chapters on his work in his bands and orchestras, work as a composer and arranger, His recording career with emphasis on his collaborations with jazz and popular artists, and a look at his work in film scoring. Henry also spends some time on Jones' many achievements as an African American composer/arranger and the artist's difficulty in working in this field, especially in the film industry, which was still an all white industry when Jones arrived. That's a lot of information and some of it feels rushed. Fortunately, for me at least, a lot is said about his works in the 50s and 60s starting with his first gig with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra and going to his early 60s jazz projects like his collaboration with Lalo Schifrin, Big Band Boss Nova. That is the Quincy Jones I remember fondly.

Much time is also spent discussing the three albums he produced for Michael Jackson. How could you not? They represented Jones' full ascendency into Cross-Over and a milestone of his influence in pop music. But pretty much every aspect and significant project of his is mentioned and briefly analyzed, I would have been happier with more musical dissection of his work but that would take for a much bigger book. Besides I'm a bit of a music nerd. I think for the average person, Henry hits a nice balance between history and music to bring out the importance of the artist. The author is also quite aware of much of the social significance of Jones' music and writes about his many humanitarian involvements,including "We Are The World". Overall, it is a nice overlook on the artist and recommended to anyone who has a interest in the composer and his legacy. The only thing missing is a stack of Quincy Jones' CDs to play while reading.

Background CD: Quincy Jones - Q's Jook Joint

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