Recent Listening In Brief: Quincy Jones

The Quincy Jones ABC/Mercury Big Band Jazz Sessions (Mosaic)

Preparing for my public conversation with Quincy Jones (two items down), I’ve been reading his 2001 autobiography, chatting with people he knows and listening to his music. The inventiveness, sparkle and audacity of Jones’ arrangements in the 1950s and early ‘60s gave his music freshness that was notable when he was in his twenties. Now that he’s nearing 80, these works of his youth are still among the most vital big band recordings of an era in which Count Basie, Woody Herman, Duke Ellington and Stan Kenton were going strong. Jones’ inventive scoring of his compositions, including “Stockholm Sweetnin’,” “The Midnight Sun Will Never Set” and “Hard Sock Dance,” is matched by his settings of standard songs, and pieces by contemporaries like Horace Silver, Benny Golson, Ernie Wilkins, Bobby Timmons and Bill Potts.

As for execution, Jones put together a band whose various versions had some of the best players of the day, among them Clark Terry, Zoot Sims, Freddie Hubbard, Phil Woods, Budd Johnson, Åke Persson, Buddy Catlett, Urbie Green, Julius Watkins, Les Spann and Patti Bown. Stranded in Europe by the failure of “Free And Easy,” a stage production they were a part of, his musicians sacrificed to stay together and tour the continent, reflecting their loyalty to Jones, his music and each other. When the band is at its best in these five CDs—which is most of the time— it is easy to hear what inspired that spirit. Brian Priestley’s booklet notes are a valuable telling of the band’s story.

Jones moved from leading a big band into wide success in scoring for film and television and in pop music production. This set is a reminder of how much he accomplished when he concentrated on jazz.

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  1. David says

    In a 1953 interview in Metronome magazine, Quincy talked about the frustrations of his early days with Lionel Hampton: “I was 19 years old, so hip it was pitiful, and didn’t want to know about anything that was close to being commercial.” I guess he learned his lesson when his progressive all star jazz band got him in such financial trouble.

    • Jim Brown says

      Chris’s fine post on the topic is hardly the first I’ve heard of this. More than 30 years ago on a jazz bulletin board that preceded the internet, I saw repeated posts from a recording engineer who castigated Quincy for claiming credit for the work of others.

      I first encountered Bobby Scott in my college days (early 60s) in the form of a really special session for Mercury with a big band that had great writing, unlike anything I’d heard before, and gospel feel. It blew me away. I think it might have been called “Joyful Noises.” The next time his name came before me was in a lovely vocal set that also grabbed me, with his voice in serious trouble. And then he was gone, from lung cancer.

      The next thing that came to me was a lovely piece, I think by Gene Lees, or perhaps by someone else and published by him, about Bobby’s time playing piano for Prez. Prez obviously loved him, called him Bobby Sox.

      Bobby Scott, Al Cohn, Billy Byers, Thad Jones were damn sure for real, and I love their writing. I sure dug Q’s 50s-60’s band and those charts with Qs name on them, but I’m no longer confident that he wrote them, and the only thing I’ve heard in the 50 years since since that turned my head was Body Heat. I wonder who wrote those charts?