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.