Quincy Jones turns 83 today. His story has had many chapters since his early days in Seattle and his apprenticeship in Lionel Hampton’s trumpet section. Jones went on to lead an important big band, score motion pictures, become one of the most successful producers in pop music and be named an NEA Jazz Master. As I wrote a few years ago in reviewing a box set of some of the Jones band’s greatest recordings from his years with Mercury Records,
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. 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.
If you have forgotten how the spirit manifested itself, here is a reminder, the band in Europe in 1960 with one of Jones’s most celebrated compositions, “The Midnight Sun Will Never Set. The alto saxophone soloist is Phil Woods.
As for the who’s-who quality of the band, here’s the personnel list:
Saxophones: Budd Johnson, Porter Kilbert, Phil Woods, Sahib Shihab, Jerome Richardson
Trumpets: Benny Bailey, Leonard Johnson, Floyd Standifer, Clark Terry
Trombones: Jimmy Cleveland, Quentin Jackson, Melba Liston, Ake Persson
French Horn, Julius Watkins
Guitar and Flute, Les Spann
Piano, Patti Bown
Bass, Buddy Catlett
Drums, Joe Harris
Happy birthday, Q.