Quincy Jones, one of the most prolific musical composers, arrangers and producers of the 20th Century, is best known as arranger and producer for Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Quincy Jones: His Life in Music chronicles all his accomplishments, from his early days as a trumpeter with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra to the recent awards and recognitions Jones has received for his six-decade career in music.
Jones joined the Hampton Orchestra at 19 and performed across Europe with the band as a trumpeter before becoming musical director of Dizzy Gillespie’s group. After extensive touring with other jazz bands, he formed his own unit. They received glowing reviews, but couldn’t turn a profit. That’s when Jones turned his considerable talents to the pop music business.
Quincy Jones: A Life in Music is part of the University of Mississippi’s extensive list of music titles on jazz, country, bluegrass and blues music. The author, music scholar Clarence Bernard Henry, also wrote Let’s Make Some Noise: Axé and the African Roots of Brazilian Popular Music.
This is a strictly musical history, concentrating on Jones’ career. (For the whole story, read Jones’ autobiography Q, published in 2001.) There are, however, a few funny anecdotes: One day, his driver didn’t show up and he had to hitch a ride on a laundry truck to the Columbia lot. As Jones arrived at the studio and got out of the truck, Cary Grant and the head of Columbia Pictures walked past. It was then that Jones decided to learn how to drive.
A third of the book consists of discography and footnotes. It’s handy for quick reference, and leads one to marvel at Q’s productivity when you look at the credits one right after the other. He wrote “Streetbeater,” the theme for Sanford and Son, scored several well-known films in the 1960s, including Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, In the Heat of the Night and Cactus Flower. Jones also composed music for many seminal films of the 1970s and 1980s, including The Color Purple and Roots.
The book packs a lot of information into 192 pages. Jones broke the color barriers as an A&R rep for Mercury, while still producing records. At the label, he signed Greek singer Nana Mouskouri and white soul singer Timi Yuro. His expertise lent to a wide range of musical styles, and he worked with Lesley Gore, Little Richard, Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon, Dinah Washington, Brooke Benton and other artists throughout the years.
“The thing I like about producing is that it pulls out every single thing you’re trained in,” Jones is quoted as saying.
In addition to producing other artists, Jones released 16 solo albums, with 1974’s Body Heat charting the highest at No. 10. In recounting all of Jones’ musical achievements with occasional quotes and backstory, Dr. Henry’s book provides a concise overview of Jones’s career — even as it pays special attention to his work with Michael Jackson and participation in the “We Are the World” charity project.
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