[28 March 2008]
Sometimes music makers wait in the wings, hoping their contributions will be recognized some day. But some music makers don’t relent. They press themselves into production and face the crowd with a smile, surrounding themselves with talent and making their own lives resonate with welcome.
Quincy Jones, or “Q” to those who acknowledge his ubiquity as a phenomenon, is the second type. The history of 20th century black music in the United States couldn’t separate itself from Q if it tried. And why would it? The multiple award-winning impresario, conductor, record producer, musical arranger, and trumpeter remains the most charming spokesman for black American music worldwide. While the work of countless composers and producers has fallen behind the marketing scaffold crowded with lead singers and virtuosic instrumentalists, Jones puts the behind-the- scenes magic on center stage with his public presence.
Listening to Jones, the most Grammy nominated artist in history, introduce himself in French and English to a relaxed-looking European crowd at the 30th annual Montreux Jazz festival reminds me of how black American music vibes in Europe. Cool and comfortable. Immediate and classic. Multilingual and ready to embraced.
And the Montreux Jazz Festival has been embracing black music broadly for many years, featuring greats such as Miles Davis, Dizzie Gillespie, Jimmy Cliff, James Brown and Chaka Khan and more recently Madlib and the late great J Dilla. So the fact that the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland would celebrate its own 30th anniversary as a musical institution with a celebration of Jones’ 50 years in the music industry, as captured in this DVD, makes sense.
This concert reminds viewers that throughout the decade, Jones has been responsible for scores as varied as the soundtracks such as In the Heat of the Night and The Color Purple, the theme for the women’s gymnastics team during the 1988 Olympics, and numerous memorable ballads and jazz classics. Recorded 12 years ago, the DVD doesn’t rush the concert. It allows viewers to sit through transitions and set changes, waiting for Jones to compose himself back into a composer after laughing at the jokes he’s telling the audience. However, the cameras must have been everywhere, and the editing does a great job of giving the viewer the impression that she is not in the front row, but rather, on stage, beside this talented man.
The camera work capitalizes on Jones’ ability to create instant intimacy by offering close ups of the singers and instrumentalists or what he calls “family”. Indeed, he announces that he’s known one back up vocalist since she was three years old. The stage looks like a party where everyone has a microphone. The Northern Illinois University Jazz band is up there, jamming their heads even when they aren’t playing. The drummer has a bright green stuffed animal jumping up and down on his cymbal. Q merges his role as conductor and cheerleader, interrupting his own gestures to clap, mouth “Yeah!!!” and dance during solos.
When he turns to face the audience it feels like family all over again. He shouts out to agents and music-lovers he met on his earlier trips to Europe, who now sit in the front row enjoying the show. And it seems hardly orchestrated, Quincy will hit his forehead and say “Is that Bryce? I knew him when he was a little boy! Hey Bryce!” and by the end of the show he has dedicated a song to his daughter and her fiancé. Yet another daughter, Jolie Jones, is singing background vocals on stage.
After Patti Austin sings the spanglish “Perdido”, Q casually mentions that he remembers when the classy and now clearly middle-aged songstress was four years old, in a Harlem studio, singing along to Dinah Washington’s takes while the original version of the song was being recored. Austin will go on to invoke Ella Fitzgerald and dominate a duet of “Dirty Dozens” with Chaka Kahn before the night is over, but she truly shows the dynamism and depth of her voice on “Walking in Space”, where her sound becomes as versatile as the whole range of brass instruments alongside her.
By the time Jones brings his repertoire up to 1968, when he wrote the score for the film In the Heat of the Night, the audience cheers. Mick Hucknall attempts a dynamic rendition, but I miss Ray Charles, who sang the original, especially on the words “I feel motherless sometimes.” At just the right moment, Gerald Albright goes so deep with his saxophone that he almost makes a hole in the stage and suddenly nothing is missing.
The crowd keeps it up as Chaka Khan who Jones calls “the most soulful creature on the planet”, comes out to sing “Everything Must Change”, Later, Chaka Khan, who Jones calls “that dangerous woman”, kills Miss Celie’s Blues, introduced by the soulful harmonic wailings of the young Brody Buster. Jones is justified in repeating “Dangerous, dangerous!” after Kahn sings the sexiest rendition of this song about a woman loving a woman that I’ve heard.
The previously mentioned “Walking in Space”, featuring Patti Austin, transitions the evening into a party. By this time a vocal orchestra has arrived on stage; congos are going and people are using their mouths to make drum sounds and their hands fly to the music embodied. A combination of scatting and beatboxing takes over the strange, and brings it all back to Austin who presses a waking world out of her body before the song ends. From that point on the concert is a party with upwards of 40 people on stage at time, and by the end of the concert even Claude Nobs, the founder of the Montreaux festival is on the stage playing a harmonica.
As a bonus, the DVD includes a master class with Jones at the jazz festival. Speaking to a packed room of interested festival attendees, Q chooses to eschew lessons in harmony and pitch because “other teachers can teach you that.” Instead, he offers his life as a lesson in how music can be made. Lamenting the discontinuity between the history of jazz and the money driven tendencies of mainstream hip-hop, Jones emphasizes what one of his first teachers told him: “The music can’t be any better than you are as a human being.”
If you are a listener with faith, the type of music lover who would drop everything if Quincy Jones invited you to go to Switzerland and jam, this collectible DVD is for you.