Quincy Jones will always be remembered as the guy that produced Thriller. And taking partial credit for the greatest-selling album of all time is enough of an achievement to keep his name listed amongst the most important in 20th century music. But Jones has been in the music game for well over 50 years, and by the time of his 75th birthday in July 2008, he had put together a resume that would cost him a hefty bill at Kinko’s just to print out a copy of. Not that he couldn’t afford it.
To celebrate this incredible career—and Jones’ birthday - Claude Nobs, founder of the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, put together a show to showcase the many career highlights of his longtime friend. The show was held during the 2008 Montreux Festival, which is very appropriate, given Jones’ role in expanding the event into a venue for all kinds of world music, as well as the legendary performance he put together there with a dying Miles Davis back in 1991.
The two-DVD set, Quincy Jones’ 75th Birthday Celebration: Live at Montreux 2008, presents the entire show from start to finish, with very little dressing-up. The production involves just a few well-placed cameras and microphones, allowing the viewer to see and (more importantly) hear everything that’s going on up on the stage. And it manages to achieve an intimacy that can make the person watching at home feel like they’re watching it in a small venue with Quincy himself, even though the amount of people present looks to approach arena-sized numbers.
The show features both Quincy’s most notable and more obscure works, from soundtrack pieces to his famous arrangements for pop and jazz musicians. It took place at a modern jazz festival, so electric pianos and Paul Reed Smith’s are certainly found in abundance, but there is plenty of variety in the proceedings, ranging from impressive instrumental solos to beat-boxing and scat (Scat-ophobes beware: There is more scatting on this DVD than on an extended mega-mix of “Scatman’s World”).
Many of the singers and musicians we see are contemporaries of Jones, though generally not the ones who appeared on the original recordings of the songs they perform. Legendary session singer (and Jones’ goddaughter) Patti Austin shows up several times, blasting her way through renditions of “”The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” and “How Do You Keep the Music Playing”, as well as teaming up for a duet with Chaka Khan on “Miss Celie’s Blues”, which shows Ms. Khan to be as gifted and gorgeous in her 50s as she was in her heyday. Elsewhere, Tools Thielemans does an incredible harmonica rendition of “Eye’s of Love (Carol’s Theme)” and “Bluesette” while Tobias Preisig lends a twist to the “What’s Going On” cover with a unique violin intro.
Unfortunately, some of the other older stars shine a little less brightly. Petula Clark’s voice is disappointingly off (as Randy Jackson would say, “kinda pitchy dawg”), but that can’t be too unexpected of a woman now in her 70s. Al Jarreau and James Moody have equally bruised-sounding vocal chords, although Moody more than makes up for this with his wacky charm and an oddly-endearing self-penned rap number. While not everyone is at the same level as they were back when they originally recorded with Quincy, it’s still a joy for him, and the audience, to see them all on the same stage.
Some faces from other eras are seen, as well. Mick Hucknall comes onstage for a breath-taking two-set beginning with “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town”, and the audience’s reaction quickly shifts from “Who is this chubby, old, red-headed British guy” to “Holy crap! That guy from Simply Red is killing “In the Heat of the Night”! The only performance that tops this in the ‘shockingly-impressive’ category is a medley of “Billie Jean/Wall of Sound” by beatboxing/acapella group Naturally 7, who get Quincy, and the rest of the crowd, to give them a standing ovation at the end of their set.
Besides the featured artists, the evening is helped by an incredible set of backing musicians. Herbie Hancock handles the keys for much the night, and the performers are also supported by the Montreux In House Band, which features the mind-boggling combination of Greg Phillinganes, Palinho da Costa, David Delhomme, Paul Jackson, Jr. and Nathan East. The Swiss Army Big Band provides the orchestral sweep (and occasional trumpet solo) when needed, and while the young European musicians can’t quite seem to believe that they’re in the same room with all these people, that doesn’t dilute their performance in the slightest.
The DVD also comes with a bonus documentary, entitled “ThankQ”, in which we get to see the artists mingling before the show (where the Swiss Army kids do nothing to dispel their image as robotically nerdy music students); thank you’s to Quincy from the musicians and some celebrity attendees like Christ Tucker and Cornell West (fans of The Office / Parks and Recreation will be disappointed not to see Jones’ daughter, Rashida, show up); as well as Jones’ speech at the end of the concert , in which he proves himself to be as cool and dapper as he always has been, and not looking anything close to 75 years of age.
The one drawback of Quincy Jones’ 75th Birthday Celebration: Live at Montreux 2008 is the same problem that haunts many concert DVDs: why would you want to sit at home watching something that’s meant to be seen live? Many of these artists are still touring (although you’re not going see as many of them gathered in one place as you do here), and two hours plus is a long time to spend sitting on the couch watching something that other people were actually attending.
On the other hand, there are some amazing performances here, especially for the technically-minded musician, and there are moments that many viewers would surely enjoy watching more than once. Having this DVD around and watching it with your musical pals on your flat-panel TV is definitely a more attractive option than getting everyone to huddle around some grainy YouTube video on your computer. Quincy Jones’ 75th birthday celebration was clearly a once-in-a-lifetime event, and it’s nice to know that even if you didn’t have the time or money to make it to the concert, you can still share the experience.