Book: Q – The Autobiography of Quincy Jones (2003)

November 15, 2010 | By

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Rating: Excellent

Publisher: Doubleday / ISBN: 0-385-48896-3 / Format: Hardcover / Date: 2002

Author: Quincy Jones

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Special Notes:  This review also compares the audiobook, read by Quincy Jones, and published by Simon & Schuster Audio (2003), ISBN 0-7435-00601

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Review:

2001 was a busy year for legendary composer, musician, producer, and humanitarian Quincy Jones. Though best-known as the impresario behind Michael Jackson’s 1983 monster albumThriller, Jones broke down colour barriers in the music industry in becoming the first African-American vice-president Mercury’s New York division, in 1961.

By the end of the decade, Jones had become a top film composer, receiving two Oscar nominations in 1967 – Best Original Score for In Cold Blood, and Best Original Song for “The Eyes of Love,” from Banning – and a Best Original Song nomination in 1968, for the theme fromFor Love of Ivy.

Since retiring from film composing after Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple, in 1985, little attention has been paid to his film music period. The 1991 documentary by Ellen Weissbrod,Listen Up: The Lives of Quincy Jones, gave his film work short-shrift, and it was more a showcase for textured sound and picture editing techniques than anything else.

Although still quite active with his label – Qwest Records – and having released an album in 1995 – Q’s Jook Joint – the 69 year old legend finally took time out to write his autobiography and record an audio book – both published in 2001.

Jones’ prose is lean, visceral, and honest: chronicling his early years as a troubled youth who, with the aid of friends, managed to steal and pine away military gear from a nearby base (including a four-foot battleship shell!); eating rats and squirrels because there were no alternatives; and breaking into the military base one night, where the sight of a dimly lit piano changed his life for the better.

His struggle to learn every facet of music, and his friendships and tutelage with trumpet great Clark Terry and soul brother Ray Charles revealed Jones to be a man with an iron drive, and the hard ascent to the top eventually had Jones playing, orchestrating and conducting for such luminaries as Frank Sinatra, and Count Basie.

After rising to the top of the jazz world, Quincy Jones decided to follow a childhood dream – to be a film composer – and moved to Paris, where he studied composition with Nadia Boulanger; he not only studied works by Igor Stravinsky, he met the man. Returning to the U.S., Jones’ first feature film score for director Sidney Lumet – The Pawnbroker – in 1965 broke new ground by fusing jazz improvisation and chamber/small orchestra underscore writing.

Both the book and the audio tapes/CDs contain a decent account of his life as an African-American film composer, and from several anecdotes it’s clear Jones’ friendship and professional relationships with Alfred Newman, Andre Previn and other peers proved the beauty of a musician’s mind looked past one’s colour; it’s the music that always matters.

Very few specific scores are investigated in detail, and Jones’ brevity is more an attempt to keep a brisk pace, balancing all the dramatic chapters of his life. Film music admirers will still find a compelling read, though, and Jones’ audio book acts as a more intimate epilogue (albeit nearly seven hours).

Q is unique, however, for including ‘testimonials’ from friends, family members, and ex-wives (including Peggy Lipton), and they take several of Jones’ weaknesses to task, particularly his failings with his children. Brutally honest, what ultimately emerges is a remarkable portrait of a dynamic creative force; a film composer who made his mark in Hollywood, and improved the film score language with rich blues, jazz and pop influences.

To coincide with Quincy Jones’ autobiography, Rhino Records have also released a 4-CD set, Q: The Musical Biography of Quincy Jones (Cat. #74363). Disc 1 focuses on his jazz career, and Disc 2 showcases his film work. As is the nature of a sampler, one CD can’t possibly cover an artist’s entire output, but the Rhino set does feature a few score cuts new to CD, and rare theme singles, including Johnny Mathis singing the theme from Mirage, and Shirley Horn’s rendition of “The Spell You Spin (The Web You Weave)” from A Dandy In Aspic. The remaining discs cover Jones jazz-pop fusion work, and his work as producer.

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© 2002 Mark R. Hasan

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