Home Read Classic Album Review: Quincy Jones | Q: The Musical Biography

Classic Album Review: Quincy Jones | Q: The Musical Biography

The musical giant's anthology could serve as a history of 20th-century pop culture.

This came out in 2001 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):


Plenty of famous people can get by on just one name — just ask Madonna, Cher and Shakira. If you’re really famous, even a part of a name is enough — like Hef or J. Lo. But Quincy Jones has them all beat — in the music industry, he’s known by a single letter: Q.

Along with his first name, it could stand for a few other things. Like quick-witted. Quintessential. And quiet. I’m willing to bet you’ve never actually heard Quincy Jones sing or play an instrument. Yet he is a musical giant. He’s been nominated for 77 Grammy Awards, more than any other artist. He’s won 26 of them. His career has lasted half a century. He’s worked in TV, movies and theatre. He’s been at the forefront of jazz, pop, rock and hip-hop. He helped make the largest-selling album in history.

How did he pull it off? Well, according to the consummate four-CD career retrospective Q: The Musical Biography, first and foremost, Jones succeeded by being a world-class composer, arranger, conductor and producer, a man with unlimited talented and a Midas touch when it came to crafting distinctively punchy yet sophisticatedly soulful songs and scores that struck a public chord. But perhaps even more importantly, he was also a world-class dreamer, a man with unlimited ambition who refused to let colour barriers detour him from achieving his goals.

As Q: The Musical Biography illustrates, he achieved more than most — and on a much wider scale. Stitching together 74 highlights from Jones’ various vocations, this set comes off less like one man’s resume and more like a history of 20th-century pop culture. Disc 1 features Q’s early jazz work, first as a trumpet player for Lionel Hampton (Kingfish features a rare solo), and later as arranger and conductor for a list of greats: Louis Armstrong (Faith), Duke Ellington (The Midnight Sun Will Never Set), Count Basie (I Can’t Stop Loving You), Ella Fitzgerald (I’m Beginning to See the Light), Gene Krupa (Let Me Off Uptown), Sarah Vaughn (Misty) and childhood friend Ray Charles (One Mint Julep).

For most people, that would be a career. For Jones it was just the start. Disc 2 captures his work in Hollywood: Film soundtracks like In the Heat of the Night, They Call Me Mr. Tibbs, The Colour Purple, In Cold Blood and The Wiz; and TV series such as Ironside (the first recorded use of a synthesizer), Sanford and Son and The Bill Cosby Show. Again, to Quincy it was just another stage in his evolution. In the ’70s and ’80s he became a superstar producer, and Disc 3 collects the finest moments of that part of his life: Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough, The Brothers Johnson’s Strawberry Letter 23, Paul Simon’s Something so Right, and the superstar fundraiser We Are the World.

Somewhere between all this, Jones found time to issue his own albums, which were typically star-studded affairs. The final disc in the set features 15 funky tracks from his own albums, with a who’s who cast list of rockers like Bono, hip-hoppers like Ice-T and Kool Mo Dee, soul men like Barry White and James Ingram and jazzbos like Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Josef Zawinul.

Most box sets are impressive pieces of work. But the sheer scale and impact of Jones’ career makes this one more impressive than most. Whether you appreciate big-band jazz, classic soundtracks, hip-hop and rap, soul, funk or jazz, Music Biography delivers the goods. All brought to you by the letter Q.