Guest reviewer: Toby Broom August 2020.
Quincy Jones, giant of 20th century popular culture. Quincy Jones, the polymath: trumpeter, bandsman, arranger, scorer, orchestrator, song writer, musical writer, writer, band leader, tour empresario, A & R, record label executive, record label owner, music publisher, publisher, conductor, film scorer, record producer, film producer, TV producer, media mogul, educator, mentor, talent scout, philanthropist, not-for-profit director, political activist…
Q: The Autobiography Of Quincy Jones does not just leave the reader marvelling at the accomplishments or shaking their head in wonder at the who’s who of 20th century popular culture Quincy Jones worked with (the index is a joy in its own right); the miracle of Jones’ story is that any of it happened at all. The central theme of Q is the horrors and emotional scars of Jones’ childhood, the bonds it created with his father, brother and other siblings, and the drive to succeed and transcend his background it engendered. Q relates a south side Chicago ghetto childhood rendered yet more nightmarish by his mother’s schizophrenia. Sarah Jones is a ghost-like presence throughout the book. To escape, Jones Snr, a carpenter, drives Quincy and brother Lloyd to Seattle to begin a new life of horrors at the hands of stepmother Elvira.
(Pub. Hodder and Stoughton 2001).
Music, in the form of a trumpet, is Jones’ escape and his get-out-of-jail card from his home life and Seattle. The rest Jones puts down to chance meetings (Ray Charles, Lionel Hampton, Nadia Boulanger, Frank Sinatra, Henry Mancini, Clarence Avant…) and being given chances which talent, drive and a prodigious work ethic enabled him to capitalise on. Musically, Jones also attributes his longevity and range to exposure to a 360’ ‘gumbo’ of 20th century music. Always at heart a be-bopper (enabling him to see a connection to hip hop from the outset) Jones’ musical mastery embraced everything from R & B, swing, big band, jazz, classical, film and TV scores (In Cold Blood, Ironside, Fresh Prince of Bel Air…), ‘pop’ (Give Me The Night, Off The Wall, Thriller…) and everything in between. Quincy Jones also triumphs, eventually, in the business of music, owning through joint ventures with (white) corporate giants the means of production and control as a fully-fledged media mogul.
The private Quincy is as fascinating as the public. Through shared trauma, the bonds with brother Lloyd and his other siblings are movingly expressed. Jones’ relationships with the mothers of his children are tenderly and candidly related with Jones never shirking responsibility for his failings either through infidelity or workaholism or both. The other details of Quincy’s love life are a riot – Dinah Washington, Juliet Greco, nights out with Sinatra, a girl in every town on tour, dancers, singers, air stewardesses… As guest contributions to Q from many of the women in Jones’ life show, none bore him much ill will, but the childhood traumas experienced by his only son, Snoopy, are laid bare for the reader to draw their own conclusions about music lifestyle casualties.
Q takes Jones’ story to 2001, but as the 2018 Netflix documentary Quincy showed, he was just pausing for breath at that point. A remarkable life, a remarkable book.
(London) August 2020.