Quincy Jones has been in the record business for over 50 years. In that time through his musicianship (trumpet player, big band arranger), he has produced some of the greatest albums of all time. His jazz roots have influenced the likes of Michael Jackson (Off the Wall, Thriller), Patti Austin (Baby Come to Me) and James Ingram (How Do You Keep the Music Playing). His record company, Qwest Records, has also propelled several artists to well-known success (George Benson ‘Give Me the Night’); and has given them the ability to write and produce their own music (England’s New Wave Band ‘New Order’). With the release of his latest “Jazz Manifesto” in July, it’s a good idea to take a listen to the lesser known gems out there that reveal why the word “genius” should not be bantered around.
1. Jack Wagner – Lighting Up the Night
Best known for the role of Frisco Jones (singer turned superspy) on the daytime serial “General Hospital,” Wagner had a decent voice. His break out hits “All I Need” and “Lady of My Heart” (also produced by Quincy Jones) propelled him to the top of the music charts, but it is this lesser known album that showcases Q’s ability to take an alright-sounding voice into a listenable CD – 24 years later. Jones effectively infused the impromptu styling of jazz with synthesizers and intricate background harmonies. Wagner is not a belter and when heard live, he would strain to hit a high note. By bringing the background singers to the forefront of the choruses and bridges of nearly every song on the studio album, Jones shows his ability to reign in Wagner without intruding on his talent. Singles like “With Your Eyes” might seem dated with their overuse of electronic guitars; however only the musicianship of Quincy Jones has been able to reveal Wagner’s acting charisma through all the songs on this LP – in particular the duets “Love Can Take Us All the Way” and “I’ll Be There.”
2. Lesley Gore – It’s My Party: The Best of Lesley Gore
Remember “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to?” You might not remember the singer, but you’ve either hummed along or sang it at the top of your lungs at some point. Jones discovered Gore in 1963 and produced several hits for her beginning with the titled track of her greatest hits album. What’s amazing about it is that it’s not only up-tempo, but it’s a two minute and 22 second song with a well plotted-out story line. The man definitely has some skills.
3. Tevin Campbell – The Best of Tevin Campbell
Early in his career, Campbell had cameos in Prince’s film and corresponding soundtrack “Graffiti Bridge” with the song “Round and Round,” but it was with Jones’ record label where he found his lyrical home. A solid voice with well-written arrangements made songs such as “Can We Talk” (written and produced by Babyface) and ‘Tell Me What You Want Me to Do’ (written by Michael Narada Walden and Tevin Campbell and produced by Walden) modern R&B standards. Whenever you hear these tunes they sound as current and fresh as they did in 1993 and 1991.
4. Quincy Jones – You’ve Got It Bad Girl
This 1973 gem is an experiment that successfully blends jazz and R&B. The title track is smooth and melodic, while the most recognized song, Sanford and Son’s “The Streetbeater,” is an up-tempo harmonica laden brand of fun. Listen for a different rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” – a brave attempt on a classic.
5. Quincy Jones – In the Heat of the Night
Jones has produced a movie soundtrack in nearly each decade since the ‘60s. “In the Heat of the Night” is the definition of what a soundtrack does, which is bring back a flood of emotions that compels you to remember the scene in which the song was played. What’s amazing is that the longest song; with the exception of “Mama Caleba’s Blues,” is barely three minutes long.
6. Saafir – Boxcar Sessions
Jones believes that rap has the ability to take jazz to the next level as this 1994 rap-jazz infused album successfully attests to. The beats are hypnotic and compliment Saafir’s fast, yet clear style of rhyming.
7. Quincy Jones – Q’s Jook Joint
Although not his best work, Jones’ Jook Joint does have some bright spots. Tamia’s voice on “You Put a Move on My Heart” is reminiscent of Billie Holiday’s smooth, medium-pitched sultry sound. Also the re-imagining of “Moody’s Mood for Love” is a courageous attempt of reinterpreting a jazz standard.
8. Various Artists – The Wiz
With Jones at the helm, this soundtrack to the film far surpassed the sales of the Broadway musical’s album. With additions like Michael Jackson’s up-beat, yet self-depreciating “You Can’t Win” and the collaborative efforts with giants Ashford & Simpson and Luther Vandross, you have an amazing musical achievement in comparison to the mediocre movie.
9. Donna Summer – Donna Summer
Yes, Jones even had his hands in disco. You would not know that he played a part in the production of this album. Yet songs like “Finger on the Trigger” give Summers’ voice a sophisticated playfulness that only Jones can bring out.
10. Miles & Quincy – Live at Montreux
No music collection would be complete without this album. Produced and conducted by Jones, Montreux is not an album; it’s an experience. It is one of those rare records that you can listen to all the way through in one sitting. Though if you don’t have the time to sit and allow the music to envelop you, then the tracks “Summertime” and “The Duke” will leave you feeling temporarily satisfied.
Jones has managed to consistently keep on top of the music world, but he also managed to make his mark in the B-movie world as well, by providing the score for the 1971 film “Honky.” He even scored a Golden Globe nomination for his work in the film- the only nomination the picture received.
The main focus of the flick is the love story of a rich African-American girl that falls in love with a poor white boy. That causes hatred between their families and friends. It is a dated movie without much to recommend- except the exceptional score by Jones.
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