Tag Archives: Quincy Jones

“The Band is his Orchestra/The Sounds of Delight”- A Riquespeaks feature series on Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones turned 84 earlier this month, in a year that has already seen the passing of such musical luminaries as Junie Morrison, Clyde Stubblefield, Al Jarreau and most recently, the cornerstone of Rock & Roll Chuck Berry. It is going on eleven years since we lost James Brown, who Quincy was three months older than, and we just lost Prince last year. It is now seven years since we lost the man who’s career is seen as Quincy’s foremost musical legacy, Michael Jackson. A few years ago, Quincy’s close friend and Montreaux Jazz Festival founder Claude Nobbs passed on in a skiing accident. But Quincy remains a unifying figure, one who speaks to the history of African American music in the 20th century and how that tradition can be carried on into the future and recognized as a key contribution to world heritage.

One very interesting project that Q had on the table during the administration of President Barack Obama was to get music and American culture in general cabinet level recognition in the United States. He was not able to get that project accomplished, though I’m sure he gave it his all. Although that particular project was not successful, Quincy has used his own music and albums as a platform toward that very same aim.

Respect and appreciation for Quincy Jones was something I grew up with, outside of his production for Michael Jackson. His work with M.J might have been the main reason I was checking for this “old jazz guy” as a kid, but the facts are, my father was a serious Quincy Jones fan. I grew up hearing albums like “Quincy Jones plays the Hip Hits”, and “The Quintessence.” My father highly respected Q as somebody who took the mantle from the great jazz composers and arrangers such as Duke Ellington, Thad Jones, Oliver Nelson, Jimmy Lunceford, Benny Carter, Gil Evans, and so many others. Q was highly proffesional, had trained at the future Berklee School of Music back when it was called “The Schillinger House”, and has also trained in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. He also was one of the first Black arrangers to be involved on an ongoing basis with film scoring.

Through all of this, Q was developing a particular brand of musical magic that prepared him perfectly to deliver three of the best selling, most incredible examples of American popular music ever assembled, namely, “Off the Wall”, “Thriller”, and “Bad.” Now I don’t mean to make these three albums the focus of Q’s entire career that encompasses so much of whats good in American music, from Count Basie, to Frank Sinatra, to The Brothers Johnson, Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughn. But what I will do with this series is talk about how the unique musical, experiential and spiritual gifts of Quincy Jones were present throughout his career on his solo albums, which really meant Michael Jackson was stepping into a rolling train when he and Q began work on “Off the Wall.” Which also made possible the later star studded success of “The Dude” and “Back on the Block.”

The different musical approaches of Q’s albums, from his skillful use of guest stars, his choice in cover songs, his incorporation of his portage’s compositions, his usage of tones such as flutes mixed with synthesizer leads, his dipping into the old blues and African styles, his jazz based pop language, and his strong rhythm sections manifest themselves on his pre “Off the Wall” and “The Dude” albums. So this particular series will focus on how Q innovated this genre of the producer led album, which is a genre that would later give us great musical works such as Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic.” Q really brought “The Producer” out as a star and musical artist in a way few have done. His skills as a producer were based in his skills as a composer and arranger, but when he reached the peak of his career he no longer needed to write or even arrange the tunes on his album. He mastered the very modern musical skills of setting the right tempos, choosing the right artists, both instrumentalists and vocalists, choosing the right songs, and a million other musical details that went beyond the magic of simply sitting at the piano or holding a guitar and writing a song. This magic of the producer is one that has been appreciated more and more by the music industry and the public at large in recent years. And it’s one I intend to explore in depth, from “Walking In Space” all the way to “Juke Joint”. Q’s success with MJ and his other R&B/pop hybrids in the 1980s was definitley not a fluke, but something masterminded by one of the greatest social musicians we’ve seen, the great Quincy Delight Jones!!!

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Filed under A little Hip in your HOP, All That Jazz, Appreciation, Black Issues, FUNK, Give me My Flowers While I'm Alive, Merry Go Round Music, Music Matters, Rearview 20/20 Hindsight (aka "History"), Social Timing

Music 4 the Nxt 1 Black History Month Special

Black History Month is admittedly one of those things my opinion of has vacillated on through the course of my life. When I was a young child in school I enjoyed it more than anything else in my school curriculum. I have always been the type of individual who views the acquisition of knowledge with the attitude of exploration and discovery. And Black history, both in Africa and America having the “Hidden” quality that it does, due to suppression, ignorance, arrogance the profitability of subjugation and domination. My parents always had a strong sense of Black history simply from their backgrounds, my father being born in the Depression era south and being active in the Civil Rights movement, and my mother being a Liberian with a rich understanding of both Africa and her country’s roots in being established as a haven from American slavery and white supremacy. Still, I don’t think the majority of Black parents want to overburden their children with sad and negative messages. So even with my parents having the knowledge of things that they did, some of the most substantial information would come out when they were watching and responding to news items.

I was fortunate enough to have Asian and white teachers in Oakland, California who were very responsive and understanding of the predominantly Black demographics of their school, under the guidance of Mrs. Kelly, a strong Black Principal, to inject Black and multi cultural information into the curriculum. I still remember my kindergarten Teacher Ms. Huen giving us red envelopes for Chinese New Year, which is also this month, and marks the return of my birth sign, the Rooster!

So I always enjoyed learning about Carter G Woodson, Lewis Latimer, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, Phyllis Wheatley, W.E.B DuBois, Madame C.J Walker, and the numerous other luminary figures who against all odds contributed to America and kept Black people alive to get to the point we are today. Many of their inventions and discoveries proved to me a truth my father related to me from his experience down south, that a great many things were invented by very hands on Black people who were tasked with getting the work done and took it upon themselves to find an easier way to get those tasks accomplished.

Then when I grew up, in the Def Comedy Jam ’90s, I got innundated with the same jokes as everybody else, about how they “gave Black people the shortest month.” Which totally overlooks the contributions of Carter G Woodson and the fact that Black History Month is a BLACK invention. More recently the line has been “Black history is all year round”, which is one that I wholeheartedly agree with and try to practice on this blog and my other writing activities. However, just as with holidays, wedding anniversaries, birthdays and other events, there is a reason Human beings choose dates to commemorate things. There is a great power to Human ritual that we sometimes forget in our modern fragmented world, a certain purification of purpose and inspiration. And it’s in that spirit that I’m adding a supplement to “Music 4 the Nxt 1” in honor of Black history month. I will still review funky songs but the scope will expand in terms of era, genre, and locale. I will cover songs of inspiration, songs in honor of Black historical figures, and songs that were just breakthroughs or inspiring to Black people at any given point of time. These grooves will come from Reggae, Soul, Funk, Rock, Gospel, Spirituals, Jazz and many other genres. I hope that my readers enjoy it and that it reminds you of the struggles, accomplishments, joys, pains and exultations of peoples of African descent and why it is critical our position continue to be strengthened for the good of all.

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Filed under A little Hip in your HOP, All That Jazz, Appreciation, Black Issues, FUNK, Merry Go Round Music, Music for the Next ONE, Music Matters, Rearview 20/20 Hindsight (aka "History"), Social Timing

Music 4 the Next 1 “Loose Ends edition”: “Franceessence” by Robert Glasper

When Don Cheadle set out to assemble the creative team for last years Miles Davis biopic, “Miles Ahead”, he was very much concerned with assembling a creative team for the film that would reflect the ways in which the great trumpeter and musical conceptualist bandleader’s musical conceptions remain relevant in the 21st Century. After all, Miles was a musican who grew up with the blues, swing and bebop, and was collaborating with Prince and Easy Mo Bee in his last years. The films late ’70s setting also meant that someone like Wynton Marsalis with his more conservative outlook would be totally inappropriate. The musician Cheadle settled on for the film was pianist Robert Glasper, a jazz pianist who’s relative youth and involvement in Neo Soul and Hip Hop mark him as a successor to the musical and social values of musicians like Davis and his most famous collaborators, such as Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul, Michael Henderson, Mtume Heath and Reggie Lucas, and a host of others. Glasper responded with two albums, one a score of the movie, and another an album that featured modern takes and remixes of mostly unreleased Davis material. The song “Franceessence” is a song that plays underneath a tender love scene in “Miles Ahead” between Don Cheadle’s Miles Davis, and Emayatzy Corinealdi as Frances Davis. The song itself is a beautiful Fender Rhodes driven tune that in its own beautiful way harkens back to Miles ballads from albums such as “Neferetiti” and other albums in the early stages of his involvement with what would be called “fusion.”

The song begins with a beautiful downward stepping chord introduction from a lushly chorused and vibrating Fender Rhodes. The downward stepping “Call” is then responded to by the piano itself, with acoustic bass underneath, both playing a phrase that goes up an interval and comes back down. Just like that a languorous, romantic, candlelit/twilight mood is struck. In the background a sweeping, wind like effect gathers like a storm. A beautiful melody comes in, with a very complex sound playing a simple, tender melody. The melody sounds as if it’s being played by flute, flugelhorn and Rhodes together, which in itself is a very Quincy Jones like combination of sounds. After the melody makes its gentle statement, the Rhodes punches in sharp chords and a muted trumpet fills in. The next time the melody is stated the flute sound is predominant, while Glasper runs arpeggios underneath and the trumpet ornaments the phrases. The flute improvises for a while while the trumpet adds poking and pleading phrases in at sparse intervals. The short interlude plays out beautifully as a duet for muted trumpet and flute as the track floats into wonderland.

I had “Miles Ahead” on one day at my home when the love scene flashed on, and besides being enjoying the romantic maneuvers on screen I was struck by Glasper’s tune. I thought it was a Miles tune from those days I somehow missed, and it also reminded me of the early fusion ballad sound that Quincy Jones would use both in his movie scores and on his albums. I must admit I actually had to resort to the “Shazam” app to find out who made this song! Which was sad because I already had the CD from the week it came out! “Francessence” is a lovely mood tune in the tradition of electric jazz film music and another example of the versatility of Robert Glasper in composing music to suit many different occasions and eras.

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Remembering Louis Johnson

If American pop culture was tailored to the tastes of those folks Amiri Baraka described as “Blues People”, there would have been a video game called “Bass Hero” last decade. Imagine video game cartridges with illustrations of an animated Bootsy, or Larry Graham. Chuck Rainey, and Anthony Jackson, Victor Wooten and Marcus Miller. James Jamerson, and one with a special edition for keyboard bass, featuring Stevie Wonder, Billy Preston, Herbie Hancock, Bernie Worrell and Junie Morrison among others. Two of the funkiest and most popular games would undoubtedly be for two bass players who’ve now unfortunately passed on. Both of them came to prominence in the 1970s and took the bass advancements of the ’60s to a new level of visibility. Jaco Pastorius of Weather Report has been gone for a long time. Last month the great Louis Johnson joined him.

Louis Johnson’s death shocked me because at 60 years old I still considered him a young man. He was a young man relative to two other legends we lost last month, The great Kings, Ben E. And B.B. But I think the reasons I will forever view Louis Johnson as young have to do with his athletic, muscular style of bass playing, and the album cover to his first album with his brother George, “Look Out for #1”

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Now by the time I came along in the early ’80s, that first Brothers Johnson album was one of the newer ones in pops collection. By that time he was already moving into tapes and CDs and most of his vinyl had jazz era scenes on them. But “Look Out for #1 had two young black men on the cover with monster afro’s and nothing but blue sky behind them. Even a few years later in the design conscious ’80s that was a powerful statement. Then I remembered Dad telling me Quincy Jones was their producer, the same man who was producing Michael Jackson’s music, which was the biggest music in the world.

The essay on the cover of an album told a story of two young musicians, the guitar playing Brother George who’s nickname was “Lightning Licks”, and the bass playing Louis, “Thunder Thumbs.” Then when I heard the music I was mesmerized by “Get the Funk Out Ma Face.” I had no idea where the groove was coming from and even less idea of how Louis was making his sound. At that time all I knew of bass was it was a low deep sound I liked, but I was clueless to the actual techniques of bass playing.

I had also heard The Brothers Johnson tune “Stomp”, but Louis sounded different on that, more rounded and smooth, until he whips out his relentless bass riff on the bridge. Then Quincy Jones released “Back on the Block” and amazingly there was a song from The Brothers, “Tommorow”, this time with lyrics sung by Tevin Cambpell!

As my musical appreciation grew, so did my appreciation of The Brothers Johnson. The two brothers from LA took the soul music world by storm in the ’70s, playing with Billy Preston and Bill Withers. This eventually lead to their work with Quincy Jones on his “Mellow Madness” album. With Q’s production, and their own songs and unique, sibling synced funk, they blew all the way up on A&M. I’ve always viewed The Brothers Johnson as one of the bands in Funk that truly had the right situation to show off their talents and get their music to the people. This led to Gold and Platinum albums and their cover of Shuggies Otis’ song “Strawberry Letter 23” being one of the classic songs of the ’70s.

George Johnson was the super cool vocalist and primary songwriter on most of their big hits, but Louis bass style made him an in demand session bassist in the mold of Chuck Rainey, James Jamerson, Carole Kaye, and Anthony Jackson. What was unique about Louis career was by the time he came along, people were finally hip to how much a strong bass line could do for a song. And he came to the plate with a flashy, powerful, super hip bass style. Larry Graham, Bootsy and Louis are probably the Trinity of funk bassists in terms of both style and recognition. Louis Johnson would be hired on record gigs basically to play Louis Johnson. This is significant because some great bass players get gigs with the expectation of them being versatile and playing what ever you put in front of them. Though Louis had some versatility as well, you hired him to bring the sound of Louis Johnson to your track, much as you would a great jazz soloist.

This led to one of the most successful studio careers in history, in what was both a golden age and a twilight for studio musician work. He played funk, soul, pop and jazz gigs. The more I grew as an enthusiast of records I’d discover things like the fact Louis was playing on Grover Washingtons “Feel So Good” album. It was like his groove was so powerful it was it’s own genre or style, you would hear a record with dope bass and be grooving to it without even knowing who was playing it. Then you’d find out it was Louis Johnson. And though he was known for slap, many times you would hear him playing finger style and the effect was the same. All ears on the bass! He most definitely helped pave the way for today’s world of star bassists like Marcus Miller and Victor Wooten.

I finally got the chance to see Louis perform here in the Bay Area in the mid ’00s. There is footage on the Internet of him teaching bass and he seemed like a very nice, soft spoken, cool person, which is a trip when you think of how aggressive his bass style was. I really can’t formulate any words of wisdom or way to summarize how I feel about Louis Johnson because he’s been a constant in my life for a long time, through his music. We still have his music of course, as well as footage of him teaching. But I think I feel good about his legacy when I see that girl play his classic bass part to Michael Jackson’s “Get on the Floor”, one of the meanest bass tracks in history. Yeah. That makes me feel much better….

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