By Michael Katz
In 1970, when I started collecting jazz albums, one of my first was Quincy Jones’ Walking In Space. I’d heard the title tune from the show Hair on the radio, along with the killer version of Benny Golson’s “Killer Joe.” I’d recognized many of the soloists: Hubert Laws, Freddie Hubbard, Toots Thielemans. But who was this Quincy Jones guy? I thought I’d discovered someone. Of course, he’d already had a career most people would envy by that time. The big bands, the film and TV scores, the work with Sinatra and Basie. And he was just getting started.
When the opening notes of Quincy’s still-fresh arrangement of “Killer Joe” introduced his six-decade retrospective at the Hollywood Bowl Wednesday night, it was clear that Q’s jazz roots would be well represented. The All-Star big band behind him included Tom Scott and Ernie Watts on saxophones, Gary Grant and Jumaane Smith on trumpets, Andy Martin and Bill Reichbach on trombones, Nathan East, the musical director, on bass. There was also a lively performance of Q’s first recorded composition, “Kingfish.”
But it was the diversity and continued vitality of his life that dominated the evening. His Global Gumbo All-Stars ranged from nine year old pianist Emily Bear and seventeen year old jazz vocalist Nikki Yanofsky to veteran Brazilian percussionist Paulinho Da Costa. The sounds were Brazilian and Cuban and Japanese; jazz, blues, rhythm and funk. ”Fly Me To The Moon” to “Moonwalk.” All of them brought together by the man who has seemingly been everywhere and done everything in music, with an unerring sense of what will touch the public consciousness.
It would be hard to pick out one star, but Cuban pianist Alfredo Rodriguez showed he was ready to break out on his own. Those of us who’d seen him before were familiar with his dazzling technique, but in his one solo, “El Guije,” he showed his ability to weave in classical themes while sensitively alternating tempos, capturing the large Bowl crowd in uncharacteristic silence. Later, he teamed up with bassist/vocalist Richard Bona and percussionist Francisco Mela on Bona’s “O Sen Sen.” Although Bona’s vocals were a bit over-amped, these were three dynamic artists you would love to see record together.
An impressive group of female vocalists assembled to perform “Miss Celie’s Blues” from The Color Purple. Gloria Estefan, Patti Austin, Siedah Garrett, Nikki Yanofsky (with Emily Bear on piano) were spirited as a group, then shone individually throughout the program. Seiko Matsuda performed “Sukiyaki” in lovely fashion.
The second half of the program was largely devoted to the rhythm and funk of the last few decades, with James Ingram singing “Just Once” and teaming up with Patti Austin for a soulful “Baby Come To Me.” The Brothers Johnson rocked the house with three numbers, then gave way to an extended Michael Jackson tribute.
Throughout the evening, Quincy Jones lent his own observations to the proceedings. He noted poignantly that when Jackson passed away, he was the same age as Quincy was when he produced Thriller. Jones then left the Thriller tribute in the hands of the songwriters. Steve Porcaro, assisted by old friends and bandmates David Paitch and Steve Lukather performed a rousing “Human Nature” and Siedah Garrett shone in her rendition of “Man In The Mirror.”
From a jazz standpoint, Quincy saved the best for last. He led the band in the Dizzy Gillespie/Chano Pozo classic “Manteca,” with special guest stars Arturo Sandoval providing ear-shattering trumpet cadenzas and Andy Garcia sitting in on bongos. Andy Martin contributed a rousing trombone solo and Alfredo Rodriquez gave another demonstration of his fireworks. It reminded one of how much Quincy Jones’ heart and soul remains in the large jazz ensembles.
To close the show, Q led the audience in a type of benediction, the crowd holding hands and repeating pledges to care for each other, strive to make the world a better place – the biggest applause came from his plea to halt the “dumbing down of the culture” and the biggest laugh his plea for others to “stop stealing music.” It uplifted the entire crowd. For a few moments everyone could feel like ingredients in the Quincy Jones Global Gumbo, a singular achievement in today’s fractured world.
To read more reviews and posts by Michael Katz click HERE.