It’s simple: modern music would not be what it is today without Quincy Jones. The 82-year-old musician/producer/arranger/composer/entrepreneur/humanitarian has worked with everyone from Michael Jackson and Frank Sinatra to Stevie Wonder and Miles Davis, and has had a hand in bringing to life such diverse pop-culture touchstones as The Wiz, “We Are The World,” and even The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air. Jones is an icon in a world lousy with pretenders, an innovator with a laundry list of firsts (first African-American to hold a top executive position at a major record company, first African-American musical director for the Academy Awards, to name a few), and a legend whose influence still reverberates today.
On Saturday, April 11, at Alverno College’s Pitman Theatre, DJ Jordan “Madhatter” Lee (pictured above) will pay tribute to that influence with “Jones Uncovered,” the penultimate show of Alverno Presents’ 2014-15 season. In his quest to reimagine the music and legacy of Jones, Lee will be joined by some of the city’s finest musicians, including Lex Allen, Evan Christian, Klassik, Painted Caves, Robin Pluer, Kiran Vee, and many more. In advance of that show, Milwaukee Record presents just a few highlights in the already highlight-filled career of Quincy Jones.
1. Releases This Is How I Feel About Jazz (1957)
Jones was 24 when he released his debut album, This Is How I Feel About Jazz. It was an impressive debut, but just as impressive was the list of accomplishments the young artist already had under his belt: playing trumpet with Lionel Hampton in Europe, touring with the Dizzy Gillespie Band in the Middle East and South America, and arranging songs for the likes of Ray Charles, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington.
2. Produces four hit singles for Lesley Gore (1963-64)
When singer Lesley Gore died earlier this year, she left behind a handful of classic songs, many of them produced by Jones. Four of them—“It’s My Party,” “Judy’s Turn To Cry,” “She’s A Fool,” and “You Don’t Own Me”—all hovered near or reached the number one position in the U.S. charts between 1963-64, with each selling over one million copies.
3. Arranges and conducts Frank Sinatra and Count Basie’s It Might As Well Be Swing (1964)
Jones had a long and productive collaboration with Frank Sinatra that spanned three decades. 1964’s It Might As Well Be Spring (Sinatra and Basie’s second collaboration) was Jones’ first studio recording with the Chairman of the Board.
4. Produces The Wiz soundtrack (1978)
NBC recently announced that The Wiz will be the network’s next live musical (following The Sound Of Music and Peter Pan). Jones served as the musical supervisor and producer of the 1978 film version of the original Broadway production, which reimagined The Wizard Of Oz with an all-black cast, including Diana Ross as Dorothy and Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow.
5. Produces Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall (1979)
Thanks to his years with the Jackson 5, Michael Jackson was already a star in the late ’70s. Off The Wall wasn’t his first solo album, but it was the one that transformed him into, you know, Michael Jackson. The Jones-produced record opens with “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough,” “Rock With You,” and “Working Day And Night,” signaling the beginning of Jackson’s reign as the King of Pop and his fruitful collaboration with Jones.
6. Produces Michael Jackson’s Thriller (1982)
To quote a Dave Chappelle sketch about Michael Jackson’s less-than stellar reputation in the ’90s and ’00s: He made Thriller. Thriller. And Jones produced some of the album’s biggest songs (along with Jackson), including “Beat It” and “Billie Jean.”
7. Produces and conducts “We Are The World” (1985)
Is “We Are The World” the height of ’80s cheese? Yes. Has it raised over $63 million for humanitarian causes since its release in 1985? Yes it has. Written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, and co-produced by Jones, “We Are The World” was a pop-culture juggernaut, bringing together top-shelf artists like Jackson, Richie, Tina Turner, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Willie Nelson, as well as Huey Lewis, Kenny Loggins, and, yes, Dan Aykroyd.
8. Produces Michael Jackson’s Bad (1987)
It’s probably no coincidence that Jones produced Jackson’s three greatest solo albums. (The Jones-less Dangerous comes in at a close fourth.) Bad may not be a wall-to-wall Thriller hit machine, but it still contains some stone-cold classic songs: the title track, “Smooth Criminal,” and “The Way You Make Me Feel.”
9. Arranges and produces Back On The Block (1989)
Back On The Block isn’t quite a classic album, but its assembled talent is a testament to Jones’ wide-ranging influence. Everyone from Ella Fitzgerald and Miles Davis to Ray Charles and Ice-T appear on the record.
10. Produces and conducts Miles & Quincy Live At Montreux (1993)
Recorded at the 1991 Montreux Jazz Festival and released two years later, Miles & Quincy Live At Montreux found Davis looking back on his career and turning in a raw, honest, and emotional performance. It would be his final collaboration with Jones, and his final recording before his death in September of 1991.
“Jones Uncovered: A Re-interpretation Of The Music Of Quincy Jones” takes place Saturday, April 11 at Alverno College’s Pitman Theatre. The show begins at 8 p.m. Tickets ($25) are available online or at the Alverno box office.