Despite many requests from Hollywood Bowl personnel over the years, it took the considerable influence of the HB Creative Chair for Jazz, Herbie Hancock — Quincy Jones’ musical mate on many an album — to get Jones to agree to perform at the venue. Both of them, of late, have gone far beyond their early works to an international stratosphere of diverse musicians and sounds.
And Hancock’s persuasion came just in time: to celebrate Jones’ 60 years in the music business — his seven Oscar nods, his 27 Grammys, his honorary doctorates and humanitarian awards — his innumerable achievements. Hancock brought his friend to the stage with the easily recognizable opening notes, D, E and F [the ‘dunh dunh dah’ part] of “Killer Joe.” (Bringing him out to any other song, other than, maybe “The Dude,” would just not have been cool.)
When it comes to “Q,” the question is not who has he played with but rather who hasn’t he played with. The answer: No one, for all intents and purposes. It would be impossible to name all of them, or even all of the genres he’s played, conducted orchestras in, or arranged, composed and produced in, or mentored in and had influence on.
This night, however, Jones kept his involvement to a little conducting and a lot of back stories. Impossible though it was to thoroughly cover his career in a nearly two-hour concert, fans nonetheless thoroughly enjoyed the mixture of bands, combos, singers, duets and film footage of Jones doing what Jones does best: everything.
It was a night for Jones to showcase many of his past mentees and new ones, his old friends and new discoveries. He said he hoped people came to party, that he wanted make his fans’ hearts and souls smile. And so it was.
The first full piece of the night was Jones’ very first composition, arrangement and solo in 1951. Written when he was 18-years-old while he was a trumpeter with Lionel Hampton’s big band, the piece clearly shows the swing influences of Hamp.
Next were up-and-coming artists: a gifted vocalist Nikki Yanofsky(“Sweet Georgia Brown”) and pianist-composer, Chick Corea-influenced Alfredo Rodriguez, who showed off his talents on a spectacular original solo piece, “El Guije.”
Then, there was a history lesson: Jones explained that in 1962 he got a call. The caller said, “Q” [which, he noted, is the first time he’d ever been called that], would you consider doing a record with [Count] Basie and me?” The caller: Frank Sinatra, Sr. The result: Jones’ first arrangement for Frank Sr., “Fly Me to the Moon,” now being sung by Frank Sinatra, Jr. As Jr. sang and supreme saxophonist Ernie Watts soloed, premium black-and-white film footage of Sr., Basie and Jones was projected on the two large HB screens. A pretty amazing sight, really, considering the year.
With Jones now conducting the band, popular Japanese singer Seiko Matsuda flourished with “Sukiyaki,” as did Gloria Estefan, Patti Austin, Siedah Garrett, Nikki Yanofsky and Emily Bear on “Miss Celie’s Blues.” Remember, in 1985 Jones co-produced Steve Spielberg’s adaptation of Alice Walker’s “The Color Puple,” the film that introduced audiences to the acting chops of Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey. The crowd saw still photos of Jones, Goldberg and Spielberg.
Nine-year-old Emily Bear played her very own boogie woogie version of the classical “Flight of the Bumblebee.” Quite a feat. Cameroonian guitarist-bassist, Richard Bona, who’s the master of African jazz fusion, opted to show off that genre and his vocals and jammed on “O Sen Sen” with the Global Gumbo All-Stars.
A TV medley of Jones-composed TV shows, featuring “Hikky Burr” (Bill Cosby) and “Sanford and Son” (Redd Foxx) and “Ironside,” all compositions characterized by Jones’ signature heavy brass instrumentation, was a fun walk down a 1970’s and ‘80s TV land.
The first half of the show ended on an “Ai No Corrida,” Patti Austin high. She still sounds and looks as good as she did when she recorded the tune in 1981.
After a brief intermission came a few opening strains of “We Are the World,” followed by a yellow-suited James Ingram. In introducing him, Jones asked that this night, Ingram’s megahit “Just Once,” originally written as a romantic ballad, instead be thought of in terms of world peace, this while images of kids from around the world were projected on the screens.
After crooning his way through the song, Ingram was joined by his “Baby Come to Me” partner Patti Austin for a truly sexy rendition of the 1982 ballad, as still black-and-white pictures of the 20-somethings young couple, standing behind Jones on piano, were projected. Fans of soap opera “General Hospital” will recall that later that year, the duet became the theme song for leading man Luke Spencer.
Now came the funk in yo’ face, with both Brothers Johnson and an All-Star Rhythm Section, featuring bass funketeer Nathan East dueling with Louis Johnson on “I’ll Be Good to You.” Again, there was vintage footage of Ray Charles, Sarah Vaughan, Chaka Khan and Jones from the “Back on the Block” recording of the “Good to You” session.
Gloria Estefan’s “Home” (written by Charles Smalls for “The Wiz”; he won a Tony in 1974 for Best Score for “The Wiz)” was a powerful throwback to that anthem.
Another highlight: Siedah Garrett’s tribute to Michael Jackson, with whom she co-wrote and sang on the 1987 self-reflective “Man in the Mirror” song. Of course, it was an emotional homage to her co-writer.
Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo’s 1947 “Manteca” brought actor Andy Garcia out to bang his bongos and Arturo Sandoval to blow his trumpet and featured outstanding solos by Paulinho Da Costa on percussion and Francisco Mele on drums.
The night ended on an unexpectedly spiritual note, with Jones respectfully asking people to do something that would “mean a lot to him”: first, to “give themselves the biggest round of applause for the life they’ve lived.”
And secondly, he “begged [them] to do [him] a big, big favor”: to stand up and hold hands and come together while Take 6’s “Septembro” from Jones “Back on the Block” played quietly in the background.
And then, Jones asked the crowd to repeat a litany of inspirational vows … Wow … That was deep.
But when you’ve been in the business for 60 years, if you ask, they will oblige. And all did.