Any music fan over a certain age could well shudder on hearing an act referred to as “relevant”. Simon Cowell uses the word over-frequently on The X Factor about turns he might find marketable for the next six months. Acts boast of “still being relevant” which only means they haven’t been kicked off the Radio 1 (or Radio 2) playlist or that it doesn’t yet look unseemly for the lead singer to have his or her arm around a 21 year-old.
Organisers of the Proms may have been thinking of the adjective when evenings devoted to Brahms, Bach, Beethoven and Bartok were joined by other Proms aimed at a newer audience. After the Royal Albert Hall opened up this decade to celebrations to mark Stephen Sondheim’s 80th birthday and Steve Reich’s 75th, there has been an Ibiza Prom (where going all Pete Tong was a pre-requisite), a couple of 6Music Proms, a Strictly Come Dancing Prom and last month’s Prom dedicated to the music and memory of David Bowie.
Duke Ellington famously said: “as far as I’m concerned, there are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind.” Like most of us, Ellington would have baulked at categorising the music of Quincy Jones, with whom he worked, and to whom a Prom is devoted on Monday 22nd August.
Since starting as a 19 year-old trumpeter in Lionel Hampton’s band in the early ’50s, before becoming a band-leader, film-scorer, arranger, songwriter, composer, producer and bossa nova enthusiast, Jones has rarely strayed to “the other kind.”
With a career almost as long as a night at the Grammy Awards (for which he was nominated 79 times and won 28 times), Quincy Delightt Jones Jr glides across musical genres like a figure skater with a train to catch. It is the quality rather than the diversity of his work which really delights and makes his Prom such an intriguing prospect.
He scored for films as disparate as In The Heat of the Night, The Italian Job and The Color Purple. His jazz credentials – touring Europe with Hampton, MD’ing Dizzie Gillespie’s band to his live album at the 1961 Newport Jazz Festival, working on Miles Davis’ last recorded album – are as close to impeccable as it gets. If you arrange and compose a record entitled This Is How I Feel About Jazz, and Charles Mingus is playing bass, Milt Jackson’s on vibes and Billy Taylor’s on piano, you’ve already made your intentions crystal clear.
He arranged for Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Peggy Lee.
His work with Sinatra started with an invitation from Princess Grace to organise a benefit at the Monaco Sporting Club and continued with It Might As Well Be Swing, Frank’s second album with Count Basie.
Jones will almost certainly be best remembered for his three albums with Michael Jackson. Off the Wall is arguably the best of the trilogy. Jackson was 21, hungry, fresh off The Whiz and keen to move way from his child Motown star to solo artist. The producer assembled a cast list including Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Toto’s Steve Porcaro and Patti Austin to play on a record which sounds like Studio 54 in a living room. By Thriller, they ruled the world. Sales estimates dating to December of last year lost count around the 100m mark.
Jones’ other masterpiece, his 1981 solo album, The Dude has songs from some of the greatest music scenes of the previous 15 years including Motown (Kathy Wakefield, Stevie Wonder), disco (Cleethorpes’ Rod Temperton, the architect of Rock with You and Thriller) and the Brill Building (Cynthia Mann & Barry Weill). The Dude, recorded years before The Big Lebowski, deployed two of the best American soul singers, James Ingram and Patti Austin. Its fingerprints are all over much of the work of Quincy’s former son-in-law Mark Ronson. Like any skilled conductor, Quincy Jones knits great musicians together.
He will again on Monday evening, with the heavy baton passed to Buckinghamshire’s Jules Buckley, 36, overseeing the Netherlands-based Metropole Orkest through a selection of the Quincy canon. Jones is expected to be at the Albert Hall. All being well, they won’t play We Are The World, meaning that Land of Hope and Glory is likely to remain the most toe-curling tune played at the venue this summer. Buckley has promised to play at least three Michael Jackson tracks and his film work, jazz records and, you’d imagine, something from The Dude.
If you like soul, disco, pop, funk, jazz, bossa nova or any other kind of good music, you may find this relevant.