Quincy Jones has a vast wealth of experience to share and in "Q On Producing" he takes the first steps in sharing it. "Q On Producing" is the first book in the multi-volume "Quincy Jones Legacy Series", and has been put together by author and audio expert Bill Gibson from a year's worth of in-depth interviews with Quincy Jones. Some of those interviews have been included on the accompanying DVD so you can see for yourself some of the highlights of those discussions. As one of the most famous record producers in the world, it is fitting that he should kick off this series with a book on Producing. The book is not a step-by-step manual on how to produce but conveys much valuable advice on the fundamentals of the craft, using biographical examples from his own distinguished career with legendary artists like Count Basie and Ray Charles and his ground-breaking albums with Michael Jackson.
After a scene-setting Introduction, the book begins by describing "The Man" and rightly so - you need to understand Quincy's background and career to appreciate his approach to music. It is a rags to riches story which begins in the ghettos of 1930s Chicago. The young Quincy first encountered music as an impressionable 11-year-old and he threw himself into music as a young teenager, learning and practicing any instrument he could during and after school. In a section entitled "Respect All Genres" Quincy sets out how he learned different genres of music, a perspective which no doubt played a huge part in his career where his music broke barriers and mixed genres. Ray Charles was 2 years his senior and mentor, and the two boys would play at white country clubs, then rhythm and blues at black strip clubs before playing bebop in the red-light district.
The next chapter is also fundamental to understanding the man. "Soul and Science" describes two complementary aspects of music, but it also very ably describes two formative chapters in his musical education. Music has its scientific side - the key skills in knowing how music is constructed and the "soul" of instinctive emotional connection to music and how it affects people. In Quincy's case he learned much about the "soul" of music before his more serious education on music theory. For this more formal musical education he studied at the Berklee School of Music, one of the first colleges to embrace jazz and contemporary music. He also studied European classical music in Paris with Nadia Boulanger, the French composer and teacher who taught many famous composers and musicians. As Nadia commented about jazz musicians - they "shack up with music first, then they court it before marrying it later". This could equally describe the career of Quincy Jones.
Then begins the meat of the book as it explores the craft of the music producer from a variety of angles. We see how Quincy's career as a bandleader and arranger gave him an intimate understanding of music and musicians. Along the way he worked with many of the key defining artists of the 1950s and 60s. He worked with Count Basie (who took the young Quincy under his wing), Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Dizzy Gillespie and Lalo Shifrin. He studied with Boulanger for 5 years and got to know the music of Stravinsky and Ravel. When oportunities came his way he grabbed them, and worked with the best artists - Frank Sinatra (who first called him "Q"), Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Andy Williams, Dave Grusin, Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder, Tony Bennett, Aretha Franklin. At times the book reads like a "who's who" of 20th century music, but this simply highlights Jones' central position in the music of those decades. As Jones himself observes in the accompanying DVD "you just couldn't plan (a career like that)".
Chapter 5 is about The Engineers - Quincy talks about the key engineers he has worked with, and they talk about working with him. Along the way you learn about some of the different recording methods used at the time. During this period Quincy worked his way to become vice president of Mercury Records. Then there's a whole chapter about his work with Michael Jackson - Q produced three of his solo albums - Off The Wall, Thriller and Bad, plus also Michael's work on the musical "The Wiz" and the film tie-in album "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" which Michael Jackson narrated. At the time people didn't understand Jones' work with Jackson, because it was pop music rather than the music Quincy was brought up on. But it was true to Quincy's ability to see between and beyond established genres. The success of that partnership (with Thriller still being the biggest-selling album of all time) is clear for all to see. The partnership also meant that Quincy understood the importance of dance to Michael and hence the power of music videos. Of Thriller Quincy says "People didn't get it at first"... until the video was released.
The book explores the importances of personal relationships to his career. As a bandleader and arranger Jones had a very close relationship with his musicians, understanding their capabilities and inspiring them to be themselves and achieve their potential. As a music producer these relationships expand to included the engineers and the pivotal relationship with the artists. Jones describes the producer-artist relationship as a deep meaningful relationship of mutual respect. The producer must manage the overall concepts for songs and albums, but he must also allow the artists to be engaged, with the freedom to exercise their own creativity and produce their best work. Jones also shares his thoughts on the importance of song order in albums, and there are a lot of discussions about the albums and songs he has produced.
In the same way that Jones' talent was nurtured as a young boy by Ray Charles, Count Basie and others, he has also nurtured the talents of his own artists and has participated in various schemes to mentor and encourage students of music. And he also works with and inspires today's artists with LL Cool J being just one example. Quincy also shows fatherly pride in the achievements of his son QD3 (Quincy Delight Jones III) who is also a record producer. The book is richly illustrated throughout in the style of a coffee-table book. The middle secion in particular if full of photos and illustrations, with handwritten scores and posters, recording key moments in Jones' career, and many photos of the producer with his artists, musicians, students, and many famous participants in the world of music and entertainment. As we said in the introduction this is not a manual on producing but an autobiographical look at the art of producing. You won't learn about the nuts and bolts of producing, but you will gain a rounded view of what Producing entails and you will gain an understanding of the world's most successful producer and his work ethic.
Bill Gibson's website (at www.billgibsonmusic.com) states that the next two books in the Quincy Jones Legacy Series are "Q on Film Scoring and Songwriting" and "Q's Proteges", so we're looking forward to those at mfiles.
We have been able to include just a few of the many photos included in "Q On Producing". Click on any of the images above to see an enlarged version in a new window.
Here are the amazon links for "Q On Producing" plus his autobiography "Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones", plus the album "Q: Soul Bossa Nostra" released in 2010 which contains cover versions of some of Quincy's songs with an emphasis on Hip-Hop.