Monday, February 18, 2008


50 Years in Music—Live at Montreux
By Quincy Jones & Friends
Eagle Eye Media

Lionel Hampton certainly had an eye for talent. The orchestra he took to Europe included a trumpet section of future jazz greats Clifford Brown, Art Farmer, and Quincy Jones. Of course, Jones would find his calling not as an instrumentalist, but as an arranger and composer. In 1996, having made his living in music for fifty years, Jones and Montreux impresario Clause Nobs put together 50 Years in Music, an all-star concert celebration now available on DVD.

Jones starts with his first feature in the Hampton band, “Kingfish,” as well as “Stockholm Sweetenin,” with the Clifford Brown solo orchestrated for the full band. While there are many big name soloists, Australian trumpeter James Morrison, relatively unheralded in the States, often takes solo honors, as on “Kingfish,” where he outshines smooth practitioner Gerald Albright.

Jones has always sailed between genres at will, and here he brings a diverse cast into a big band setting. While Albright takes a while to acclimate to this context, David Sanborn (a veteran of many CTI sessions early in his career) fares much better, to his credit. On the ballad “The Midnight Sun Will Never Set” his solo is warm and gentle, but not sappy.

As a producer, Jones has worked with hall of fame vocalists. Recent Grammy winner Patti Austin swings the band nicely on standards like “Perdido” and “Shiny Stockings.” Guests from the pop world have more mixed results. Mick Hucknall of Simply Red, looking tragically British at times, just can not get out of Ray Charles’ shadow on “In the Heat of the Night.”

Conversely, Chaka Khan (not surprisingly), sounds perfect on tunes like “Miss Celie’s Blues” and “Dirty Dozens,” both from The Color Purple. She also lends her voice to “Walking in Space,” an arrangement which actually inspires Albright’s best jazz solo of the night.

Without doubt, the most effective guest is Toots Thielemans, the jazz harmonica legend, who brings his haunting sound to Ivan Lins’ “Septembro” and “Grace Notes,” the theme Jones wrote for the 1984 Olympics (I’ll hold my peace on the 2008 Games). (The least effective is Phil Collins, who just does not cut it as a big band vocalist, despite his declared ambitions.)

50 Years has quite a bit loaded onto one disk. The concert clocks in just over two hours, and there is another ten minutes of Jones and Nobs interview segments from a masterclass. Throughout the concert, the big band, including Morrison and members of Northern Illinois Jazz Band do the master proud. Like Jones’ career, not every selection is perfect, but in its entirety, it is pretty impressive.