As he approaches the 75th anniversary of his birth (March 14, 1933 in Chicago) Quincy Jones can look back on a full life. Unusually for someone who is not a singer or an actor, he is a superstar. If his autobiographical book and the 1990 documentary film about him are perhaps ambiguous as to whether he sees himself as a superstar, there is no question that is how he is regarded by others. Musicians are quick to recognize pretentions or falsehoods, but such attributes are never mentioned in Quincy’s connection. Only admiration, and a certain amazement as to what he achieved, are the standard reactions.
During the period remembered here, his position was different. He was just establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with, and then consolidating that position despite a reckless desire to tour with a big-band. Though absurdly young, he was already set by the time of the first album under his own name, This Is How I Feel About Jazz. The manifesto-like nature of its title reflected an involvement with the music that stretched back at least ten years, when as a budding trumpeter Jones sought the advice of Clark Terry and Harry Edison, both members of Count Basie’s late-1940s band.
Perhaps it’s Quincy’s perennial identification with youthfulness and a determination to risk that led to his big band (not to mention so many of his other experiments). As he told down beat Magazine years ago, the big band grew out of a 1959 assignment to create an all-star, on-stage orchestra for the Harold Arlen blues opera “Free and Easy.” It was something that no jazz musician ever got to do before. The musical would tour Europe for six months, then Sammy Davis, Jr. would join the show for the Broadway run.
It didn’t quite work out that way. The musical closed abroad and the musicians Quincy assembled all needed work. It was also too good a situation for anyone to walk from, since the music and the ensemble were outstanding. For nearly two years, Quincy kept it going, and that longevity accounts for the warmth and subtle textures in the music.