Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones
by Quincy Jones
Published by Doubleday
412 pages, 2001
Buy it online
The Ride of His Life
Reviewed by Tony Buchsbaum
Jazz, baby. Jazz. Infectious, infuriating, luxurious, supple, sweet, bitter, smooth, smoky, crystalline, rough, tattered, instrumentalized, scatted, dreamy, fierce, perfectly formulated jazz. If one might dare to set a life to music, the life of Quincy Jones would have to be set to jazz. And that's likely the way he'd want it.
But not some riff we've heard before. Not played by some top-notch combo or some sizzling big band or even some lonely soloist on some beaten-up piano shoved into a corner. If Quincy Jones's life were set to jazz, then it'd be the kind of jazz no one's ever heard before. It'd be the kind of jazz not even Quincy Jones has heard before -- and that's a tough one, 'cause he's heard and had a hand in everything. And I mean Everything with a capital E. (Not sure? Then get your hands on the jaw-dropping new 4-CD box set, Q: The Musical Biography of Quincy Jones.)
You think you know him. And if you've ever listened to even one of his many albums, you might be right. You probably do know him -- at least the version of himself that made the album. But Quincy is a chameleon. Drop him into a new environment and he's a new cat. That's his gift. But it's not his only one. His book, Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones illuminates because, in many ways, it's a snapshot of all those Quincys who made all those albums. Or more to the point, all those Quincys who made all that music.
The book was written mostly by Quincy, of course. But it's got whole chapters written by people who've known him throughout the years. His old friend Ray Charles. His ex-wives Jeri Caldwell-Jones and Peggy Lipton. His brother Lloyd Jones. His daughters Kidada Jones and Rashida Jones and his son Quincy Jones III, sometimes called Snoopy. His friend, rapper Melle Mel. And others. These people know Quincy. They love him. They respect him. They brought him magic and they were given magic in return. They are members of his Big Band.
You wouldn't think someone so insanely talented in music would be able to write so well. I mean, the man is a songwriter, an arranger, an orchestrator, a movie score composer, a music producer, a film producer. Where the hell does he get off being able to write, too? It's infuriating. But write he does.
It gets under your skin, his way with words. He somehow paints whole scenes, critical scenes, with relatively few words, everything pared down, cut way back to its essence. His childhood in Chicago and Seattle. His instantaneous, life-altering, falling-in-love with music in his early teens. His first road trips as a performer, then later as bandleader. His first European tour. His numerous liaisons with women. His wives. His children. His successes and his rare failures. Somehow, Quincy Jones paints all of this in strokes both broad and intricate and, for the life of you, you won't be able to figure out how he does it. But it enthralls.
Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones has a rhythm, you might say the rhythm of a life. It tracks his vast and varied career through all those early adventures to the period when he became a producer of projects like We Are the World, the Michael Jackson album Thriller, the movie The Color Purple and his recent forays into rap and his unique fusion of rap and jazz and all the musical styles he has loved all his life.
To Quincy Jones, there seems to be no such thing as a boundary. And really, why should there be? To tell the truth, not even the covers of the book are able to hold him. The words fairly burst from the pages and flow over the covers. They reach out not to touch you, no, but to take hold of you. You might be tempted, after finishing the book, to say that Quincy Jones has done one great job composing his life in the way one composes music. It's a temptingly easy parallel. But it's the wrong one to draw.
The secret to Quincy Jones' life is found elsewhere. His love is not composing but arranging. And the job of an arranger is to pull elements together. Instruments. Players. Sounds. Styles. Signature riffs. Notes, each one carefully selected and given its own color.
Quincy Jones hasn't composed his life. Rather, he's arranged it. The fact that it was so successful is a bonus. He didn't arrange the success. He arranged the life itself. Day to day, year to year, opportunity to opportunity. He simply did what he loved and he was damn lucky to be great at it, and that people knew he was great at it.
It's a reason to be jealous. But it's much more fun to rejoice with the man and let him take you for the ride of your life. That is, the ride of his life. | January 2002
Tony Buchsbaum is the author of Total Eclipse. At night he works on another novel and a screenplay. Days, he writes advertising copy in Lawrenceville, NJ, where he lives with his wife and sons.