Recorded live on July 14th 2008, Claude Nobs, the founder and CEO of the Montreux Jazz Festival, held a concert to celebrate the 75th birthday for his dear friend and mentor Quincy Jones. Among the guests are many associated with Quincy’s music career over the years, and what a career it was. Upon examination, very few made the impact Quincy did on Twentieth Century pop culture.
Back around 1951, Quincy started as a trumpeter for Lionel Hampton’s band and soon gained a reputation as an arranger, working for the likes of Sarah Vaughan, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington. During the ‘60s, not only did he work with Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, but he also began composing scores for films and television, such as Sidney Lumet’s ‘The Pawnbroker’ and ‘Ironside’. During the 1980s, he co-produced Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’, the charity single ‘We Are The World’, and the film ‘The Color Purple’, which he also scored. He has received the most Grammy nominations with 79, of which 27 he has won, and he still continues to work.
The concert is mainly comprised of songs Quincy has arranged and The Montreux In The House Band, led by keyboardist/concert producer Greg Philliganes, and/or the Swiss Army Big Band back the performers. Herbie Hancock starts the festivities performing a jazz version of Ennio Morricone’s theme from ‘The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly’. Patti Austin comes out and trades scat vocals with Hancock’s keyboards. She returns for ‘Makin’ Whoopee’ and joins playful, saxophonist James Moody on ‘Moody’s Mood’. Later, he raps over drums on ‘The Television Song’.
Freda Payne sings Fats Waller’s ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ and ‘Shiny Stockings,” both from the 1963 album ‘Ella & Basie.’ Unfortunately, the band drowns out her vocals at times. Simply Red’s lead singer Mick Hucknall sings a soulful medley of ‘I’m Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town / In The Heat Of The Night’. Johannes Walther plays a muted trumpet underneath, creating a duet, and Phillinganes presents some good organ work on the bridge.
Al Jarreau’s vocalization and phrasing on ‘Midnight Sun’ are a tad odd. When too soft, Larry Williams’ piano and The House Band drown him out as well. He even occasionally distorts his vocals from the way he sings into the microphone. From the well-detailed liner notes the song’s connection to Quincy isn’t clear.
Petula Clark serves up “One Mint Julep,” but Paul Jackson Jr.’s guitar-playing is the standout. Paolo Nutini joins Clark for ‘Goin’ To Chicago Blues’; however, the song is about a couple breaking up and their age difference created an awkward dynamic since she could be his grandmother.
In 1991, Quincy and Miles Davis performed at Montreux. Trumpeter Franco Ambrosetti bravely steps into Miles’ shoes and does a fine job on ‘My Ship / Summertime’ taken from ‘Miles Ahead’ and ‘Porgy and Bess’. The camera gets in tight to show his closed-eyed concentration while his pursed lips are at work. He adds a mute for ‘Summertime’ and he creates the anguish from the lyrics.
In 1962 Nana Mouskouri met Quincy and he suggested she go to New York to record a jazz album. James Morrison augments two tracks from that time, ‘Smoke gets In Your Eyes ‘and’ Almost Like Being In Love, on trumpet and trombone respectively. Patti Austin pairs with Chaka Khan for a duet over Phillinganes’ keyboards on ‘Miss Celie’s Blues (Sister)’ from ‘The Color Purple’.
The Marvin Gaye classic ‘What’s Going On’ begins with violinist Tobias Preisig mimicking a vocal. Ledisi and Rahsaan Patterson then step in for the vocals. Alto flautist Alex Hendriksen gets some solo time followed by Morrison on trumpet. Harmonica player Toots Thielemans also some of the spotlight, but once the rest of the band kicks in to close the number out, they drown him out. Thielemans remains with the House Band for “Eyes of Love (Carol’s Theme) / Bluesette’. While Wikipedia claims he’s considered “the world's greatest jazz harmonica player,” he certainly didn’t show it this evening, not that he would be expected to still hold that title at 86.
Chaka Khan returns for ‘Walking in Space’ and is joined by guitarist Lee Ritenour who really gets the song swinging. Ritenour stays out and Nutini retakes the stage. For those that need the funk, they perform The Brothers Johnson ‘Strawberry Letter 23’. Patti Austin belts out her rendition of James Ingram’s “How Do You Keep The Music Playing,” making it her most powerful performance of the night. “The Dude” finds Al Jarreau again buried in the mix at different times.
The best performance of the night comes from a capella group Naturally 7 who knock everyone out with their beat-boxing. They create realistic-sounding drums, bass, and even scratching the ‘Billie Jean’ record. They segue into their ‘Wall of Sound’ and rightly receive a standing ovation.
Beniniose singer Angélique Kidjo shows great variety with ‘Mama Aifambeni’, the Main Title Theme for ‘Roots’ and then Donna Summer’s ‘State of Independence’. Herbie Hancock plays the spacey-sounding keytar on ‘Cool Joe, Mean Joe (Killer Joe)’. He trades licks with bassist Nathan East on another swinging number.
‘Stuff Like That’ closes the show with just about every performer taking part. It was a tad chaotic and they obviously hadn’t rehearsed since only a few singers had microphones. Quincy joined them on stage, thanking everyone for taking part and humbled by the endeavor.
While ‘Quincy Jones – The 75th Birthday Celebration’ provides a great history lesson, the performances are uneven, making it tough to sit through over two and half hours. However, when everything gels, it all seems worth it.
The 1080i/AVC MPEG-4 transfer looks absolutely brilliant and almost gives the sense it is being watched through a window. The visuals are crystal clear and through the combined talents of the camera crew and editing team, there’s almost never a moment where something is out of focus, an impressive feat for a concert where the performers aren’t concerned about the cameras. The stage lighting mainly uses white light with limited blue and pink highlights. Most people wore muted colors and skin tones stayed consistent. The textures are well delineated and defined from the designs of clothing to the wrinkles in musicians’ hands during close-ups. Many men wore striped shirts, but it wasn’t until Al Jarreau’s thinly stripped shirt that the technology was pushed to its limits and aliasing showed up.
The audio comes in DTS Master Audio 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1, and LCPM 2.0 Stereo. I stuck with the DTS track for the most part and occasionally flipped through the other two. All the instruments sound clear and distinct though they are not positioned on the soundtrack. They have a great dynamic range and never distort at the high or low ends, although some of the ‘80s-sounding keyboards came close. While the surrounds augment the music, they provide little atmosphere from the audience. There were occasional problems with vocals getting overpowered in the arrangements, but that is an issue with the source because many of the older performers couldn’t compete with the volume of the band as noted above.
LCPM 2.0 Stereo is an adequate alternative, offering a similar mix through the fronts. Dolby Digital 5.1 has a small dynamic range, even flat at times, and is not worth the space on the disc.
Although not a greatest hits collection since a few classics didn’t get covered, like ‘Soul Bossa Nove’, ‘Quincy Jones – The 75th Birthday Celebration’ should please his fans and intrigue new listeners who will be surprised at the breadth of his career. While there is unevenness in the quality of the performances, there is plenty of material to compensate the occasional skip-ahead. On a positive note, the liner notes state, “All profits from the sales of this Blu-ray will go to the Quincy Jones Foundation.”