Archives for posts with tag: Leon Ware

Playlist: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones, Quincy Jones (Doubleday, 2001)

Having recently read this account of producer Quincy Jones, a.k.a. ‘Q’s life, I’m inspired to assemble a playlist from his far-reaching and remarkable career. Taken from moments that struck me in the book as particularly germane to his becoming a living legend, the playlist covers influences, legacy recordings, and turning points that slingshotted him further and further into the straosphere of jazz and pop music.

The book itself is a quick read, especially for those like me who are jazz history wonks. Jones has worked, it seems, with nearly everyone to make a mark on jazz music and has set the stage for countless pop sensations, notably Michael Jackson. Jones writes about his humble beginnings, his brother Lloyd, his beloved father, and the troubling mental health saga that plagued his relationship with his mother. Various chapters are also contributed by guest writers and offer insights into his life story from those that see him differently than he does himself.

The book is a few years old but I found it timely and a fitting complement to the “Quincy” documentary currently streaming on Netflix (2018). Jones turns 86 on March 14, 2019.

My Quincy Jones Playlist

Listen on Spotify

[Jones’ credits: PD-Producer, CP-Composer, AR-Arranger]

“Fly me to the moon,” Frank Sinatra with the Count Basie Orchestra, 1965 [AR] // Jones had idolised and met Basie at the age of 13; they enjoyed a long professional and personal friendship.

“What I’d Say,” Ray Charles, 1959 // Charles was one of the first musicians that inspired Jones; they were 16 and 14 respectively when they first met.

“Kingfish,” Lionel Hampton, 1951 [CP] // Written by Jones at the age of 18; He joined Hampton’s band around this time, which was one of the hottest big bands of the time.

“Wail Bait,” Clifford Brown, 1954 [CP] // Jones toured Europe with Clifford Brown while they were both part of Lionel Hampton’s band; Brown included this Jones composition on his first album.

“L’il Darlin’,” Count Basie, Composed and Arranged by Neal Hefti, 1957 // Hefti wrote and arranged this number for Count Basie; Jones states that it was a master class of “in-the-pocket tempo,” and served as a lesson that stayed with him all through his life.

“My Old Flame,” Dinah Washington from the album, For Those in Love, 1955 [AR] // The first album Jones did with Dinah Washington, who had advocated for him with her record label before he gained widespread notoriety as an arranger.

“I Can’t Stop Loving You,” Count Basie, 1963 [AR] // This recording earned Jones his first Grammy award.

“Firebird Suite,” Igor Stravinsky, 1910 // Jones has a second-degree connection to Stravinsky, via his tutelage by the great French teacher, Nadia Boulanger; Boulanger was a contemporary and friend of Stravinsky’s and was a teacher to many modern arrangers, including Aaron Copland, Philip Glass, and Michel Legrand; Jones had gone to Paris in part to work on arranging strings, an opportunity not afforded to black musicians in America.

“The Birth of a Band,” Quincy Jones, 1959 [CP] // Jones toured intensely through Europe with his own band and created this album around the same time period; The tour was a financial drain and lead to more commercial priorities for Jones upon his return to the USA.

“It’s My Party,” Leslie Gore, 1963 [PD] // Jones’ first hit as a Producer and of a pop song.

“Theme from ‘The Pawnbroker’,” Quincy Jones, 1965 [CP, AR] // Jones’ first major film score.

“Theme from ‘Ironside’,” Quincy Jones, 1967 [CP, AR] // The synthesizer used in the opening phrase was the first time the instrument was used for a TV score; In this period of his life, Jones was in demand for scoring but was simultaneously leading Frank Sinatra’s band at his residency at The Sands in Las Vegas.

“Walking in Space,” Quincy Jones, 1969 [CP, PD] // Shifting away from scoring and moving back toward Jazz, Jones recorded this early jazz fusion album. This was a year prior to Miles Davis‘ release of Bitches Brew, often said to mark the arrival of electric instrumentation in jazz music.

“Body Heat,” Quincy Jones, 1974 [CP, AR, PD] // Jones assembled a remarkable group of musicians for this steamy R&B/Jazz/Funk recording including Herbie Hancock, Hubert Laws, Bob James, and vocalist Leon Ware; The album was near-platinum, selling over 800,000 copies.

“Stomp!” The Brothers Johnson, 1980 [PD] // Jones produced all four multi-platinum albums by The Brothers Johnson; This song was co-written by Rod Temperton, a collaborator that would work with Jones and pen many of Michael Jackson’s monster hits, including “Rock with You” and “Thriller.”

“The Girl Is Mine,” Michael Jackson feat. Paul McCartney, 1982 [PD] // The first single from Thriller was a “red herring” according to Jones who worked with the team finishing the album while this track rose to Number 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100; Once released, the album and monster hits like “Billy Jean” and “Beat It” ‘inhaled the charts,’ writes Jones.

“We Are the World,” USA for Africa, 1985 [PD] // Jones’ account of this project and the now iconic recording session is a fun read.

“Beautiful Black Girl,” Quincy Jones, 1975 [PD, AR, CP] // This track from Jones’ Mellow Madness album featured spoken verse overtop beats and was a precursor to hip-hop. The rap on this track is courtesy of The Watts Prophets;  Q has often remarked that his generation and their fascination with be-bop is echoed in today’s hip-hop culture. The difference, he writes, is that hip-hop made it to the mainstream.

“Give Me the Night,” George Benson, 1980 [PD] // The only album Jones produced for Benson garnered three Grammy awards. The title track, which topped both R&B and Jazz charts was written by Rod Temperton. 

“Back on the Block,” Quincy Jones, 1989 [PD] // Jones won yet more Grammy’s, including Album of the Year, for this fantastic project that brought together masters of jazz and a newer generation of hip-hop artists. The album included a re-imagined version of Weather Report’s Birdland and featured its composer and Miles Davis protegee, Joseph Zawinul. Other greats like Ray Charles, Chaka Khan, George Benson and Miles himself also appeared on the album. 

“The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, 1992 [CP] // By this time, Jones had diversified into print media (Vibe Magazine) and numerous projects under his Qwest production banner. This foray into television was tremendously successful and, like many things Jones touched, made an indelible mark on pop culture.

“How Do You Want It,” 2Pac, 1996 // Tupac Shakur happened to date one of Jones’ daughters for a time. This track samples the title track from Jones’ Body Heat album and was released not long before Tupac’s murder.

“Setembro,” Quincy Jones, 1989 [PD] // This was the last recording by Sarah Vaughan; Jones has outlived many of his contemporaries and mentors; He was at Sinatra’s bedside in his final days and with Vaughan, who wanted to sing to the last.

 

Link to this playlist on Spotify

2017 Year in Review

I’m declaring 2017 the year of the West Coast Get Down. The West Coast Get Down is a collective of jazz musicians who feature prominently in my favourite music of the past year. Kamasi Washington, Terrace Martin, and Trevor Lawrence Jr., to name a few, delivered great jazz albums this year, each distinct in style but all revealing a deep musicality among all the players. To wit, Martin and Lawrence are currently touring as Herbie Hancock’s band, along with bassist James Genus. And my musical highlight of the year was seeing Kamasi Washington live in Toronto.

Honourable mention goes to a strong Canadian presence in some of the best R&B and electronically influenced soul from the past year. Musicians in Drake’s orbit like Majid Jordan and dvsn released some of my favourite songs of the year. Mary J. Blige’s collaboration with Montreal producer Kaytranada and Toronto based Badbadnotgood was another favourite.

 

Top of the album list for me is A Million Things by Rohey. Their debut delivers an amazing range of jazz, soul, and R&B but keeps it together in a well put-together album.

 

Albums

  1. RoheyA Million Things (Rohey)
  2. Kamasi WashingtonHarmony of Difference (Young Turks)
  3. Terrace Martin presents The PollyseedsSounds of Crenshaw, Vol. 1 (Ropeadope)
  4. Omar, Love in Beats (Do Right!)
  5. Thievery Corporation, The Temple of I & I (ESL)
  6. Trevor Lawrence Jr.Relationships (Ropeadope)
  7. Goldie, The Journey Man (Metalheadz)
  8. Moonchild, Voyager (Tru Thoughts)
  9. Farnell NewtonBack to Earth (Posi-Tone)

Song of the year for me goes to “Truth” by Kamasi Washington with a close runner up being it’s namesake on Goldie’s album, performed by Jose James. That track, although first penned by Goldie for David Bowie, is reborn with James on vocal – his best performance in years, in my opinion.

Songs

  1. Truth, Kamasi WashingtonHarmony of Difference (Young Turks)
  2. Truth, Goldie feat. Jose JamesThe Journey Man (Metalheadz)
  3. Heavy, RAC feat. Karl KlingEgo (Counter)
  4. Welcome Speech, CrackazatRainbow Fantasia (Local Talk)
  5. Telling the Truth, Mary J. Blige feat. Kaytranada and BadbadnotgoodStrength of a Woman (Capitol)
  6. My Imagination, Majid Jordan feat. dvsnThe Space Between (Ovo Sound)
  7. Can’t Wait, dvsnMorning After (Ovo Sound)
  8. Minute, No Way Back feat. Sophia Black (Enhanced Music)
  9. Come and be a Winner, Sharon Jones & The Dap-KingsSoul of a Woman (Daptone)
  10. iRise, Chantae Cann feat. Snarky PuppySol Empowered (Ropeadope)
  11. Get it Together, Drake feat. Black Coffee and Jorja Smith, More Life (Young Money)
  12. On My Mind (Acoustic) – single, Jorja Smith feat. Preditah (FAMM Limited)
  13. Way Back, TLC feat. Snoop Dogg, TLC (852 Musiq)
  14. Better Late Than Never, Waajeed, Shango EP (Dirt Tech Reck)
  15. Show You the Way, ThundercatDrunk (Brainfeeder)

New to Me

In my annual quest to discover older music, I found many gems but the most lasting from this year’s search is multi-instrumental reedist, Yusef Lateef. Lateef’s style is distinctly mellow but also inimitably cool. I’ve had his Eastern Sounds (Concord, 1961) and The Blue Yusef Lateef (Atlantic, 1968) albums on high rotation for most of the year.

Yusef Lateef

Most Anticipated in 2018

Three artists teased us with minor releases over the past couple of years and are overdue for full length albums in 2018.

  • Charlotte Day Wilson – An amazingly soulful vocal talent from Toronto released a brilliant debut EP CDW, in 2016. A new single, “Doubt,” was just released and bodes well for what’s to come.
  • Jarrod Lawson – His self-titled debut (2014) was one of the most solid solo male R&B records in a long while, mostly because of how pure it was in songwriting and vocal performance. His sophomore album is eagerly anticipated and I hope the wait will be over in 2018.
  • Ady Suleiman, Memories – Having released multiple singles and EPs over the last couple of years, Suleiman’s debut full-length album is set to drop in March. The first single, “I Remember,” throws the same high wattage of soul and reggae influenced vocals as his body of work to date.

Passings

This year, we lost some of my favourite vocalists and musical stylists in Al Jarreau, Leon Ware, and Frankie Paul. It was also sad to hear of jazz guitarist Chuck Loeb’s passing at the age of 61. Finally, Gord Downie, a national cultural treasure in Canada passed away in October, followed by a flurry of tributes from coast to coast to coast.

Al Jarreau performing live in Los Angeles
1977 © 1978 Bobby Holland

 

Album Review: Sun, Mario Biondi (Columbia, 2013)

8888056

Incognito’s Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Maunick produced this album, which no doubt drew coveted collaborators Leon Ware, Omar, and Al Jarreau. Chaka Khan also appears on “Lowdown,” previously released on Incognito’s Transatlantic R.P.M. album (Shanachie, 2010). Happily, the album lives up to the great promise this gaggle of musical legends holds.

I came upon Mario Biondi via his popular 2006 release, Handful of Soul (Schema). Cool jazz numbers like “This is what you are” and “On a clear day” were a perfect introduction to a remarkable jazz singing voice, one with as much personality as Sinatra’s or Armstrong’s.

Maunick’s treatment is noticeable on Sun, giving it more of a jazz-funk and soulful sound than the Cool Jazz sound of Handful of Soul. “Girl Blue” is a feel-good tune with the sweeping horn arrangements and backing vocals you’d expect from a great Incognito record. “Shine on,” “Deep space,” and “What have you done to me” are other uptempo tracks that Biondi attacks with relish and makes his own.

“Catch the sunshine” is a perfect melody for Leon Ware’s style but clashes a little with Biondi’s timber, which is too jarring against Ware’s easiness. This would have been a lovely track for Ware to sing solo. Likewise, Biondi’s voice is almost too powerful for the softly written “There’s no one like you.” Mario Biondi can certainly sing ballads but the arrangements on this track call for a much quieter touch than he can pull off without sounding contrived.

Biondi does, however, channel Barry White adeptly in at least a couple of tracks. “I can read your mind” has a Barry White vibe and Biondi has the voice to pull it off. “La voglia la pazzia l’idea,” sung in his native Italian, has a bossa groove and wonderfully lush strings arranged by long-time Incognito collaborator, Simon Hale. In fact, to disco heads like me, Hale’s arrangements steal the show in more than a few tracks on this album.

“Never stop” featuring Omar is a great tune and sounds like it could be a new hit from Bill Withers. Al Jarreau’s appearance on “Light to the world” is not quintessential Jarreau but it works. There’s very little scatting and the lyrical phrasing is much more relaxed than his vocal gymnastics masterpiece, “Take 5.” Still, it reminds us that Jarreau has a nice natural singing voice.

Although not a cohesive end-to-end listen, Sun has 13 full-length tracks offering lots to choose from for fans of jazz, soul, and the spaces in between.

Feature: 2012 in Review – New, New to Me, and those we lost

Reflecting on my musical discoveries in 2012, there were many but the theme that emerges is squarely in the 1970’s. That decade pre-dated my musical awareness, which only sprung in the Eighties. But thanks to great DJs and musical curators like Gilles Peterson (@gillespeterson), Jason Palma (@jasonpalma), Kon (@Kon1200), and Huggs (@huggs), I rediscovered an amazing slice of musical magic from the 70’s.

So here are my favourite finds, some new releases, and a reminder of some of the musical greats we lost this year:

New Releases:

New to Me: Re-discovered

  • Leon Ware – An impressive body of work from the 70s that blends soulful vocals, jazz-influenced arrangements, and a dose of disco. The track, “What’s Your Name,” in particular, kills.
  • Ahmad Jamal – Calming, patient jazz that I overlooked in my younger years
  • The Philly Sound – Velvety
  • Donald Byrd – My 70s music hero and a mentor to the Mizzell Brothers, my other 70s heros. Not mention Harvey Mason, a spectacular jazz drummer. Mason’s beats on “Flight time” drive that track more than any other instrument in the arrangement. Not a lot of drummers can do that.
  • D-Train – Groovy synth funk from the early eighties; Credit the keyboard genius of Hubert Eaves III. “Keep on” is simply addictive.

Notable Passings

  • Don Cornelius – Host of Soul Train
  • Donna Summer – Queen of disco
  • Jose Roberto Bertrami – Azymuth keyboardist, one of the world’s best on the Rhodes
  • Sam ‘The Record Man’ Sniderman – Toronto record shop pioneer
  • Dave Brubeck – Legend of jazz
  • Ravi Shankar – Legend of Indian Classical music

Most Anticipated Release in 2013: New album from Alice Russell (expected February 2013)

Happy and Peaceful New Year!