Friday, January 15, 2016

"Nothing New In Quincy, But ..." By BILL MATHIEU

© -  Steven A. Cerra - copyright protected; all rights reserved.


At the time of this article’s publication in the January 7, 1960 issue of Down Beat, Bill Mathieu was a young (22) Chicago arranger who spent 1959 as a staff writer for the Stan Kenton orchestra. For three months of '59, he played trumpet with the orchestra as well. An album of his arrangements by the Kenton orchestra, titled Silhouettes of Standards, was due for release by Capitol in the next few months.

Mathieu was not new to the writing of words, however. Born into a publishing family — his father retired recently as publisher of the Farm Quarterly, Writer's Digest, and Writer's Yearbook — he wrote music criticism all through his years as a student at the University of Chicago.

This perceptive criticism on the music of Quincy Jones was his first appearance in Down Beat.

To locate more information about Bill and what he is up to these days, please visit his website at www.coldmountainmusic.com.

Of course, Quincy has gone on to a legendary career in the music business and you can “keep Up With Q” by visiting him at his website - www.quincy jones.com.

“Wherever there is an artistic tradition, there are artists within it who are culminators (those who take what has been said in the past and re-say it more completely than anyone before them) and there are artists who are innovators (those who break from the tradition which spawned them). Both kinds of artists are rare, but the culminators are the rarest, for it is through them that a culture's expression reaches its highest point of maturity.

Among a culminator's attributes must be empathy and respect for tradition, clairvoyance, and simple good taste. It is the last quality — taste — that is the most difficult to come by.

Now jazz is largely a music of immediate, sensual, emotional release, especially Negro jazz, which is generally less restrained, more flamboyant. The value of Quincy Jones lies in this: he has come up with the perfect combination — a tasteful, cumulative application of the elements of a tradition rich in its unrestrained emotional appeal.

Quincy Jones is, both by his own description and by the nature of his music, a culminator rather than an innovator. His music contains nothing new; rather, it contains nearly everything of value that has been done before.
But this viewpoint, even coupled as it is with his excellent taste, is not enough to make his music as good as it is. The deciding factor is that Quincy is not only of but also beyond his tradition; beyond, I believe, because he has more information, a greater knowledge, a farther horizon, than most of the men who created that idiom from which he draws. These are the qualities (as I mentioned) which allow an artist to become the ultimate expression of his history.

SOME MUSICAL EVIDENCE

Listen to Whisper Not (a beautiful piece, analysis or no analysis) on Quincy's Birth of a Band album (Mercury MG 20444). Right after the normal exposition of the tune, there is what seems at first to be a little coda orchestrated for unison saxes and cup-muted trumpet, a perfect instrumental echo of Zoot Sims' sound. Then Sims begins to play, and what we thought was a kind of coda now is seen to have been an opening of the door for the soloist, an ideal bridge between the written counterpoint of the exposition and the improvised homophony of the development.

But the beauty lies not so much in the device as in the rapport between the improvisor and the writer's interpretation of the improvisor.

Here is another example, more lovely than the first and proportionately more difficult to describe. First listen to Clifford Brown's solo on Stockholm Sweetnin' (Prestige LP 167). Then listen to the same tune on the big band recording (ABC-Paramount 149). On the latter disc, with infinite reverence, Clifford's earlier solo is orchestrated. If there has ever been a synthesis between the emotional freedom of jazz on the one hand and cerebral, conscious, esthetic control on the other, here it is. The result is the last word to be said from either point of view.

HOW TO GO COMMERCIAL WITHOUT LOSING YOUR MIND

When a truly good writer has to write a commercial arrangement, even if the content of the music is terrible, the results are usually worth listening to. Strangely enough, Quincy's commercial writing shows off his technical skills to better advantage than does his serious work. His orchestrational abilities are prodigious. For a lesson in commercial (or any) orchestration listen to the record he made with Eddie Barclay's band in France (United Artists UAS 6023). The combinations of timbres, the balance of the instruments, the great concern for the musical integrity of each voice (try to pick out the second or third harmony parts to see what I mean), the careful unfolding of the arrangements, all these are most recognizable in this particular album. Another thing which makes this record especially valuable to arrangers is that there are very few improvised solos — that is, the written arrangement must sustain interest over an extended period of time. Any arranger who has suffered the pain that this problem can cause will be interested in Quincy's settings of these 10 insipid French popular songs.

SO?

In all of Quincy's writing there is not one sound that has not been heard dozens of times before. In fact, the very essence of his work becomes clear when we realize that what we are hearing is not a new invention, but a fresh reiteration of the past, a distillation of what has gone before. Because of this culminative approach, this composer means more to us than pleasant diversion. Those of us who are interested in the historical development of jazz can discern in this music a summing up, a tying together of many loose ends, a step altogether necessary before the next forward step occurs.

All is not praiseworthy in the writing of Quincy Jones. There are many breaches of taste (horrid ending chords, for example) many overworked, meaningless cliches (orchestrated pyramids built on perfect fourths). But the amazing thing is that his work misses the mark so seldom.

It is impossible to say whether Quincy Jones will continue his career from this present point of view. There is something in his music, some kind of restlessness, uneasiness, which suggests that the culminator and the innovator will be realized in the same man. Perhaps some day Quincy will begin to feel the weight of the chains which bind him to his tradition. Perhaps not. But whatever his future, he has already done the world a service.”

Looking back at Bill’s concluding remark about Quincy from the vantage point of 2016, one might be tempted to say that it was the epitome of understatement.

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