Quincy Jones is a man, a myth, and a legend, yet he is so much more than that. The arranger, producer, author, and all-time great film composer’s body of work is a massive tidal wave of ingenuity and creativity, a gift that keeps on giving through the years. Recently, the quintessential artist was celebrated at Quincy Jones’ 90th-Birthday Tribute: A Musical Celebration at The Hollywood Bowl, where artists and fans paid tribute to their dear friend and idol, including Stevie Wonder.
On night one of the two-night event, with only two hours of showtime, it was difficult to leave even the faintest of scratches on the surface of Jones’ career with that amount of time. I mean, his film scores alone, including The Color Purple, The Pawnbroker, and The Italian Job, could be celebrated over a week-long concert series.
However, the event masterfully captured the beauty and soul of the artist. It wasn’t only a nostalgic interpretation of Jones’ past work, but featured artists offering fresh new takes on his classic collaborations with Frank Sinatra and Michael Jackson. Then again, Q’s work is timeless. He was ahead of the time, and the time is still catching up. Anyone who starts collaborating with Ray Charles at the mere age of 13 is simply going to race past time in the lane of the arts.
Now, let’s talk Wonder. When Wonder took the stage, the crowd erupted with joy. Whether the artist was singing or recanting stories, he had the audience smiling and feeling exactly what anyone should at a Quincy Jones celebration: radiant, tangible positivity. Wonder took the stage and sang with his signature joyfulness that makes one want to dance immediately.
At one point, the artist took time to reflect on the first time he met Q. Wonder was 14 years old when he ran into him at the legendary Apollo Theater. “I heard someone say, ‘Oh, here comes Quincy Jones,'” Wonder shared. “OK, I run down the stairs, jump past somebody, and say, ‘[High-pitched, teenage voice] Is that Quincy Jones?’ ‘Stevie?’ ‘Yeah. You know Ray Charles?’ ‘I do.’ He said, ‘Someday, you keep on doing your thing and maybe we’ll have a song at our fingertips…’ ‘Yeah, I’ll keep on doing my thing.’ My God, I never imagined in my life I’d meet this man. Maybe around ’72 or ’73, when I was working on ‘Innervisions,’ I heard Quincy Jones had done two of my songs. Amazing, I thought, Quincy Jones did our music? As a matter of fact, he did ‘Superstition,’ but he had Ray Charles on ‘Superstition.’ Forget about it. It was amazing. I always loved his arrangements, and to hear Ray do the song, I mean, they didn’t even have to talk to me… A million times, I thank you Quincy, and I love you Quincy, but you know that.”
Wonder performed “Betcha’ Wouldn’t Hurt Me” from the album “The Dude,” and “You’ve Got It Bad Girl” from “Talking Book.” With the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and conductor Jules Buckley alongside Wonder, it was a special moment. Everyone in the crowd knew that and felt that.
The Hollywood Bowl celebration was a full night of love — a feeling Jones’ music has captured for decades. Love songs are a dime a dozen, but Q’s love songs are the love songs. Everyone on stage did them justice — the good, the bad, and the melancholic. We could go on and on about the extraordinary talent that graced the stage: The co-writer and co-singer, Siedah Garrett, behind “Man in the Mirror,” would’ve blown the roof off if there was a roof at the Hollywood Bowl; Aloe Blacc‘s cover of “Fly Me to the Moon” was probably the closest thing, musically and soulfully, to Sinatra live we could experience these days; and Vula Malinga, Avery Wilson, and Siedah Garrett all knocked their Michael Jackson covers out of the park with both grace and rock.
In the week since the event, one performance continues to melt my heart and mind: Sheléa‘s cover of “You Put a Move On My Heart.” There are many wonderful takes on that beautiful song, but my God, Sheléa brought something to it almost difficult to put into words. I won’t do it justice. You had to have been there to hear it. The Grammy nominee’s voice soared and moved; it was the sound of a heart going through the ebb and flow of love. If love has a voice, it probably sounds like Sheléa’s voice. The Quincy Jones’ 90th-Birthday Tribute: A Musical Celebration at The Hollywood Bowl called for nothing short of transcendent moments such as that one.
Q’s music is unparalleled, and nobody else can touch it. It’s as simple as that. All of the talent, friends, and collaborators gave an unneeded reminder, but a reminder nonetheless, that Quincy Jones is a master not only of music but also of passion. He brings it out of everyone, his collaborators and his listeners, from across the world. Jones is 90 years old, but his music is just getting started in inspiring the artists of today and tomorrow.
Here’s the full set-list:
Soul Bossa Nova with Alfredo Rodriguez, piano
Misty with Samara Joy
Fly Me to the Moon with Aloe Blacc
How Do You Keep The Music Playing? with Patti Austin
Betcha Wouldn’t Hurt Me with Stevie Wonder, Patti Austin
You Got It Bad Girl with Stevie Wonder
Just Once with John Legend
She’s Out of My Life with Ibrahim Maalouf
You Put a Move On My Heart with Sheléa
Stomp with BGV
Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ with Angélique Kidjo, Ollie Brown
Rock With You with Avery Wilson
Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough with Stevie Mackie
Human Nature with Jacob Collier/Suzie Collier
Billie Jean BJ the Chicago Kid
P.Y.T. with Vula Malinga
Thriller with Avery Wilson
Man In The Mirror with Siedah Garrett
Let The Good Times Roll with Patti Austin, Samara Joy, Jacob Collier, Gregg Field (guest drums), Alfredo Rodriguez, Ibrahim Maalouf
Happy Birthday with Stevie Wonder, joined by all guests for finale