Andy Polaris reviews the Quincy Jones concert
at London’s O2 arena
Quincy Jones Jr is a titan of 20th-century entertainment whose creative talent has spanned decades as composer, multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter, arranger, producer and publisher. He has received the most Grammy nominations, a staggering 80, and won 28, plus seven Oscar nominations, and a Jean Hersholt Humanitarian award in 1996 amongst other industry accolades. He has worked with superstars from Aretha Franklin, Frank Sinatra, Count Basie, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie to Michael Jackson. In 2018 a Netflix film Quincy won the Critics Choice Documentary award (see trailer below). More recently he has engaged in a series of celebratory retrospective concerts showcasing his work from film soundtracks to glittering soul, pop, disco and jazz-funk productions.
This sterling and unrivalled reputation is the main reason Q earns so much respect across generations for so much quality output in these genres. Sunday night’s concert was originally billed as seminal career highlights from Off The Wall/Thriller/Bad – the record-breaking trio of Michael Jackson albums he produced – to be played back to back with a funk band and full symphony orchestra. However, the concert’s promotional material was revised with Jackson’s album titles replaced by “Soundtrack of the 80s: Iconic songs and defining albums”. Many have speculated this resulted from the media frenzy over the disputed allegations in the Neverland documentary which aired on C4/HBO in April. The change in the concert program without initial explanation backfired when unhappy fans were complaining on social media and demanding refunds. This probably explains why unfortunately large blocks of seats remained empty in London’s 20,000-capacity O2 arena for what I imagine would have been an expected sell-out show for a premiere event of classic playback with the original producer and his selected musicians.
As I mulled this over, I was still in high anticipation as numerous band members and singers filled the huge stage and the recognisable opening bass chords of Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough filled the arena and the impressive falsetto of one of the backing vocalists brought it to life. The British diva Beverley Knight followed on, enjoying the guest vocals on the mid-tempo Rock Wit You and later on Baby Be Mine for what became the format for the evening where established singers (although to be fair to the audience, the American singers were not well known on this side of the Atlantic) featured alongside the five vocalists in Quincy’s orchestra. Daley, a white almost geeky looking student, got a collective shrug when announced but suitably appreciative applause when his sweet clear voice breezed through ballads Human Nature, She’s Out of My Life and I Can’t Stop Loving You. (A quick search on YouTube shows Daley is British and now resides in the US, has had millions of views and has worked with Jill Scott, Marsha Ambrosius and Jessie J.) Sheléa also astounded with soulful renditions of Lady In My Life and Liberian Girl, the latter a beautiful composition not often heard live.
The audience were on their feet with the irresistible percussive Wanna Be Starting Something and pretty much stayed that way for the rest of the two-hour show as we were treated to the formidable playlist of our youth unfolding before our ears thanks to the savvy musicianship of the band and huge orchestra, which even included a harp, all conducted and hosted by Jules Buckley.
The memory of Michael Jackson was ever present and how could it be otherwise? This was to be the venue scheduled for his ill-fated 50-date comeback tour before his sudden death a few weeks before the first show. It is difficult to untangle the slick choreography and MTV rotation videos of Thriller and Billie Jean when hearing songs for ever rooted in pop culture. This week sees the 10th anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death and despite the controversy and those clamouring on social media to cancel his music, the audience at this concert showed that, whatever your feelings, it’s nigh on impossible to crush the joyous memories and mood of his repertoire. (Even people on crutches were seen up on their feet feeling the groove.) The concert inevitably comprised predominantly Jackson mega-hits, skilfully reproduced by the vocalists. The orchestra’s lush strings augmented the experience for the audience, not normally being heard in a live performance.
Quincy’s extensive catalogue of other artistes provided the tail-end of the set with a spirited version of George Benson’s Give Me The Night and reliable renditions by British R&B singer Shaun Escoffery of James Ingram’s 100 Ways and Yah Mo B There. The finale saw the sprightly 86-year-old Quincy Jones graciously thank the audience and his friends including Naomi Campbell, Sir Bob Geldof and Georgie Fame, while he danced with his guests on stage to another dance-floor anthem, The Brothers Johnson’s Stomp.
As a teenage prodigy Quincy Jones had been tutored by Ray Charles and mentored by Count Basie, by 19 was touring Europe with Lionel Hampton for three years, at 24 studied at the feet of the godlike Nadia Boulanger in the American School at Fontainebleau, and soon after became a troubleshooting vice-president for Philips Records of Holland. Little surprise, then, that he grew into a giant influence and a co-creator of pop culture’s brightest musical landmarks that no amount of revisionism can diminish. “I can never distance myself from Michael and he can never distance himself from me,” he remarked on the O2 stage. I for one cherish the good times associated with his lasting legacy.
Soundtrack of the 80s set list
[Backing vocalists shared leads on those songs without a featured guest vocalist]
Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough
Rock With You featuring Beverley Knight
Off The Wall featuring Jonah Nilsson
She’s Out Of My Life featuring Daley
Wanna Be Starting Something
Baby Be Mine featuring Beverley Knight
PYT Pretty Young Thing
Lady In My Life featuring Sheléa
Human Nature featuring Daley
Billie Jean featuring Jonah Nilsson
Thriller featuring Jonah Nilsson
The Way You Make Me Feel
Liberian Girl featuring Sheléa
Just Another Part Of Me
Man In The Mirror featuring James Morrison
I Just Can’t Stop Loving You featuring Daley and Sheléa
Give Me The Night
100 Ways and Ya Mo B There featuring Shaun Escoffrey