It’s doubtful that anyone else could assemble the kind of cast that Quincy Jones did for a long-overdue retrospective of his improbable career at Hollywood Bowl Wednesday night. It looked like a lineup for his next album — whenever that will be — or for his last several ones over the past four decades. Granted, the performances sometimes lacked the polish and sheen of those painstakingly-assembled recordings. But no matter; the sense of occasion was there and Uncle Q was right in the center of it — conducting, emceeing, spinning tales from his bottomless bag of showbiz anecdotes, and dispensing sage, never-say-die aphorisms like “Once you get over-the-hill, you really pick up some speed!”So it is with Jones, who at 78 continues to keep his finger squarely on the pulse of American pop music amidst a thousand other things. Yet this concert was dedicated to the past — where even the youngest performers like 17-year-old singer Nikki Yanofsky and 10-year old pianist Emily Bear were working in venerable idioms that dot Quincy’s six decades in the music biz. With some hopscotching around, the show covered a lot of ground — reaching as far back as to what Jones claimed was his first big band arrangement written at 18, a sophisticated blues called “Kingfish” set at a loping tempo that anticipated his definitive chart of “Killer Joe” some 18 years later. We were guided through some of his memorable film and television themes, the all-star albums that gradually morphed from jazz into soul and a goulash of styles, the super-sleek productions that became career high points for the Brothers Johnson and Michael Jackson. Oddly enough, hip-hop — which Q has embraced for more than two decades and dominates his latest release “Soul Bossa Nostra” — was missing. Some of the best moments of the night came from previously unbilled surprise guests. Frank Sinatra, Jr. movingly traced the contours of his dad’s vocal on Jones’s Basie-band chart of “Fly Me To The Moon” — as close as we’ll ever get to hearing Q and Frank Sr. work again in this life. Three core members of Toto — keyboardists David Paich and Steve Porcaro and guitarist Steve Lukather – joined the ensemble for a smooth, beautiful rendition of Porcaro’s “Human Nature” in the Jackson memorial section. Trumpeter Arturo Sandoval blasted as fast, high and loud as he could in “Manteca”; it wasn’t like Dizzy Gillespie, the model, but it was pretty exciting. There were some disappointments: the sound became muddled and imbalanced in the second half; the Brothers Johnson couldn’t get anything going until two-thirds of the way through their last number, “Stomp!”; Gloria Estefan’s vocal on “Home” (from “The Wiz”) was undercut by jarring projected scenes from 9/11. For some unreconstructed Quincy Jones fans, though, seeing him at last out from behind the scenes in front of a roaring big band (whose ranks included the great Ernie Watts on tenor sax and flute) for a whole concert was an improbable spectacle in itself — and worth the evening alone. Hopefully, there will be more such sightings, for he seems interested.
(Hollywood Bowl, 17,374 seats, $131 top)
Presented by Los Angeles Philharmonic Association. Performers: Quincy Jones, Patti Austin, Frank Sinatra, Jr., Arturo Sandoval, Gloria Estefan, Siedah Garrett, James Ingram, The Brothers Johnson (George Johnson, Louis Johnson), Seiko Matsuda, Nikki Yanofsky, Andy Garcia, Toto (David Paich, Steve Porcaro, Steve Lukather), Richard Bona, Paulinho Da Costa, Nathan East, Alfredo Rodriguez, Emily Bear, Francisco Mela, Ernie Watts, Quincy Jones All-Star Big Band. Reviewed September 7, 2011.