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Quincy Jones — The First 50 Years

Host: Oprah Winfrey

Host: Oprah Winfrey

One of the entertainment industry’s most talented and productive figures, with an empire encompassing music, films, TV and publishing, Quincy Jones has accumulated a large number of friends and admirers through the years. In that respect, he’s certainly worthy of a tribute. But most of his work is behind the scenes, and anybody not familiar with what Jones does for a living isn’t likely to find out here.

For example, Little Richard is brought out to sing “Let the Good Times Roll,” Ray Charles’ 1959 hit that brought Jones his first Grammy nomination, for charting the record. While Little Richard lends a distinctive touch to the song, the arrangement isn’t Jones’, and Charles isn’t even at the event (he only appears via a clip from a European concert), so what’s the point?

Similarly, Smokey Robinson (who has a tenuous connection with Jones) performs “Fly Me to the Moon” in a vastly different arrangement than the one Jones wrote for Frank Sinatra. In neither case is the name of the original artist nor the word “arrangement” used, leaving the viewing audience to guess about Jones’ contribution to the songs in question.

A number of artists significant to Jones’ career who couldn’t show up for the Nov. 1 event might have prompted producers to wait for a more mutually convenient time; instead, the audience witnesses Steve Wonder singing “We Are the World” (Jones produced original version) with an interlude by the Aussie dance troupe from the show “Tap Dogs.”

Later, Savion Glover taps to a medley of “Billie Jean,” “Thriller” and “Beat It” (Jones produced all three), nicely sung by unidentified vocalists. The choreography has little to do with what’s on the Michael Jackson videos.

Those with strong ties to Jones who did show up include Lesley Gore (for a medley of Jones-produced hits including “Sunshine, Lollipops and Roses,” “You Don’t Own Me” and “It’s My Party”), Patti Austin, James Ingram, Chaka Khan, Qwest Records pactees Tevin Campbell and Tamia and Jones’ daughter, Jolie.

Oprah Winfrey’s narration is OK, if overwritten, and tech credits are adequate for what appears to be a severely edited live event.

Popular on Variety

Quincy Jones --- The First 50 Years

(Variety special; Sun. (11), 8 p.m., ABC)

Production: Videotaped in Pasadena by Jeff Margolis Prods. Executive producer, director, Jeff Margolis; producers, Gloria Fujita O'Brien, Mark McCullough; co-producer, Stephen Pouliot; writers, Pouliot, Rita Cash.

Crew: Lighting, Jeff Engel; sound, Ed Greene. 2 HOURS.

With: With: Albita, Maya Angelou, Ashford & Simpson, Patti Austin, James Avery, Halle Berry, Beau Bridges, Tevin Campbell, Ray Charles, Gloria Estefan, Savion Glover, Lesley Gore, James Ingram, Jolie Jones, Chaka Khan, Dave Koz, Melle Mel, Bernadette Peters, Little Richard, Smokey Robinson, cast of "Stomp" and "Tap Dogs," Tamia, Nancy Wilson, Stevie Wonder, Yo Yo.

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