The Quincy Jones Legacy Series: Q on Producing, by Quincy Jones with Bill Gibson, is the first in a planned trilogy of books offering insight into the creative genius of one of the most celebrated of all music producers. Published by Hal Leonard Books, this hardcover coffee table tome is informative without being overwhelming to those with a casual interest. Perhaps the second and third volumes will delve deeper into technical information. Q on Producing may justifiably disappoint gearheads seeking a tutorial approach to music producing and engineering, but the book is nonetheless insightful and entertaining.
Throughout the book, we learn about Jones’ process of sculpting music and committing it to tape. Most of the text comes from extensive interviews with Jones, allowing his unique voice to come directly through the pages. But Gibson didn’t limit himself to one source, as numerous technicians and musicians who have worked directly with Quincy Jones add their comments. Entire chapters are made up of interviews with engineers and other longtime musical collaborators. Much of this anecdotal reminiscing is of a congratulatory nature, but definitely conveys the deep respect and appreciation of those who’ve worked with Jones.
Many casual observers are likely to turn directly to chapter six, the only chapter simply bearing the name of one individual. That individual is Michael Jackson. Some fascinating information is given about the recording of the trio of albums Jones produced for him, particularly Thriller. Disappointingly, Jones was apparently not at all forthcoming about the sessions for Bad as there is precious little offered about that album. While the Michael Jackson section is vital, most of the other chapters every bit as interesting. The fourth chapter details Jones’ conception of music, as he likens its various elements to the culinary arts. Combining different ingredients during food prep is similar, he reasons, to the ingredients in music production. He even stretches the metaphor to include a recipe for “Quincy Jones’ Thriller Ribs” (endorsed by Oprah Winfrey, no less).
This isn’t a technical guide that will serve as a reference for studio technicians. The marketing campaign behind the book is a bit misleading in that regard. Engineer Bruce Swedien, a Jones collaborator and source of info for this book, wrote In the Studio With Michael Jackson in 2009. His book angered some readers for arguably taking the opposite approach. While many readers expected an anecdotal memoir, the book is actually a very densely detailed technical guide to the equipment and techniques that were used in recording Jackson’s albums. It’s highly recommended for anyone craving an insider’s look at the nuts and bolts of the recording process. But it’s a considerably dryer insider’s look. The Quincy Jones Legacy Series: Q on Producing works as a examination of an extraordinary and diverse career, but the scope is far broader.
A very nice bonus included with the book is a DVD featuring about 90 minutes of content. The bulk of the program consists of excepts from author Gibson’s interviews with Jones. While this means that the information often doubles over from the text, it’s still valuable seeing Jones himself tell the stories. Gibson plays a couple of recordings that Jones produced, isolating individual tracks, and Jones offers commentary. A shorter featurette focuses on the performing arts center named in Quincy Jones’ honor at Seattle’s Garfield High School (from which Jones graduated). Another brief piece allows for a glimpse of Jones at work in the studio, producing the theme for Shanghai’s World Expo 2010.
I’m very interested in seeing what the next volume in The Quincy Jones Legacy Series has to offer. This book provides ample background information about Jones’ career and approach to producing music, illustrated with many photos. It works very well as an introduction to the role a truly visionary producer can play in the way recorded music sounds.