Celebrity biographies are commonplace, but many are shallow, self-serving puff pieces with little insight or perspective.
And often the books are hastily written and lacking in style or even readability.
That’s why “Q,” Quincy Jones’ new autobiography, is so remarkable.
Not only does he tell a fascinating, moving story of overcoming hardship and deprivation to become one of the major moguls of the music business, but healso writes with style, grace and eloquence.
Unlike many celebrity authors, he uses no co-writer.
He crafted the book himself, over five years, with some advice and assistance from editors.
But the text is not entirely his own. The book also contains short chapters from family, friends and associates, and Jones seems to have inspired good writing from them, too.
Jones’ story is well worth the telling. Those who know him only as thesuave, sophisticated _ and streetwise _ producer/songwriter/movie scorer may be surprised at his humble upbringing in the Chicago ghetto, where his family was so poor they sometimes were forced to eat fried rats to survive.
Jones’ mother instructed him to catch the ones whose tails moved the most, because they made the best eating.
His mother was mentally unstable, and he recounts horrifying details of her
sometimes violent behavior.
Such honesty marks the whole book.
He writes of his own “dogging” _ i.e chasing after women _ and how it hurt his family.
He is most apologetic for neglecting his seven children (from five mothers) while he pursued his fabled career.
He also writes of his own mental breakdown, and how he struggled to overcome it.
Jones writes about his formative years in the Northwest, first in Bremerton, Wash., where his father worked in the shipyards during World War II, and in Seattle, where the family moved and where the teenage Jones started hiscareer.
In the 1940s, Seattle was filled with military personnel and defenseworkers, and the place was jumpin’ with nightclubs.
Jones’ serendipitous meeting with Ray Charles, who was also starting his career in Seattle at the same time, is crucial, as are some of the teachers he encountered in Bremerton and Seattle.
Jones has worked with and known so many notable people that he could be accused of name-dropping.
But every reference to his relationships with famous names _ Picasso, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, Steven Spielberg, Frank Sinatra, etc. etc. _ have somemeaning in his life.
His most famous associate is, of course, Michael Jackson. Jones’ fame rose with the incredible success of Jackson’s “Thriller,” which Jones produced.
Jones must have some dirt on the guy, but he doesn’t spill it. In fact, the book is marked by kindness and restraint.
To get the fullest picture of Jones, there is also an accompanying four-CD set on Rhino titled “Q: The Musical Biography” ($59.97; Rhino).
It includes some of his earliest recordings as a trumpeter in Lionel Hampton’s and other bands, highlights from the many movie and TV soundtracks he has written and produced, a sampling of the hits he wrote and/or produced for others (his first hit was “It’s My Party,” which he produced for Lesley Gore) and _ best of all _ a generous selection of cuts from his own many albums.
Together, the autobiography and box set present a full picture of one of the finest talents to ever come out of the Pacific Northwest.