‘Money Jungle’: the Amy Winehouse album that never happened

The perils contained within the music industry have a habit of taking those we love too soon. Thus, we have the 27 Club, an array of talented musicians who all passed away at the age of 27. In there is Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, and, of course, Amy Winehouse.

Earlier this year, the biopic Back to Black was released. This movie attempted to tell the story of Amy Winehouse but did the exact opposite. In a half-star review, Far Out noted, “For a film about the life of a person full of curiosity, humour and supreme talent, Sam Taylor-Johnson manages a depiction of Amy Winehouse that is shockingly apathetic….more akin to an episode of Horrible Histories than a nuanced take on one of Britain’s most iconic musicians of the 21st century, the film might just be one of the worst biopics of modern times.”

The movie failed to capture everything that made Amy Winehouse the unique personality that she was. She was more than a woman with a good voice; she was full of humour and charm and, on top of everything, an encyclopaedic knowledge of the music that shaped her. Mark Ronson was subject to this when he used her interests to write some of her most prolific music.

“I just thought, let’s talk about music, see what she likes,” said Ronson, reflecting on the first time he met Winehouse, “She said she liked to go out to bars and clubs and play snooker with her boyfriend and listen to The Shangri-Las. So, she played me some of those records, which turned into a crash course in girl group productions.” Using this newfound knowledge, Ronson penned the chord sequence for ‘Back to Black’. “She came back the next day and she was really into it,” he said, “Ended up staying for two weeks, and we fleshed out five or six songs.”

Another musician who got to experience Winehouse’s eclectic knowledge of music was neo-soul pioneer Questlove. He and the Camden singer shared an interest in jazz and were always keen on working together. “She, Mos Def and me were going to redo the entire Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Max Roach album, [1963’s] Money Jungle, writing new lyrics to the original songs,” he said, “Jazz was a big part of my relationship with her. I don’t know if she wanted me to know her jazz IQ was higher than mine, but it became this ongoing thing, ‘Bet you don’t know about this record’.”

The two were constantly supposed to start working together on their album, but persistent problems kept getting in the way. “There was a point when she wasn’t allowed to enter the States [for failing to pass a drug test], so she went to the [Caribbean] Islands to do some songwriting,” he said, “She Facetime-d me: ‘Can you get down here?’ I said I can’t right now.”

When the two were finally in a position to start working together, disaster struck, as news that shocked the world equally shocked the Roots drummer. “She Facetime-d me one last time from London. I told her, coincidence, I’m on my way there. The Roots had something to do in Switzerland; the second stop was London in three days. When I landed that morning, that’s when I learned that she passed.”

When Amy Winehouse died, a great talent was taken from the world. A lot of exciting music from an innovative mind won’t get made. One album was an ambitious collaboration centred around one of her great loves: jazz. We are left wondering how the record might have come.

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