Quincy Jones - Biography
By J Poet
Quincy Jones is one of the most versatile and award winning American musicians extant, with 79 Grammy nominations, 27 Grammys, a Grammy Legend Award, seven Oscar nominations, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, the French Legion d’ Honneur, the Royal Swedish Academy of Music’s Polar Music Prize, Italy’s Rudolph Valentino Award, a Kennedy Center Medal, the BET Humanitarian Award, and honorary doctorates from Howard University, the Berklee College of Music and 12 other schools. He’s been a composer, record producer, artist, film producer, arranger, conductor, musician, TV producer, record company executive, multi-media entrepreneur and founder of Vibe magazine and publisher of Spin and Blaze. His music encompasses jazz, classical, pop, soul, hip-hop, African, Brazilian and other global grooves. He produced and conducted the “We Are The World” session to create the best-selling single of all time and helmed Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall (1979 Epic), Bad (1987 Epic) and Thriller (1982 Epic), still the best selling album of all time, with over 46 million copies in print. In 2008 Insight Editions published his second book of memoirs The Complete Quincy Jones: My Journey & Passions.
Quincy Delight Jones was born in Chicago in 1933, where he recalls a neighbor playing stride piano in the next apartment. He picked up trumpet in grammar school and made amazing progress before the family moved to Seattle. He met Ray Charles, who had just moved to Seattle, and they became lifelong friends. The put together a combo that played \ white tennis clubs to and black after hours clubs. By 14, Jones had already written arrangements for Count Basie and was offered a scholarship to study music at Boston’s Berklee School of Music, but turned it down to go on the road with Lionel Hampton’s band and stayed with Hamp for three years touring the world. Trumpeter Clark Terry helped Jones hone his arranging talents; in 1954 Jones moved to New York City and started arranging for Tommy Dorsey, Basie, Cannonball Elderly, and others.
His first albums The Birth of the Band (1959 Mercury), The Great Wide World of Quincy Jones (1960 Mercury, 2007 Mercury), Q Live in Paris Circa 1960 (1996 Warners) are straight ahead jazz outings. In 1956 and 57 he toured Europe, first with the Dizzy Gillespie Band and again with his own group. The bands made memorable music but lost money, and years later Jones remarked about the difference between making music and being in the “music business.” In the late 50s he studied music in Paris with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen and became music director for Barclay Records producing sessions with Jacques Brel and Charles Aznavour and organizing bands for acts touring Europe like Billy Eckstine and Sarah Vaughan. He made two more jazz albums for ABC Paramount This Is How I Feel About Jazz (1956 ABC) and Go West, Man (1967 ABC) and although excellent, they have yet to be reissued on CD.
In 1961 Mercury, the American division of Barclay, made him a VP of the New York operation, the first African-American ever hired to helm an American label. He made two more jazzy LPs, the Brazilian flavored Bossa Nova (1962 Mercury) and Quincy Jones Plays Hip Hits (1962 Mercury) before fate stepped in. In 1963, he discovered Lesley Gore and made her a star with teen hits like “It's My Party” a #1 pop and R&B hit. He also moonlighted writing arrangements for his buddy Ray Charles over at Atlantic. Sidney Lumet asked Jones to try movie music and he wrote the soundtrack for The Pawnbroker (1964 Mercury) an innovative blend of bossa nova, jazz and soul.
The soundtrack was so successful Jones quit his Mercury job and moved to Hollywood to write for the movies full time. He scored films like Walk, Don't Run, In Cold Blood, In the Heat of the Night (1967 United Artists) with Ray Charles, The Italian Job (1969 ABC Paramount) Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Cactus Flower, The Getaway and They Call Me Mr. Tibbs (1970 United Artists). In between, he still found time to record jazzy titles like Quincy Jones Explores the Music of Henry Mancini (1964 Mercury), and Golden Boy (1964 Mercury, 2003 Uni), Walking In Space (1969 A&M), which won a Best Jazz instrumental Grammy for the title track, Gula Matari (1970 A&M), Smackwater Jack, (1971 A&M), winner of a Best Pop Instrumental Grammy for the title track, You've Got it Bad, Girl (1973 A&M) a Best Instrumental Arrangement Grammy winner for the track “Summer in the City”, and Body Heat (1974 A&M) a bold jazz/soul statement. His music for Raymond Burr’s Ironside TV show was a pioneer in the commercial use of synthesizers. Jones was also working as an arranger for legends like Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, and Dinah Washington. Jones arranged the Count Basie/Frank Sinatra collaboration Sinatra At The Sands (1966 Reprise). Buzz Aldrin the first recording played their work on “Fly Me to the Moon” when he landed on the moon in 1969. In 1974, Jones collapsed from an almost fatal brain aneurysm, partially brought on by overwork.
After he regained his health, he slowed down an concentrated on his own albums and producing other artists. Roots (1977 A&M) is not the TV soundtrack, but an instrumental album that traces African music from the Motherland to the spirituals of the Civil War era. Sounds...And Stuff Like That! (1978 A&M) and The Dude (1980 A&M, 2005 Mercury) explored his jazz/pop/soul side with Dude spawning three hit singles and winning three Grammys including one for James Ingram’s “Ai No Corrida”. He closed the 70s by producing and arranging two of his most famous records The Wiz (1978 MCA) the gold, all black retelling of The Wizard of Oz, that introduced Jones to Michael Jackson and won a Best Instrumental arrangement Grammy and Jackson’s multi-platinum selling Off The Wall (1979 Epic).
Jones kicked off the 80s with Jackson’s Thriller (1982 Epic), the best selling album of all time. It won three Grammys – Album of the Year, Record of the Year for “Beat It”, and Producer of the Year, which he shared with Jackson. He also picked up a Best Recording for Children Grammy for ET the Extraterrestrial, another collaboration with Jackson. In 1980 He launched Qwest Records through Warners; the label had success with Frank Sinatra, Patti Austin, the Winans gospel group and New Order. He also had a hand in albums by the Brothers Johnson, Rufus and Chaka Khan. In 1985, again with Jackson, Jones produced the single “We Are The World” in a super session with a who’s who of the music biz, to benefit USA for Africa’s famine relief fund. The song won three more Grammy’s for Jones – Best Music Video Short Form (as producer of the video), Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group (as producer of the song), and Record of the Year.
Meanwhile Jones was scoring and co-producing The Color Purple (1985 Qwest) with Steven Spielberg. The film introduced a Chicago talk show host named Oprah Winfery to a national audience. Back on the Block (1989 Qwest), his first album under his own name in almost a decade, featured collaborations between rappers and jazz icons like Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock. It win two Best Arrangement Grammys and Grammys for Best Rap Performance, Best Jazz Fusion Performance and Album of the Year. In 1991, Jones finally convinced Miles Davis to perform the music from his Gil Evans arranged albums of the 1960s including Sketches of Spain and Porgy and Bess. Miles & Quincy Live at Montreux (1991 Warner, 2005 Warner) was cut just before Davis died and is a milestone in the catalogues of both men. It won a Grammy for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Performance.
In 1992, Jones produced An American Reunion, the first official event of the Clinton inaugural celebration. In 1994 Jones and David Salzman created Quincy Jones/David Salzman Entertainment (QDE) to produce media technology, motion pictures, television programs (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, MAD TV), and magazines like Vibe and Spin. In 1994, Jones helped found Qwest Broadcasting, one of the largest minority owned broadcasting companies in the United States. 1994 also saw the release of the CD/DVD album Q's Juke Joint (Qwest, 2005 Qwest Uni) another exploration of African-American music from folk to rap.
Jones returned unexpectedly to his jazz roots for Basie and Beyond (2000 Warner) a collection of charts he wrote for Basie tunes played by a stellar big band. In 2001, Jones won an unlikely Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album for his reading of his New York Times best seller Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones (2001 Simon & Schuster). To compliment the book pick up Q: The Musical Biography of Quincy Jones (2001 Rhino/WEA) a fur disc overview featuring Sinatra, Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis and others featuring tracks credited to Jones and some of his famous productions for Jackson, Tony Bennett, Paul Simon and Donna Summer.