A resume for Quincy Delight Jones, Jr. (born 1933), would read like a run-on sentence with too many hyphens: musician-composer-arranger-producer-film and television executive, just to name a few. He propelled not only his own stardom, but that of Michael Jackson, Oprah Winfrey, James Ingram, Donna Summer—again, just to name a few. For more than four decades, Jones left a permanent, unique mark on the world of entertainment.
Quincy Delight Jones, Jr., was born on the south side of Chicago on March 14, 1933. His parents divorced soon after his younger brother, Lloyd, was born, and the Jones boys were raised by their father, a carpenter, and his new wife. She had three children of her own, and three more with Quincy Jones, Sr. His birth mother, Sarah Jones, was in and out of mental health facilities, and it wasn't until his adult life that Quincy was able to enjoy a close relationship with her.
When Jones was 10 years old his family moved to Bremerton, Washington. The Seattle suburb was alive with World War II sailors on their way to the Pacific; the nightlife and its music were the backdrop for Quincy's early teens. Three years later he met a 15-year-old musician named Ray Charles. The two formed a combo and played in local clubs and weddings, and soon Jones was composing and arranging for the group. After high school and a scholarship at Boston's Berklee College of Music, Quincy was introduced to the life of a musician on the road, a road which started in New York and went around the world. He toured with Dizzy Gillespie in 1956, Lionel Hampton in 1957, and then made his base in Paris. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen, was musical director at Barclay Disques, wrote for Harry Arnold's Swedish All-Stars in Stockholm, and directed the music for Harold Arlen's production "Free and Easy," which toured Europe for three months, ending in early 1960.
After a financially unsuccessful tour of the United States with a big band made up of 18 musicians from "Free and Easy," Jones served as musical director at Mercury Records in New York. He became the first African American executive in a white-owned record company in 1964 when he was promoted to vice-president at Mercury. At the company he produced albums, sat in on recording sessions with the orchestra, and wrote arrangements for artists at Mercury as well as other labels. Jones wrote for Sammy Davis, Jr., Andy Williams, Sarah Vaughan, Peggy Lee, and Aretha Franklin, as well as arranged and conducted It Might As Well Be Swing, an album featuring Frank Sinatra and the Count Basie Band.
In 1969 Jones signed a contract as a recording artist with Herb Alpert's A&M Records, and Quincy's first album with that label, Walking in Space, won a Grammy for best jazz instrumental album of 1969. Quincy Jones was later nominated for 67 Grammys, and had won 25 going into 1997.
His first foray into Hollywood—another crossing of a racial barrier—came when he composed the score for The Pawnbroker, a 1965 film by Sidney Lumet. Two films released in 1967 featured music by Jones: In Cold Blood and In the Heat of the Night. Both scores won enough votes to be nominated for Academy Awards. Jones was advised not to "compete with himself," so he went with In Cold Blood and it was the other film that ended up winning the Oscars. It didn't stop him from going on to write the music for over 52 films.
Television, as well, has featured the music of Quincy Jones, starting in 1971 with theme songs for "Ironside," "Sanford and Son," and "The Bill Cosby Show" (the first one). In 1973 Jones co-produced "Duke Ellington, We Love You Madly," a special for CBS, featuring Peggy Lee, Aretha Franklin, Count Basie, Joe Williams, Sarah Vaughan, and a 48-piece orchestra conducted by Jones. The special was a project of the Institute for Black American Music, a foundation formed by Jones, Isaac Hayes, Roberta Flack, and other musicians with the intention of promoting recognition of the African American contribution to American music. Jones also wrote the score for the widely acclaimed 1977 television mini-series "Roots."
Burned out from producing film score after film score, Jones stopped working for Hollywood in 1973 to explore his own pop music career as a vocalist. His singing debut was with Valerie Simpson on an album called You've Got It Bad, Girl. The title song from the album stayed at the top of the charts for most of the summer of 1973. Jones's next album was an even bigger hit. Body Heat, released in the summer of 1974, contained the hit songs "Soul Saga," "Everything Must Change," and "If I Ever Lose This Heaven." The album remained within the top five on the charts for over six months and sold over a million copies.
In 1974 Jones suffered two aneurysms two months apart. He nearly died, but after a six-month recuperation he was back at work, touring and recording with a 15-member band. Mellow Madness was the first album by the new band, which included songs by George and Louis Johnson, Otis Smith, and Stevie Wonder ("My Cherie Amour").
His 1980 album, The Dude, featured a host of talent directed by Jones, earned 12 Grammy nominations, and won five awards. At the same time The Dudewas released, Jones signed a deal with Warner Brothers Records creating his own label, Quest. It took Jones almost ten years to make his next album, Back on the Block. During that time he was focused on producing hit albums for other artists such as Donna Summer, Frank Sinatra, and James Ingram. In 1983 Michael Jackson recorded a Quincy Jones production, and at 40 million copies Thriller is still the best-selling album of all time. Quincy Jones also has the best-selling single of all time to his credit: the all-star choir on "We Are the World." Another triumph for Jones in the mid-1980s was his production of The Color Purple, the film adaptation of Alice Walker's novel, which featured the Oscar-nominated, debut film performance of Oprah Winfrey.
Jones's projects in the early 1990s included continuing work on an ongoing, mammoth project for which he'd been gathering material for decades, "The Evolution of Black Music." He was back in television, as well, with the Quincy Jones Entertainment Company producing the NBC situation comedy "Fresh Prince of Bel Air," as well as a weekly syndicated talk show hosted by Jones's friend the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Quincy Jones was also working on a film biography of the Black Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. The film was a co-production with Soviet filmmakers. Quincy Jones Broadcasting and Time Warner bought a New Orleans television station, WNOL, which Jones was to oversee.
The personal life of Quincy Jones was strained because of the pace of his professional endeavors. He was married and divorced three times (his latest wife was actress Peggy Lipton), and his six children have only recently been able to spend time with and come to know their father. The 1990 documentary "Listen Up: The Lives of Quincy Jones," produced by Courtney Sale Ross, contains poignant scenes in which Quincy confronts his difficult childhood, his mentally ill mother, and his strained past with his children. The film also contains testimonials from Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Michael Jackson, Miles Davis, Stephen Spielberg, Barbara Streisand, Oprah Winfrey, Ray Charles, Billy Eckstine, and others. They talk about an obsessed genius, a workaholic, and a man with a creative brilliance that has touched virtually every facet of popular entertainment since 1950.
In 1993 Jones announced that he was starting a magazine called Vibe. The magazine has been well received as an African American music journal. The album Jones released in 1995 was Q's Jook Joint. The album combined the talents of many of Quincy Jones's counterparts such as Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Sonny Bono and many others. The album was a celebration of his 50 years within the music industry. In 1996 Jones released an instrumental album entitled Cocktail Mix.
Two excellent in-depth and insightful interviews with Quincy Jones are in The New York Times Magazine (November 18, 1990) and The Washington Post Style section (October 6, 1990); Jones is the cover story of the October 22, 1990, issue of Jet. □