Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


JONES, Quincy

(b 14 March 1933, Chicago IL) Trumpet, keyboards, bandleader, composer, arranger, producer, record industry executive: one of the most successful businessmen in music, who can and does turn his hand to anything. Grew up in Seattle in poverty, his mother committed to a mental institution; had a vocal quartet in church at age ten, started on trumpet in 1947 (lessons from Clark Terry) and got a scholarship to Berklee in Boston; played with Lionel Hampton '51-3 (his first recorded composition was 'Kingfish' on MGM; he played the trumpet solo); wrote arrangements for Ray Anthony, others; member and music director of a Dizzy Gillespie band that toured the world '56. Octet arrangements 'Scuse These Bloos '53 recorded in Stockholm with Art Farmer, Clifford Brown or Jimmy Cleveland on some tracks while on tour with Lionel Hampton; reissued '87 on resurrected UK Esquire label: his roots were deep in the Swing Era; by the time of This Is How I Feel About Jazz '56 his jazz chops seemed conservative, but his musical smarts had many facets. Worked for Barclay Records in Paris '57-8; wrote an LP for Count Basie; was music director of Harold Arlen show Free And Easy '59, toured Europe with it '59-60. He played less trumpet but often fronted big bands, especially 1956-61 (the band's recordings on ABC and Mercury compiled complete in a Mosaic 5-CD set). He worked for Mercury Records '61-8, became vice-president '64 (probably the first African-American to rise so high at a major label) and produced hits for Lesley Gore; he was music director for Peggy Lee (on Capitol), Sarah Vaughan (on Mercury), Billy Eckstine, Frank Sinatra etc: wrote arrangements and led the band on Sinatra/Basie studio LP It Might As Well Be Swing '64 and concert set two-disc Sinatra At The Sands '66.

He turned to producing and film work; his kind of music was fast disappearing anyway and his other skills were more lucrative. He later said that his favourite artists were Duke Ellington and Picasso, 'because of their fascination with decategorization'. Film scores included The Pawnbroker '65; In Cold Blood '67; Cactus Flower, In The Heat Of The Night and Bob And Carol And Ted And Alice '69; The Anderson Tapes '71; The Getaway and The New Centurians '72, The Wiz '78, 33 altogether by '96, several nominated for Oscars; he was music director for Academy Awards show '71. TV music incl. Sanford And Son, Bill Cosby Show, Duke Ellington--We Love You Madly! on CBS '73, series Roots '77, Rebop on PBS, etc. Black Requiem written '71 for Houston Symphony Orchestra, choir and Ray Charles, a friend since Seattle. Soul and R&B figured larger in his work with Roberta Flack, Aretha Franklin (Hey Now Hey '73), Al Jarreau and others including Michael Jackson. Whatever one may think of Wacko Jacko or his music, before Quincy he was just a teen sensation; after Off The Wall, Thriller (the biggest-selling album of all time) and Bad, Jackson was the biggest pop act of all time, too expensive to work with his own family again. Jones produced the American Band Aid record 'We Are The World' '85, said to be the biggest-selling single of all time. He started Qwest Records and produced Patti Austin albums for his own label, as well as L.A. Is My Lady '84 with Sinatra (both the album and the title track single were chart entries). His own Hot 100 chart singles '70-81 included 'Killer Joe' '70 (both pop and soul charts), 'Stuff Like That' '78 (vocals by Ashford and Simpson, Chaka Khan); both 'Just Once' and 'One Hundred Ways' with vocals by James Ingrams made top 20 '81. 'Summer In The City' won a Grammy '73 for best instrumental. Pure Delight on Razor & Tie CD compiled some of his jazz work '53-64.

More albums under Jones's name included Live At Newport 1961 on Trip; Great Wide World Of Quincy Jones '59 on several labels; Great Wide World Live! '61, Birth Of A Band '59 (two-disc set with Terry, Zoot Sims, Phil Woods, Lee Morgan etc), Birth Vol. 2 '59-63, all on EmArcy; Mode on ABC and Quintessence on Impulse became two-disc Quintessential Charts on MCA; We Had A Ball on Polydor. Hits in the pop album chart included Big Band Bossa Nova '62, two-disc compilation Ndeda '72 on Mercury; Walking In Space '69 (won Grammy), Gula Matari '70, Smackwater Jack '71 (Grammy), You've Got It Bad Girl '73 (incl. 'Summer'), Body Heat '74, Mellow Madness '75 (introduced Brothers Johnson), two-disc compilation I Heard That! '76, Roots (TV score) '77, The Dude '81 (with hit Ingrams vocals), all on A&M.

In fact as his production and business skills came to the fore he had increasingly hired other people to write arrangements whose contributions often went uncredited: e.g. Billy Byers did a lot of the work on The Pawnbroker and did not get credit when the score was nominated for an Oscar. Other co-workers included Bill Potts, Bobby Scott, Al Cohn, Frank Foster, Joe Parnello, Torrie Zito, Sam Nestico, Melba Liston and no doubt others; their noses were sometimes out of joint, but Jones had morphed into an enterpreneur, good at finding work and passing it around. In the 1990s Byers was grateful to Jones for helping Byers make a career on the West Coast. A rolling celebration of Quincy Jones began taking shape: a top ten album Back On The Block '89 on Qwest/WB had many pop and jazz guests taking part; there was a TV documentary called Listen Up: The Lives Of Quincy Jones '91; an album Q's Jook Joint '96 had 83 artists from rapper Coolio to Barry White and Phil Collins, and the first track, 'Let The Good Times Roll', had three vocalists, Bono, Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles.

Jones had been too busy to be interested in Luther Vandross or Whitney Houston when they were presented to him, but a later discovery was Tamis, a 19-year-old Canadian who sang two tracks on Jook Joint. He had become a film and TV producer (The Color Purple, Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air); a new TV sitcom with rapper LL Cool J was planned, and interactive CD-ROMs were being launched; he produced the Academy Awards show '96. He has a record 76 Grammy nominations (26 wins), the Pushkin Humanitarian Award from Russia, Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Oscar from Hollywood, Arts and Letters award '96 from the Sorbonne. Among Jones's successors was composer, producer and performer Babyface (b Kenneth Edmonds, 1958), 'Face' to his friends, who had produced 100 top ten USA hits in the black and white pop charts and whose own albums Tender Lover '89 and For The Cool In You '93 went top 20, followed by The Day '97; his silky-smooth pop has a soul flavour, the songs utterly unmemorable to anyone over a certain age.

Leon Weiselter wrote in The New Republic (December 24, 2008) about a 'revoltingly sanguine song' he had heard on TV called 'If You're Out There', describing it as 'one of those grandiose Quincy Jones-ish anthems to an easy eschatology.' One sees what Weiselter meant. It would be nice if there were easy solutions to the world's problems, but easy sentiments and easy art are not worth much. Quincy Jones's skill at making pop that sells has made him a good living, and he cannot be blamed for the changes in the music business that rendered his jazz career impractical, but it is a shame that his name has become a euphemism for ear candy.