Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Jones, Quincy (Delight)

The key to Quincy Jones's success has always been great ears, which were built by jazz. From his start in Lionel Hampton's big band, he went on to make key contributions to the careers of performers ranging from Dizzy Gillespie and Clifford Brown to Frank Sinatra and Michael Jackson. He has progressively worked as a performer, arranger and composer, and ultimately became the most successful music producer in history.

In the 1970s and 1980s, he produced two of the most commercially successful albums in music history, Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall and Thriller. He was also helped create a media conglomerate which founded Vibe magazine and produced such hit television shows as the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

 Quincy Jones

Quincy Delight Jones was born on March 14th, 1933 in Chicago, Illinois. His father, Quincy Senior, was a professional basketball player, while his mother Sarah Frances was a financial executive. Quincy Junior moved with his mother when he was ten years old to Seattle, Washington.

He soon took up various brass instruments before settling on the trumpet. As a teenager, Jones befriended a young musician by the name of Ray Charles, who gave the budding trumpeter lessons on harmony and other aspects of music theory. In high school, Jones studied trumpet with Clark Terry, and performed with the likes of Billie Holiday. He studied at the University of Seattle for a short time, before accepting a music scholarship to attend the newly formed Schillinger House in Boston, which later became the Berklee School, and then Berklee College, of Music.

Jones didn’t stay in college for long. He left before his first year was over to take a position playing trumpet for vibraphonist Lionel Hampton’s big band. After performing with Hampton’s band, Jones left in 1953 and relocated to New York City where his arranging skills were in demand. Jones worked with his friend Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie while in New York.

In 1955, Jones was the leader and main arranger for singer Betty Carter’s album Social Call. Jones joined the trumpet section of Dizzy Gillespie’s big band in 1956, for his U.S. State Department tour of South America and the Middle East. Jones then moved to Paris in 1957 where he studied formally with Nadia Boulanger who taught Jones concepts related to orchestration.

Prior to moving to Paris, Jones recorded an album entitled This Is How I Feel about Jazz, which featured the song “King Road Blues." While in Europe, Jones worked in a variety of different contexts, and toured briefly with his own big band.

Jones continued to compose, and wrote the ballad “The Midnight Sun Never Sets" for Sweden's Harry Arnold Radio Band, which featured altoist Arne Domnérus.

Jones eventually made his way back to New York in 1960. He was then offered a position with Mercury Records and quickly rose through the label's ranks. Jones helped produce some very successful records while at Mercury. In 1962, he also recorded Big Band Bossa Nova, which featured Clark Terry, Phil Woods, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. In 1963, he discovered singer Lesley Gore and produced her popular single “It’s My Party.”

In the mid 1960s, Jones worked with Frank Sinatra and Count Basie for their album on Sinatra's Reprise label, entitled It Might As Well Be Swing. He conducted the band on such songs as “I Believe in You." Jones achieved another milestone in 1964, when he became the first African-American record executive in America when he was appointed Vice President of Mercury Records.

Jones continued his association with Sinatra, and in 1966 he conducted and arranged “Come Fly with Me" from the album Sinatra at the Sands. Jones also arranged and produced albums for Ray Charles, Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sammy Davis Jr. during the decade was well.

Also during the 1960s, Sinatra began to work as a film composer. He composed the music for the hit movie The Pawnbroker, and also used his song “Soul Bossa Nova,” which had appeared on his 1962 album Big Band Bossa Nova. The song was later used by director Woody Allen in his 1969 film Take the Money and Run, and was introduced to audiences in the new millennium in comedian Michael Myers’ Austin Powers films.

Among the films Jones scored were The Slender Thread in 1966, In the Heat of the Night with Ray Charles in 1967, and 1968’s In Cold Blood. Jones won an Oscar for Best Movie Score this last film. Jones later composed music for television, which included the memorable themes to The Bill Cosby Show in 1969, Sanford and Son in 1972, and the television miniseries Roots in 1977.

In 1974, Jones almost died of a cerebral aneurysm, and he was advised not to play the trumpet as it might disrupt the effects of his surgeries.

In the late seventies, when Jones worked on the music for the Motown musical The Wiz, the teenaged singer Michael Jackson asked Jones to work on his upcoming album. The result of this collaboration was Off the Wall, which was a landmark album both stylistically and commercially. Jones’s arrangements on the album combined disco, funk grooves with lush string arrangements and subtle but effective horn lines and counterpoints. The album sold fifteen million copies worldwide, making Michael Jackson the era's most successful pop artist.

Following the success of Off the Wall, Jones and Jackson returned to the studio in April of 1982 to begin work on a second album, Thriller. Jones and songwriter Rod Temperton crafted the majority of the music for the album, while Jackson wrote four of its nine tracks.

Thriller was released in November of 1982. Supported by the then-new videos for songs such as “Billie Jean,” “Thriller,” and “Beat It,” the album sold over 100 million copies worldwide, making it the best-selling album of all time.

Jones also produced other successful releases in the early 1980s, including George Benson’s Give Me the Night and Donna Summer’s Donna Summer. In 1985, Jones assembled an all-star cast of pop, rock, and soul musicians for the “We Are the World” session. The single was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie, to benefit the victims of famine in Ethiopia. Also in 1985, Jones scored the Steven Spielberg movie The Color Purple, which starred Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg, and Oprah Winfrey.

In 1987, Jones teamed up with Michael Jackson once again for the pop singer’s album Bad. Jones provided more arrangements than production as Jackson assumed more production duties than their previous collaborations. This ended up being the last album the pair worked on but it ended up selling over thirty million copies and ensured the fact that Jones and Jackson were the most successful artist-production duo in the history of recorded music.

In 1991, Jones convinced an infirm Miles Davis to perform with him at the Montreux Jazz Festival. The resulting recording was issued as Miles and Quincy Live at Montreux. This was one of the last albums Davis participated on before his death in September of that year.

Continuing his evolution as an impresario, Jones combined forces with David Salzman to form QDE, an entertainment firm that founded both Vibe and Spin magazines. The company also produced the hit television shows, including The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and MADtv.

Jones has been married three times, and has seven children, including his son Quincy Jones III, who was a key figure in the emergence of hip-hop in Sweden. Jones has also been very active with social issues and continues to support issues he finds worthy.

In 2008, Jones was named a Jazz Master by the United States' National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the nation's highest honor for a jazz musician.

Select Discography

As Quincy Jones

The Birth of a Big Band Volume 1 (Mercury, 1959)

The Quintessence (Impulse!, 1961)

Big Band Bossa Nova (Mercury, 1962)

Q’s Jook Joints (Qwest, 1995)

As either an arranger/producer/performer/conductor

With Ray Charles

Soul+Genius=Jazz (Impulse!, 1961)

In the Heat of the Night (1967)

With Michael Jackson

Off the Wall (Epic, 1979)

Thriller (Epic, 1982)

Bad (Epic, 1987)

With Frank Sinatra

It Might As Well Be Swing (Reprise, 1964)

Sinatra at the Sands (Reprise, 1966)

L.A. Is My Lady (Warner, 1984)

With Sarah Vaughn

You’re Mine You (Roulette, 1962)

With George Benson

Give Me the Night (1980)

Contributor: Jared Pauley