All one need ask a music maven is "Who's won the most Grammy awards in history?" The correct answer is classical arranger and conductor Sir Georg Solti; however, the "Grammiest" "popular music" award-winner is Quincy Jones. Quincy Jones, Grammy awards or not, will also go down in history as one of the most important forces in jazz and popular music of the twentieth century, and his work continues into the new millenium.

Jones is known to his legion of collaborators, friends and admirers as "Q." His list of collaborators is a veritable "who's who" of music industry greats, including Sinatra, Ray Charles, Peggy Lee, Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, Lesley Gore, Count Basie, Billy Eckstine, Carmen McRae, Diana Ross and many, many others. Perhaps his most financially successful endeavor was the record-breaking 30-million copy sales of the record he produced for the infamous Michael Jackson, Thriller. Despite his immense success in the record business as a producer, there are many more facets to the artistic diamond named Quincy Jones.

...Strong women, or
women who just
wish they were strong,
need strong brothers
more than they need attentive lovers
or indulgent husbands.
They need brothers who have the courage
to say, your most recent behavior
does not become you—straighten up...

Quincy Jones among all the things he is
is my chosen brother and
I thank him for that

Maya Angelou

Sanford and Son,  Ironside, The Bill Cosby Show; when America tuned their television sets in to these shows, the theme music and many of the "cues" (incidental music) were either written or arranged by Jones. Beside filling American living rooms with television scores each week, he also wrote, arranged and produced a lot of music for the silver screen.


A testimony to the versatility of Jones's music for Hollywood: Tucked away in a vault was a recording produced by Phil Ramone in 1962. It had appeared on a Quincy Jones 1962 album Big Band Bossa Nova and beside the signature flute line featured Clark Terry on trumpet, along with some of the major talent of the day. In 1962 the hippest folks were going to the new night clubs; discotheques. Girls dared to wear their first mini-skirts. Modern design had transcended the outrageous "space age" streamlining of the late '50s and was morphing into something closer to the simplicity of Danish modern. The song was "Soul Bossa Nova," written, arranged and directed by Jones and the hippest sound around of its day. Well, the producers of the Mike Meyers movie Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) thought it "shag-a-delic" enough that they used it as the theme song for the movie, 35 years later.


Quincy Delight Jones was born in the midst of the Great Depression on the infamous South Side of Chicago, Illinois on March 14, 1933. By the time he'd discovered that music was a significant interest, his family had uprooted to Seattle, Washington, where he sang with a gospel choir and took lessons on the trumpet. In 1950, he graduated high school and scored a scholarship at Berklee School of Music (at the time of his enrollment, it was called "Schillinger House."

He didn't finish a degree at Schillinger House; opting instead to seek fame and fortune in The Big Apple; New York, after being brought to the attention of jazz great Lionel Hampton. It was 1953, and Hampton took him on as a second-seat trumpeter in his band. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Jones to rub elbows with many jazz greats, where he learned more from the demands of a rehearsal and performance schedule than could ever be learned at a music school. So skilled was the young musician he was hired by the likes of Count Basie, Cannonball Adderley, Tommy Dorsey and others as an arranger of others' songs.

In 1956, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie stole Quincy Jones away from Hampton's organization. Later that year, Gillespie tapped Jones as director of a special big band featuring top international performers. Ever the hard worker, "Q" found enough time to record his first album, This Is How I Feel About Jazz, on the Paramount label. The record enjoyed a modicum of sales, but was far from a harbinger of the critical acclaim and popular success of his future efforts.

By the way, beside all of his arranging, conducting and producing chores, he still managed to get onto record playing the trumpet in his own inimitable fashion. Many biographies of Jones underplay the fine command of the instrument Jones possesses.

Do You Know Quincy Jones?

Quincy Jones has never been a big self-promoter so far as the general public is concerned. A humble yet very accomplished artist, he's let the success of his ventures over the course of sixty years speak for themselves. It's amazing that one man could turn out the enormous body of work he has; not only in the musical arena, but elsewhere. He is a published author, has produced motion pictures, and has been involved in television series development, production and music.

Unless you're a die-hard fan of jazz or R&B, you may have never been exposed to a Quincy Jones "written-produced-directed" album. It is his collaborations with some of the most legendary artists in the fields of jazz and popular music that created the legend called "Q." Suffice it to say that his career has been a diverse one; so diverse, in fact, that he arguably has no rivals in the entertainment industry on the basis of the amount and diversity of his creative efforts.

The Jazz Man

Like so many bohemians (particularly persons of color) in the music world of the 1950s, Jones relocated to Paris in 1957. He studied with Nadia Boulanger, who was not well-known for her performances nor compositions, but was a legendary educator in the area of composition, musical theory and direction. Q's experiences in the beatnik years of the late '50s and early '60s include arranging and producing sessions for legends like Jacques Brel and Charles Aznavour. He traveled throughout France and Europe with American artists, as well.

Jones's French period ended when the American record label Mercury heard his work. He was only 28 years old when he was named a Vice President at Mercury. A Milestone: this was the first time a black man had been hired as a high-level executive for one of the major American labels.

Mercury's gamble with Quincy Jones paid off when he stepped out of the jazz limelight and arranged and produced the teenage sensation Lesley Gore's smash hit "It's My Party." Gore went on to pioneer pop lyrics and delivery, particularly with the controversial feminist statement "You Don't Own Me," which was far ahead of its time. Jones was right behind her, encouraging such trend-setting sounds. You Don't Own Me didn't chart well, and earned nary a Grammy, but it made a statement that was an inspiration for budding feminists and particularly young black women that changed lives. Somehow, in-between duties for the Mercury label, on a freelance basis, he arranged music for Ray Charles, who he had met when they were both very young, on the Atlantic label.

Hooray for Hollywood!

Until 1958 the music we heard at the movies was written by aging white guys. Director Sidney Lumet changed that when he wanted a trend-setting score for his movie The Pawnbroker. Quincy Jones paved the way for black composers in a "lily-white" This marked a big change in Jones's life; he left France and settled in Los Angeles. There, he would compose the music for 33 major motion pictures and countless other smaller projects.

After Lumet's Pawnbroker, he was hired on a gamble to score A Slender Thread. After that came many significant motion pictures, and television. Jones was the composer of choice when a movie producer needed something cutting-edge. Jones was the youngest of the great Hollywood composers of the day, and his assiduous attention to the content of the movies he was writing for became the stuff of legend. Controversial movies like The Anderson Tapes, Walk, Don't Run, In Cold Blood, In The Heat of the Night, A Dandy in Aspic, Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, The Lost Man, and the Getaway are some of his most notable scores.

The Small Screen

The law-and-order television viewing demographic had become used to the suspenseful, intense yet somewhat hackneyed theme for the famous Perry Mason. When the series ended, it's star, Raymond Burr, was tapped to star in a series about a wheelchair-bound lawyer called Ironside. It is arguable that the audience was attracted to the show's contemporary concept (a wheelchair-bound star) and the general cutting-edge content of the show. Part of that was the first television theme song that featured the new electronic synthesizer. Following that coup, two of Jones's most important television themes were that for The Bill Cosby Show (which included peculiar yet catchy mouth-noises from Cosby himself) but more importantly, the harmonica-laden, instantly familiar yet very jazzy theme to the series Sanford and Son, which starred Redd Foxx and was a milestone in the development of series starring persons of color in controversial, yet believable funny situations.

Q and Ol' Blue Eyes

In 1964 Count Basie convinced Jones to arrange and produce an album with Basie and none other than Frank Sinatra. The album, It Might As Well Be Swing, became an instant popular hit because of the mixture of two of the greatest sounds in swing. And swing it does. The album is as fresh today as it was in '64. Jones would produce two more albums for Sinatra, including the Grammy-Award winning Sinatra at the Sands, and Sinatra's third to last album, L.A. Is My Lady. (Sinatra's final two albums were Duets I and Duets II). One of Sinatra's most popular songs, "Fly Me To The Moon (In Other Words)," was arranged and produced by Jones. The song has appeared in movie soundtracks, and on television, most notably in the HBO smash series, The Sopranos.

A Social Conscience

Jones was a significant supporter of "Operation Breadbasket," led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. The project intended to promote economic development in urban areas. He later was a board member of the Rev. Jesse Jackson's project, People United to Save Humanity. Forgive me for veering out of chronological order, but it was Quincy Jones who produced the "We Are The World" song; a single, to promote awareness of the responsibilities of world citizenship. He gathered together an awesome array of significant stars; not the usual has-beens that show up for telethons, but major artists with records on the charts. Rumor has it that the door to the studio bore a handwritten sign taped next to it that read "leave your egos at the door." There have been many take-offs on that concept with regard to stars recording with one another, however, this is the one that started it all (Variety Magazine).

Most important to Jones from his early days in jazz was to promote African-American music and culture. He was one of the founders of the Institute for Black American Music (IBAM). One of IBAM's most important achievements was to found a national library of African-American art and music. He also was a co-founder of the Black Arts Festival in Chicago, Illinois.

One of the most important television programs he was involved in producing was a special for CBS entitled Duke Ellington, We Love You Madly. Jones led the orchestra, and featured performers included Peggy Lee, Count Basie, Aretha Franklin, Joe Williams and Sarah Vaughan. Ellington's music was given tender loving care and the program did very well in the Nielsen ratings.

Recording The Soundtrack for America

Despite his hectic production schedule, Jones found the time to go into the studio with a gaggle of top-notch R&B, popular and soul artists. From 1969 until 1981 it seemed that every Quincy Jones-produced record was destined to earn a Grammy or two or three or four. The notable 1973 album Body Heat sold over a million copies and lingered on the charts at no lower than number five for six months. Now, no musician nor producer can please "all of the people all of the time." In 1973, Jones produced an album for the great Aretha Franklin called Hey Now Hey (The Other Side of the Sky). Although the album was panned by critics, it did make it to number 2 on the Billboard "black" charts. It also garnered Franklin an Emmy for Best Female Vocal Performance for the song Master of Eyes. The album cover had a psychedelic look but the tunes were innovative and genuine Aretha. It was the final soul album before Franklin got on the disco train. One of the tunes has special meaning, however, for Jones:


Quincy Jones and composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein were close friends. Jones and Franklin added Bernstein's song "Somewhere" from the play and movie West Side Story to Aretha's Hey Now Hey album. The recording of this song provided what Jones called one of the most emotionally affecting experiences of his life. "This is a recording," he says, "that when I leave this planet I want them to play. It's one of the most moving vocal performances I've ever experienced or witnessed in my life. And Aretha played piano, too. God just came in and took over the whole space. You can really feel it. When I played it for [Bernstein] he cried like a baby."

Recalling his long friendship with Bernstein, Jones told the story of how Bernstein was constantly bugging Jones to teach him how to say "Yo Mama."So I told him if the cellist says, 'Mr. Bernstein, I think your downbeat in bar 41 was a little flabby,' you say 'Yo Mama.' But he always blew it and said 'Yo Yo Ma.'" The two were in Rome visiting the Sistine Chapel. There's a sign there that insists that people refrain from lying on the floor to look at the famous ceiling. Well, the two friends ignored the sign and were lying on the floor when "this monsignor comes running in and cries 'basta, no!' But Lennie [Bernstein] kept lying there and turned to me and said 'Yo Mama?'. I said it was the right time and the right way to say it but the wrong place."

The Music Almost Ends

In August of 1974 Jones suffered a cerebral aneurism. He survived the usually fatal episode, with the help of two brain surgeries. He was out of commission for six months thereafter. Finally, his recuperation ended, he was back at work. He started out slowly, finishing out his contract with the A&M record label. But soon he was right back in the thick of things. One of the sources for this article, however, mentioned that a by-product of one of his surgeries, a bone chip in the cranium, could be easily dislodged. This prevented him from continuing to play the trumpet.

Q and Jacko

Michael Jackson's first solo album was Off The Wall. It sold eight million copies and Jackson became an international mega-superstar. Jones became the most sought-after record producer in Hollywood. In 1982, recording history was made with their collaboration on Jackson's Thriller. The album broke records and became the best-selling album of all time, beating the Beatles, with thirty million copies. Six singles from the album made the Billboard top ten chart. The two even got legendary horror actor Vincent Price to do a "rap" of sorts on the title track. Indeed, Thriller's popularity had people moving to it's songs for years after the album's initial release.

The 1980s were good years to Quincy Jones. Despite a demanding schedule arranging and producing records for musicians, he dipped his big toe in the highly competitive fishpond of Hollywood movie-making. In 1985, he became co-producer of The Color Purple, adapted by Steven Spielberg from the book by Alice Walker. Then-veteran standup comic Whoopi Goldberg and Chicago television personality Oprah Winfrey became outstanding movie actresses, earning them international fame overnight. The film won eleven Oscar nominations. Suffice it to say that he became a pretty big fish in that pond very quickly.

Jones and Jackson, Jones says, have been in touch with one another, but Jones says he's too busy to produce another album for the controversial singer: "Man please, I've got enough to do. We already did that. I have talked to him about working with him again but I've got too much to do. I've got 900 products, I'm 74 years old. Give me a break."

Quincy Jones Becomes a Corporate Entity

In 1993, Jones teamed up with a producer named David Salzman to produce a gala concert celebrating the inauguration of President Clinton. They got along so well, they formed Quincy Jones/David Salzman Entertainment (QDE). The venture is also partially owned by Time-Warner, Inc.

Well, the company got Jones's fingers into every media pie imaginable. What started as a production company for "current and future technologies," including live performances, motion pictures and television grew into a vast, diverse media empire. Of note is the fact that the firm publishes Vibe magazine and produced the long-running NBC television series starring Will Smith, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, as well as In The House and MAD TV.

Separately, Jones owns his own label, Qwest Records, and is Chairman of one of the largest minority-owned broadcasting companies in the U.S., Qwest Broadcasting.

Back on the Block

He continues to produce hit records featuring an amazing all-star roster of players, including Back on the Block and Q's Jook Joint.

It had been eight years since Jones produced an album, at that time for A&M. Back on the Block evokes the sense of the neighborhood's coolest cat, returning as smashingly as ever, after an absence.

Here's some of what Richard S. Ginell of AllMusic.Com has to say about the album:

Quincy Jones made his debut on his own label with his most extravagant, most star-studded, most brilliantly sequenced pop album to date -- which could have only been assembled by the man who put together "We Are the World." Jones was one of the first establishment musicians to embrace rap, and one of the first to link rap with his jazz heritage; it's hard not to be moved by the likes of Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, James Moody, Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Zawinul, Sarah Vaughan, and George Benson electronically appearing on "Birdland" and trading brief licks with the likes of Kool Moe Dee and Big Daddy Kane on "Jazz Corner of the World." Later, jazz buffs would vilify Jones for not taking fuller advantage of this one-time constellation of jazz stars, but at the time, it seemed like a marvelous dialogue between the old and the new. Of course, as he well knew, celebrating jazz history is not the surest route to a blockbuster hit record, so there are plenty of radio-friendly urban pop productions here, with Herbie Hancock and George Duke on keyboards, and Siedah Garrett and 12-year-old Tevin Campbell on vocals.

And who but Quincy Jones could have gotten together Ray Charles and Chaka Khan covering "I'll Be Good To You," originally a hit for The Brothers Johnson. (A purist, reviewer Ginell calls the song "too busy." I disagree; the two legendary singers seem to be having a genuinely fun-filled, sensuous romp on that cut. Finally, the record includes "The Secret Garden," a mainstay of smooth jazz radio stations, and late-night soul programs like "The Quiet Storm" on New York's WBLS radio; emulated often by others but never duplicated.

Back on The Block won the Grammy in 1990 for "Album of the Year." It also won for "Best Engineered Recording, Non-Classical." Three Songs won various Grammys as well, with the spectacular "Birdland" garnering three Grammys of its own. With regard to the album's performance on the charts, suffice it to say it was the most popular in the categories of Urban, R&B and Hip-Hop. The album itself charted very well, reaching the top ten, again in a variety of genres, in both 1989 and 1990.

Jones did it again in '95 with Q's Juke Joint; yet another eclectic album anchored by heavyweight musical legends but showcasing very new talent as well.

To mention a few, performers Gloria Estefan, Babyface, Phil Collins, John Clayton (who now works with jazz great Diana Krall, rapper Coolio, Patti Austin, Nick Ashford (of Ashford and Simpson Fame), Bono, Naomi Campbell, and many more contributed to an eclectic collection of music from jazz to rap and everything in-between. Oh, by the way, a guy named Ray Charles sings "Let the Good Times Roll" on the album, backed by a legion of great big-band performers, a rapper, and Bono playing the part of a mope who can't get into the coolest club in town. The album peaked at number one on the Billboard Magazine Top Contemporary Jazz Album chart in both 1995 and 1996. In was in the top ten of the R&B/Hip-Hop charts in both years, as well, and scored a 32 on the '95 Billboard 200. In the decade when [CD|Compact Discs were coming into their own, a number of singles off the album charted well. The only Grammy, however, was for "Best Engineered Recording, Non-Classical.


Quincy Jones has been nominated for a Grammy award 76 times; more than any other person. He won 26 times. He was nominated seven times for the Oscar, finally receiving the prestigious Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. A biographical film of his life was made by Warner Brothers in 1990, and in 2001, he published Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones. Available separately from the book, The Musical Autobiography of Quincy Jones is  four-disc boxed set includes Jones's favorite accomplishments.

It is a testimony to Jones's humility that he's managed to stay out of the limelight and is in fact an unfamiliar name to many people. He has granted precious few interviews and made even fewer television appearances. Quincy Jones is truly the music industry's Renaissance Man.


Perfect People (bio/photos): (Accessed August 19, 2008)

NME (Music Industry News Site): (Accessed August 19, 2008)|JONES&sql=11:diftxqt5ldfe~T1 (Accessed August 19, 2008),_Quincy/Biography/ (Accessed August 19, 2008)

IMDb: The Internet Movie Database: (Accessed August 19, 2008)

Academy of Achievement: A museum of living history: (Accessed August 19, 2008)

The Musical Biography of Quincy Jones: (Booklet accompanying four compact discs) ©2001 Quincy Jones Productions and Rhino Entertainment Company.

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