Quincy Jones

Biography

Quincy Jones, whom many will remember hugging an armful of Grammys® or jumping excitedly before an all-star chorus singing "We Are the World", grew up in a Chicago neighborhood so tough that he once saw a body with an ice pick through its neck while on his way to school. Music became his way, he said, of escaping "whatever was distasteful or unpleasant or uncomfortable or painful — music could always soothe that. All you have to do is reach out to beauty."

Jones started reaching when his family moved to Seattle, where he picked up the trumpet and, at age thirteen, made friends with musicians such as Ray Charles, Clark Terry, and Count Basie, all of whom were astonished that this insatiable child was bugging them about the details of their arrangements. He would later arrange classic albums for each of them. Opinions differ on his trumpet playing; everyone admires his arrangements.

Jones’s crucial big-band experience began in 1951 when he joined the rocking Lionel Hampton band. In 1953, he left Hampton to start one of the busiest freelance careers jazz and popular music have known. He arranged for instrumentalists as varied as Gene Krupa and Dizzy Gillespie, and for such singers as Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Betty Carter, Jon Hendricks, and Jackie and Roy — all by the time he was twenty-five.

He also led his own dates, such as the 1956 This Is How I Feel About Jazz. There are solos by trumpeter Art Farmer, pianist Hank Jones, and alto saxophonist Phil Woods, and the album includes all-stars Charles Mingus on bass, Lucky Thompson on tenor saxophone, and Milt Jackson on vibraphone. How, except through personal charisma, did the young Jones assemble such a band for a session? And where did he get his energy?

Jones’s music is always exuberant, tuneful, swinging, and highly professional. His jazz writing is full of grand gestures. Arrangements such as "Blues in the Night", with its heavily accented reeds, seem to swagger, and yet they are full of piquant details — Jones calls them "ear candy" — like the three low notes that emerge, in startling stereo, out of the baritone sax. Jones plays with a full palette, bringing out new sounds, whether broad phrases by French horns, twittering or breathy flutes, or the occasional harmonica.

Jones spent more than a decade concentrating on award-winning soundtracks for movies such as The Pawnbroker. He wrote the music for the historic television mini-series Roots, arranged the music for the soundtrack of The Wiz, and composed the theme for the sitcom Sanford and Son. His other activities, as arranger, producer, and executive, are too numerous to list. He moved with the times. The hippest of arrangers, Quincy Jones is one of the most glamorous figures in jazz, but also one of the earthiest.

Michael Ullman

Excerpted from Quincy Jones’s Finest Hour

® or jumping excitedly before an all-star chorus singing "We Are the World", grew up in a Chicago neighborhood so tough that he once saw a body with an ice pick through its neck while on his way to school. Music became his way, he said, of escaping "whatever was distasteful or unpleasant or uncomfortable or painful — music could always soothe that. All you have to do is reach out to beauty."

Jones started reaching when his family moved to Seattle, where he picked up the trumpet and, at age thirteen, made friends with musicians such as Ray Charles, Clark Terry, and Count Basie, all of whom were astonished that this insatiable child was bugging them about the details of their arrangements. He would later arrange classic albums for each of them. Opinions differ on his trumpet playing; everyone admires his arrangements.

Jones’s crucial big-band experience began in 1951 when he joined the rocking Lionel Hampton band. In 1953, he left Hampton to start one of the busiest freelance careers jazz and popular music have known. He arranged for instrumentalists as varied as Gene Krupa and Dizzy Gillespie, and for such singers as Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Betty Carter, Jon Hendricks, and Jackie and Roy — all by the time he was twenty-five.

He also led his own dates, such as the 1956 This Is How I Feel About Jazz. There are solos by trumpeter Art Farmer, pianist Hank Jones, and alto saxophonist Phil Woods, and the album includes all-stars Charles Mingus on bass, Lucky Thompson on tenor saxophone, and Milt Jackson on vibraphone. How, except through personal charisma, did the young Jones assemble such a band for a session? And where did he get his energy?

Jones’s music is always exuberant, tuneful, swinging, and highly professional. His jazz writing is full of grand gestures. Arrangements such as "Blues in the Night", with its heavily accented reeds, seem to swagger, and yet they are full of piquant details — Jones calls them "ear candy" — like the three low notes that emerge, in startling stereo, out of the baritone sax. Jones plays with a full palette, bringing out new sounds, whether broad phrases by French horns, twittering or breathy flutes, or the occasional harmonica.

Jones spent more than a decade concentrating on award-winning soundtracks for movies such as The Pawnbroker. He wrote the music for the historic television mini-series Roots, arranged the music for the soundtrack of The Wiz, and composed the theme for the sitcom Sanford and Son. His other activities, as arranger, producer, and executive, are too numerous to list. He moved with the times. The hippest of arrangers, Quincy Jones is one of the most glamorous figures in jazz, but also one of the earthiest.

Michael Ullman

Excerpted from Quincy Jones’s Finest Hour