February 15, 2011

Feb 15 – Quincy Cool

Quincy at The Grammys

On Sunday night, The Grammys took place with all of the usual fabulousness and outrageousness – and a few surprises… I have to admit that I had not heard of Arcade Fire, who won for Album of the Year; and I was very pleased to see Esperanza Spalding win for Best New Artist (sorry to all of you Justin Bieber fans). She is ‘cool personified’.

However, in my humble opinion, one of the ‘coolest cats’ on the planet is Quincy Jones – prolific, award-winning composer, bandleader, producer and musician – and fellow Piscean. So cool, that many just call him, ‘Q’. He can also boast the second-highest number of Grammys held by anyone – with an astounding 27 to his name – and the highest number among Black artists.

Quincy Delight Jones, Jr. was born in March 1933, in Chicago, Illinois; and when he was ten-years-old, moved to Seattle, Washington, with his carpenter father, stepmother, brother, half-siblings and step-siblings. As early as elementary school, he became a musician, having tried every instrument in the school band, before deciding on the trumpet.  As a teenager, Quincy became best friends with singer-pianist, Ray Charles; and they formed a combo group, playing at small, local clubs and weddings.

At the age of eighteen, Quincy won a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, where he attended for a short time before going on the road to tour with jazz greats, Dizzy Gillespie and Lionel Hampton in the mid-1950s. Having settled, for a time in New York City, Quincy started freelancing and working with the likes of Tommy Dorsey, Sarah Vaughan, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Dinah Washington – and of course, Ray Charles. By 1956, he had won his first recording contract with ABC-Paramount Records, as leader of his own band. Quincy then moved to Paris, France where he studied music composition and theory, performed and became Music Director at Barclay Disques, the French Distributor of Mercury Records. He also wrote for Harry Arnold’s Swedish All-Stars, in Stockholm, Sweden.

Quincy with Ray Charles

Quincy in Europe

In 1964, Quincy moved back to New York, and was promoted to Vice-President of Mercury Records, becoming the first African-American to hold such a senior-level, executive position in the music industry. At that point, he started working with, and writing for, artists, such as: Sammy Davis, Jr. Andy Williams, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin and Frank Sinatra. He also discovered teenager, Lesley Gore and produced 13 hits for her, including her biggest: It’s My Party. By the late ‘60s, Quincy had signed a contract with A&M Records, and his first album with that label – Walking in Space – won him his first Grammy, in 1969, for Best Jazz Instrumental Album.

Quincy in the Studio

Quincy Recording with Frank Sinatra

By this time, Hollywood was calling, and Quincy moved to Los Angeles, California to start writing music scores and soundtracks for films, such as The Pawnbroker, In the Heat of the Night (starring Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger) In Cold Blood and The Italian Job, starring Sir Michael Caine. He also wrote TV show themes for shows such as Ironside, Sanford & Son and The Bill Cosby Show (the first one). In the early 1970s, Quincy also wrote the score for the highly-anticipated, critically acclaimed, TV mini-series, Roots.

Quincy loved what he did, and he was literally, creatively brilliant. He was also a workaholic. In 1974, he had burned himself out so much, that he suffered two aneurysms within two months of each other and almost died. However, after six months of recuperation, he was back working and touring with a new, 15-member band he had formed. Its first album, Mellow Madness included a song by Stevie Wonder, My Cherie Amour. In 1978, Quincy won a Grammy for the film, The Wiz. It was also the first time he worked with Michael Jackson, one of the film’s stars. Quincy’s 1980 album, The Dude, earned him five Grammys. He had learned from that near-death experience, though, telling Ebony magazine, “[It] taught me how to be here, right here, right now, and live in the present time."

It took Quincy ten more years to write his next album, Back on the Block, with a host of artists, such as Ray Charles and Chaka Khan; but he was certainly busy, during that time – possibly producing some of his best work: In 1980, he founded his own record label, Qwest, which showcased diverse talent such as R&B star, James Ingram, and British band, New Order. He produced Michael Jackson’s album, Off the Wall; and in 1982, he produced Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which is still the best-selling album of all time (~ 100 million copies sold), and which earned eight 1984 Grammys between them; and in 1985, he co-produced and conducted charity single, We Are the World, which earned over $63 million for humanitarian aid for Africa; and which is where Quincy famously taped a simple sign on the recording studio entrance, ‘Check Your Ego at the Door’, because there were so many superstars gathered to sing. That same year, he worked with Steven Spielberg and wrote the score for the wonderful film, A Color Purple, which was produced by Qwest.

Michael Jackson and Quincy at The Grammys

We are the World Stars and Quincy

1991 also saw Quincy get to work with jazz icon, Miles Davis, at the Montreux Jazz Festival, resulting in Miles’s last released album, Miles & Quincy Live at Montreaux. A couple of years later saw Quincy form his own entertainment company: QDE, in association with Time/Warner. QDE produces media technology, motion pictures and television programs and launched Will Smith’s TV/film career, with The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and VIBE magazine, a Hip-Hop music journal.

Because he worked and traveled so much, Quincy admits that he was not a great husband or father, being married three times, with probably, the love of his life having been actress, Peggy Lipton (of Mod Squad fame); and having six children, whom he rarely saw when they were young.  He is now on very good terms with all of them.

Quincy and Peggy Lipton

Quincy continues to write, produce, play and speak to use his influence on the world stage at conferences, for philanthropic purposes, such as at the World Economic Forum in Davos and by starting his own foundations and working on behalf of others. Quincy has won other awards such as an Emmy; and he has been nominated for awards, such as The Oscars. Check out his website here to learn more.

Quincy and Usher

There is so much to write about Quincy Jones, but hopefully, this gives you a good sense of who he is and maybe had you humming some his hits in your head. Finally, if you have four more minutes, please click here to watch his video, I’ll be Good to You, from his Back on the Block album. It just makes me smile and want to dance around the living room.

'Q' is cool. 'Nuff said.

 Sources: Wikipedia, Answers.com, QuincyJones.com, IMDb, Musician Guide, Google Images, YouTube


  1. I’ll be Good to You, from his Back on the Block album. It just makes me smile and want to dance around the living room.

    me too, after all these years still outstanding,, simple and true,, as a good song should b


  2. :-) Indeed! Thank you for the comment, Yvonne.