Jazz Profiles from NPR
Quincy Jones
Produced by Paul Conley

Quincy Jones  

Label executive, publisher, producer, musician, bandleader. composer, arranger. "Q" holds every title and has found success in each role on countless entertainment industry projects. But few are aware of his roots in jazz, which began when Jones was a young trumpeter with the Lionel Hampton band.

Hear descriptions of Jones by arranger Johnny Mandel, keyboardist Greg Phillanganes, pianist Dr. Billy Taylor, singer Patti Austin

Born Quincy Delight Jones, Jr. on March 14, 1933, on the south side of Chicago, Jones grew up in a poor family -- his father was a carpenter father and his mother, while highly educated, suffered from severe bouts with mental illness. She was eventually institutionalized.

Listen to Quincy Jones recall a childhood memory of his mother's unpredictable behavior

Quincy's father remarried but his new wife openly disliked her husband's son, who began to hang out with a street gang. When the family moved to Bremerton, Washington, soon after, Jones was a budding juvenile delinquent. But one night after breaking in to a community recreation center, Jones stumbled across a piano and his life turned completely around.

Listen to Jones talk about the night he discovered music

Ray Charles  

Jones' passion for music began to blossom. He played trumpet in his high school band and when his family moved to Seattle, he became a regular at shows by touring jazz big bands. During this time, he began taking trumpet lessons from the great horn player Clark Terry. Jones also met and befriended legendary pianist and singer Ray Charles, who remains a close confidant to this day.

Ray Charles

Listen to Jones describe his relationship with Ray Charles

Jones started composing and arranging and soon got noticed by bandleader Lionel Hampton, who asked the teenager to join his group. But Hampton's wife urged Jones to finished school first and Quincy took her advice, applying and earning a scholarship to Berklee College of Music in Boston.

He graduated in 1951, and there was a job waiting for him in Hampton's big band. Jones signed on accepted and quickly began experiencing life on the road as a professional jazz musician. With Hampton's band as an ideal vehicle, Jones began crafting his identity as an arranger and composer.

Listen to Jones discuss the early influence of Gil Evans and Gerry Mulligan on his arranging skills

Jones was building a reputation in his new home of New York and he soon left Hampton's band. Halfway through the '50s, he was arranging and recording for Sarah Vaughan, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Big Maybelle, Dinah Washington, Cannonball Adderly, LaVern Baker, and of course Ray Charles.

Dizzy Gillespie  

Still in his early 20s, Jones got a call from his trumpet idol Dizzy Gillespie. Diz was embarking on a U.S. State Department-sponsored tour and wanted Jones to hire and rehearse the musicians. According to alto saxophonist and longtime friend Phil Woods, Jones was a natural.


Quincy had all the ingredients to be a leader of men. I've always said that if Quincy calls with a one-nighter in Antarctica, I'll be there!

-- sax player Phil Woods  

Jones toured Europe with his own band for nearly a year but returned to the U.S. without a gig. He landed a job with Mercury Records, which made him the first black vice president of a white-owned record label.

At first, he made jazz albums for Billy Eckstine, Shirley Horn, Julius Watkins, and others, but as jazz record sales began to plummet in the 1960s, Mercury encouraged him to start making pop records.

Lesley Gore  

Quincy was impressed with a young singer on the label and Leslie Gore's 1963 No. 1 hit, "It's My Party" became Jones' first pop single. That same year, he won his first Grammy for the arrangement of "I Can't Stop Loving You" for the Count Basie Band.

Jones joined forces with the Count Basie Band in 1964 when they recorded the album It Might As Well Be Swing, featuring Frank Sinatra. A second collaboration with Sinatra led Quincy to move to Los Angeles, giving him a chance to compose for film.

In the mid-1960s, black film composers were extremely rare, but with the help of one of the few, Benny Carter, and friend Henry Mancini, broke through to write dozens of film scores, including those for Walk Don't Run, In The Heat of the Night, In Cold Blood, and The Eyes of Love.

After six years of film scoring, Jones returned to recording with 1969's Walking In Space, one of the first jazz-fusion albums to use the electric Fender bass. In the early '70s, Jones suffered a brain Beri aneurysm, but after successful surgery, he continued to make waves in the pop music and film.

Micheal Jackson  

While working on Sidney Lumet's film The Wiz, Jones met and teamed up with Michael Jackson, at the time a former child star just starting his adult career. Their partnership yielded two of the biggest-selling albums in history --- 1979's Off the Wall and 1982's Thriller.

There was somthing about the look in his eye...and I'd been watching him, the discipline he had...I loved the records they made on Motown, you know the bubble gum things. But after seeing this other side of him, I felt that there was much more inside of Michael that hadn't been touched.

-- Quincy Jones  

After a long succession of major accomplishments during the '80s, including Thriller, USA for Africa's "We Are The World" single, and the music for The Color Purple, Jones ended the decade with Back on the Block, one of the first albums to infuse hip-hop and jazz.

Listen to Jones talk about the Back on the Block sessions with Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald

Two years later, Jones made history again when he convinced Miles Davis to revisit some of his past musical achievements at a celebrated concert in Montreaux, Switzerland. In the mid-90s, Jones began writing Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones which was released in the fall of 2001.

View the Quincy Jones show playlist

More InfoNPRJazz.org Book Review: Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones

More InfoNPRJazz.org CD Review: Basie & Beyond by the Quincy Jones - Sammy Nestico Orchestra

More InfoWarner Jazz: Quincy Jones: Quincy's official label Web Site