NEA Arts Magazine

Quincy Jones

Bandleader

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Quincy Jones

Bandleader Quincy Jones. Photo by Tom Pich.

Quincy Jones has distinguished himself in just about every aspect of music, including as a bandleader, record producer, musical composer and arranger, trumpeter, and record label executive. He has worked with everyone from Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and Count Basie to Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, and Michael Jackson.

Born in Chicago in 1933, he learned the trumpet as a teenager. He moved to New York City in the early 1950s, Ynding work as an arranger and band member with Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey, and Lionel Hampton. In 1956, Dizzy Gillespie chose Jones to play in his big band, later having Jones assemble a band and act as musical director on Gillespie's U.S. State Department tours of South America and the Middle East. The experience honed Jones's skills at leading a jazz orchestra.

Jones moved to Paris, France, in 1957 and created a jazz orchestra that toured throughout Europe and North America. Though critically acclaimed, the tour did not make money and Jones disbanded the orchestra.

He became music director for Mercury Records in 1960, rising to the position of vice president four years later. In 1964, he composed his first film score for Sidney Lumet's Pawnbroker. After the success of that film, Jones left Mercury Records for Los Angeles to pursue what became a highly successful career as a film score composer. In addition to film scoring, he continued to produce and arrange sessions in the 1960s.

Returning to the studio with his own work, Jones recorded a series of Grammy Award-winning albums between 1969 and 1981, including Walking in Space and You've Got It Bad, Girl. Following recovery from a near fatal cerebral aneurysm in 1974, he focused on producing albums. He holds the record for the most Grammy Award nominations at 79, of which he won 27.

NEA: When you were in Seattle in your teens you met some great musical mentors.

QUINCY JONES: Oh, absolutely. Bumps Blackwell, Ray Charles, Clark Terry, Count Basie, all these guys. I used to play hooky and go down to the Palomar Theatre because that's where all the musicians were: Billy Eckstine, Bobby Tucker, Sammy Davis, all the musicians. I just wanted to be around great musicians because that's the way you learn, to be around guys that really know what they're doing. And Clark Terry taught me how to put my horn up so that when I play the high notes it didn't bleed. And he taught me, I think, 12 or 13 [things] not to do.

You have to understand. When we were in Seattle, we didn't have a connection with them back east, so we'd wait for every band to come through to hear all the stories, to learn all the new songs that Miles Davis had written and Charlie Parker had written and Tadd Dameron, Fats Navarro, everybody. And we paid close attention. We really were music junkies.