During the last half century or so we’ve witnessed many enormously successful musical moguls and mega producers come,shine extremely brightly and often fade just as fast from public view as they came. And many a time,the cultural influence they had during their brief moment in the sun becomes little more than a chapter or less in the history books. They became a legacy rather than created one. One such human being who has not only escaped this syndrome,but only progresses in terms of his culturally iconic status is Quincy Delight Jones Jr. And what a story of significant and vital cultural dexterity Quincy’s story is! He celebrated his 80th birthday this past birthday. He has in fact been deeply involved in the music world for over sixty of those years. It’s truly a wonder in the more fly-by-night success of the modern pop culture zeitgeist that a man who began his career in the jazz clubs of New York city would still be at the top level of some of the most innovative musical events of today. At it’s core,theirs no real secret to “Q’s” success. It’s really just been about his attitude and utter progressive outlook on his art form.
This enormous innovator began life in Chicago,son of a semi pro baseball player/carpenter Quincy Delight Sr. and his mother Sarah,a apartment project manager and bank exec who happened to suffer from schizophrenia. “Q” himself often tells the story of how,upon trying to work his way from the youth gangs he became involved with in order to leave behind his difficult home life,he came across a piano one of his adventures on the street and was drawn towards this through a sudden revelation. After his family relocated to Bremerton,Washington Quincy met Ray Charles,four years his senior, while attending Garfield High School in Seattle and developed his musical talents under the now also revered Robert “Bumps” Blackwell,the man also responsible for nurturing the talents of Charles,Sam Cooke and Little Richard. From than on Quincy’s life was an absolute blitz:travelling with Dizzy Gillespie as a trumpet player,studying music theory in Paris and eventually becoming a young wunderkind arranger/producer of such renown he was producing for Billy Eckstine,Sarah Vaughn,Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra. By the beginning of the next decade he began writing and producing his first major pop success with Lesley Gore.
One of the most important innovations in Quincy’s career was his work for Hollywood during the 1960’s. As a result,I’ve probably heard the music of Quincy Jones long before I ever knew the mans name or significance. And that goes for everyone whose first memories of television shows such as Sanford & Son and,more recently his own companies production of Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air. Of course one of the things that stands out uppermost in my mind is Quincy’s joining together of two enormous musical talents: the himself iconic late Michael Jackson and the far lesser known composer/musician Rod Temperton. The combination of these talents resulted in Michael’s albums Off The Wall and Thriller not only becoming two of the biggest selling recordings in the history of the music industry but two which still stand today as blueprints on how to create blockbuster pop albums that not only break records,but how to bring out the most exciting qualities of live instrumentation out in the recording studio-not to mention raise the popular awareness of the jazzy R&B/funk side of popular music. After this Quincy and Michael came together to organize the We Are The World event to raise awareness and funds for USA For Africa. And since than,it’s continued to be one innovative success after another for Quincy.
Personally the greatest aspect of Quincy Jones’ musical character is his completely unsegregated viewpoint on the African American musical experience. He made his more than clear from the beginning of his 1989 release Back On The Block,on which he bought in guests as diverse as Miles Davis to Ice T. His rational behind this was a fairly simple one. By this time Quincy had seen it all musically-from the big band jazz of Count Basie up through the hip-hop era. And his entire musical success,then and after was almost based on the continual generational potency of these musics. He viewed them all as part of a connective thread,rather than separate art forms to be subdivided into schools. Living in a world where I often hear rather angry conversations between people extolling the musical virtues of jazz,funk,soul with modern electronic and hip-hop productions,it’s been Quincy’s influence that’s really helped me to have a more broadly open minded view on these different forms of music because of his temporal,rather than individual outlook on them. To Quincy,the music made from within the black American experience is one long aural narrative . Always different,always changing. But somehow always staying the same in spirit and personality. In the music world of today,I can only hope someone of his experience and level of musical progression will continue to be there to expand on his significant vision. Happy belated birthday Quincy!