This installment of FOUNDATIONS is focused on a media genius. Quincy Jones has not only left an indelible mark on music but, also on TV and film, as an author, and with countless humanitarian endeavors. In his eighty years (I just realized that his birthday was in March) he has over 1100 – yes, eleven hundred – credits. Quincy Jones has written, conducted, produced, arranged, remixed, performed (as a singer, trumpeter, actor and in speaking roles) across seven decades now. When you’re named a “Grammy Living Legend” – and then are still working it, expertly, 23 years later – you’d agree he’s had an impact.
I had actually forgotten that Quincy Jones was born in the great city of Chicago. In fact, he was probably destined to be an entertainer simply on the strength of his middle name: “Delight”. He also embodies exactly what this column’s mission underscores: he played a huge role in everything from R&B to Jazz, from Hip-Hop to House, and from Funk to Soul!
Quincy Jones also personifies an underlying theme that often rings with people that have garnered success in the music industry – he overcame adversity… and I mean, “at death’s door” adversity! Two brain aneurysms in 1974 left him with a 1% shot at surviving the vital operation to save him. You now know how well that story ended. Frank Sinatra (yes this is a first – Ol’ Blue Eyes mentioned in 5 Magazine) said to him, “Q, live each day like it’s your last and one day one day you’ll be right!” Profound and inspiring words that Quincy took to heart as he continued – actually, accelerated – his prolific appeal through that decade and beyond.
Q’s early experiences were also a definite foundation for his eventual success. His mother was schizophrenic, eventually trying hard (including reporting Q for non-payment of taxes) to extract him from his “devil music”. Like many who self-medicate, Quincy choose something with which he could deeply immerse: not excess, but MUSIC! He used tons (actually four or five) of trumpets, and saxophones. Then, he added bass, piano, and even drums – a real cornucopia of sounds, tools, and expression. By the time he hit 30, Q had made his chops with Ray Charles, Thelonious Monk, Billie Holiday, and Charlie Parker – I’d say his “foundations” were firmly entrenched at that point!
The diversity of his instruments also was reflected in the diversity of the musical collaborations he’s had: Shaquille O’Neal (like Sinatra, surely the last time you’ll read that name in my column), Akon, Paul Simon, Bono, Stevie Wonder, Areatha Franklin, Sarah Vaughan, Al B. Sure!, Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, Chaka, etc. etc. etc.
His roots, literally and figuratively, showed beautifully with his work with the hit mini-series, Roots, where his score won acclaim artistically and commercially. Ironically, in a paradox that belies the actually intent of the series, Quincy did not produce any more music for Roots after he was discouraged from using authentic African music! This illustrates, not just for Jones but for many people of color during that time period, the conflict between the desire for commercial success and how many artists and their music was suppressed.
We can do a whole column on the relationship, collaboration and ongoing mentorship that Quincy Jones had with Michael Jackson. Suffice it to say, this author feels that A LOT of the success for the top selling album of all time (Thriller – 110 million copies) as well as for Bad (45 million), and Off the Wall (20 million) was directly related to the production and musical canvas that Q created for Michael. You cannot read anything written about this relationship without coming away with what an incredible influence Q was on Jackson, but also what a tortured soul MJ was.
Quincy Delight Jones is not just an all-time artist (the only term that has enough range for his wealth of talents) but a person that makes others better. This is the sign of true and ultimate talent! He has also grown and maintained a seemingly endless stable of diverse friends throughout the years. This is no small feat in an industry wrought with super egos, cut-throat competition and a passion for style vs. substance. A couple of Q’s quotes really struck me and gave me pause to reflect, especially considering how we struggle with change in the dance music/DJ culture: “I’ve got a jazz mind, man,” he said. “The music business as we knew it is over. I’m rolling with whatever the reality is.” My takeaway: We all need to reinvent ourselves or we don’t move at all. So join me in giving mad respect to a man, at 80, who is still taking something old and something new and making it something fresh, better, relevant, and memorable.