A Glimpse at the Inspirational Quincy Jones Story

79 Grammy nominations, 27 Grammys… yet still not entirely a household name.

Quincy Jones, 2014. Creative Commons. Photo by Sam Santos.

When Michael Jackson’s Thriller hit the scene, though it was Jackson’s name on the marquee, without doubt Quincy Jones, his producer/arranger, helped put him there. In fact, Jones’ whole career has been one of cheerfully adjusting the spotlights that shone on other performers, to put them in their best light.

We all remember the charity performance of superstars assembled for “We Are The World”, but few recall that it was Quincy Jones who produced and arranged the assemblage of superegos, and made it work. Who among us does not recall the shocking film In Cold Blood, yet few know that Jones produced the score that set the tone.

Q, The Autobiography of Quincy Jones, is an anecdotally rich portrait of a creative genius and good natured soul who made good in America against heavy odds. If you want an inside look at the black experience mid-century, read Q. If you want an ringside seat as the jazz scene came to full flower, read Q. If you want up close and personal stories about what it takes to rise above circumstances and achieve success beyond one’s dreams, this book reveals that, too.

I only have one Frank Sinatra CD, the Quincy Jones produced L.A. Is My Lady. The arrangements are stellar, making it possible for the elder statesman crooner to shine. Jones is the catalyst, setting the stage, the mood, the lights, never drawing attention to himself but serving to make every moment count. I was listening to it last as I tried my hand at painting the pictures of Jones here.

Here’s a little serendipitous note: I was recently watching Rear Window, the Hitchcock thriller starring Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly. Few know that it was Princess Grace (Kelly) who introduced Quincy Jones to Frank Sinatra in 1958 in Monaco.

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Quincy Jones, by the author.

In the fifties Jones played with nearly all the jazz greats, from Lionel Hampton to Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Ray Charles. The second half of that serendipitous note is that I am currently watching Ray, the biographic overview of one amazing musician, and in an early scene the two cross paths in Seattle.

It’s a brief encounter here in the film, but in the book , Jones makes it out to be a significant moment for him. His desire is to make music, but to some extent he’s unsure of his prospects. Suddenly, this blind kid (and Ray was just a kid, not even 16) shows up in town, having crossed the country from Alabama, knowing absolutely no one, yet establishing himself in a totally foreign community. After seeing Ray Charles step out so boldly, Jones wondered what was holding him back.

Quincy Jones has been part of our lives in ways we didn’t even know. Today, let’s give a big hand to da man. Thank you, Quincy Jones, wherever you are, for your perpetual optimism and style.

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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