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David and Art - "Quincy"

He started out as a trumpeter, and from there went on to shape pop music more than any other single person.


One of the most remarkable artists in American history recently turned 91. Over the course of his career, he’s been a bandleader, a record producer, musical arranger, a composer for movies, a trumpeter, and record label executive. He’s received nearly 30 Grammy’s. His life has encompassed the sweep of American pop culture from the early 1950s to today. His name is Quincy Jones.

He was born on the south side of Chicago in 1933. His father’s family was from Kentucky and moved north during the Great Migration. During WWII, the family moved to the Seattle area where his dad got work at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Quincy, Jr. (his father was Quincy, too) played trumpet at Garfield High School and after he graduated, got a scholarship to the famed Berklee College of Music in Boston. Before long, he dropped out to go on the road with Lionel Hampton’s band as a member of the trumpet section.

It was while he was on the road with Hampton that he learned to arrange music for a big band and spent the 1950s increasingly arranging music for stars like Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie. When the National Endowment for the Arts honored him with an NEA Jazz Master Award in 2008, Jones said that “One of the things that I am most grateful for in my that I was born at a time where I was able to witness and play a role in the growth of the only true indigenous American art form, jazz.”

He joined Mercury Records in 1960, rising to become a Vice President inside of four years but soon left for Los Angeles where he began a strikingly successful run as a film composer. To date he has written scores for more than 35 films been nominated for 7 Oscars. He wrote more music for TV than you can keep track of, including shows like Roots, Ironside, Sanford & Son, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

But it’s his work in the pop music world that brought him the most attention. Starting in the late 1960s he began releasing his own albums full of music that he composed and/or arranged, played, and sung by the hottest session players working. Most were R&B and funk flavored. In 1979 he produced an album called Off the Wall, by Michael Jackson. In 1982 he produced Michael Jackson’s album Thriller. It spawned seven top-ten singles and became the best-selling album of all time. Quincy Jones was largely responsible for how it sounded.

He’s someone you need to know if you care about music and art, and how the music we listen to is made.