Thursday, January 27, 2005


“My entire career, indeed my entire life, has been based on trying to break down the walls between people of all colors throughout the world.  I’ve lived that.”

--Quincy Jones

  Quincy Jones was born in 1933 on the south side of Chicago, but grew up just outside of Seattle.  He was in the game as Jazz was hitting the scene, as a fourteen-year-old trumpet player.  He was a conductor and arranger for big bands when big band music was the big thing.  He was the first black this and the first black that, and has dedicated his entire life at ridding the world of those labels.

  Last week, we talked about the term “Black music,” and how the term no longer exists, doesn’t apply the way it did as recently as five years ago.  That is a victory for Quincy Jones.  And I argue that it couldn’t be done without him.

  Quincy’s life has been a star-studded event.  He knew Ray Charles when Ray was sixteen, undiscovered, and playing small Seattle jazz clubs.  At fifteen, he played with Billie Holiday.  At twenty-five, Quincy was leading Sinatra’s band, and working with Count Basie.  He discovered Lesley Gore, wrote the score for thirty-four movies, including “Roots” and “The Color Purple,” and produced and arranged Michael Jackson’s album, “Thriller.”  He composed the theme songs to thirteen television shows, including “Ironsides,” “Sanford and Son,” and “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”  His song “Soul Bossa Nova” was used as the very recognizable theme for the Austin Powers movies.  He founded Vibe Magazine.

  Jones’ approach to breaking down the color barrier was three-fold, but simple.  First, just make good music and people will listen.  Second, ignore race and color, and let the music speak for itself.  And third, give the music the exposure it deserves.  It was a recipe for success, and the state of music as we move into 2005 can attest to that.

  But this is Hip-Hop, you say, not Jazz or Big Band or R&B or Pop.  After Hip-Hop began on the streets of New York, it didn’t take Quincy Jones long to get on board.  He recognized its potential, acknowledged that music was changing, and wanted to be a part of it.  He became friends of Hip-Hop pioneers like Melle Mel, Run DMC, and a fifteen-year-old LL Cool J.  Quincy once went with LL to visit Easy-E in the hospital as Easy was dying of AIDS.  Quincy’s daughter, Kidada, was engaged to Tupac Shakur when he was killed.

  His son, QDIII, lives, breathes and produces Hip-Hop.  Seeing his son’s passion for the music helped ignite that same passion in himself.  Quincy Jones has made Hip-Hop mainstream.  It was Jones who helped convince NBC and its advertisers that a Hip-Hop sitcom was not a risky venture; and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” was born.  Vibe Magazine is one of the leading authorities on Hip-Hop and the street culture.

  A column this size is not nearly enough to cover the life, the accomplishments, the contributions that Quincy Jones has made to music and American culture.  I urge you to run to the nearest bookstore and pick up a copy of his book, “Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones.”

  Next week: Hip-Hop and Black Music.

 -From Pulse
   January 27, 2005