The Arranger

From bebop to hip-hop, nobody alive has done more for American music than Quincy Jones

Jones (sporting Frank Sinatra's ring) has a hand in the Beijing Olympics as well as ongoing music and movies (William Coupon)
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And then there was his mother, who apparently suffered from schizophrenia. On Quincy's fifth birthday, she tossed his coconut cake out the back porch of their home. When he was around 7, his mother broke a window and sang out, "Oh, somebody touched me and it must have been the hand of the Lord." Recalling the incident, Jones speaks very softly. "They laid her down upstairs in a straitjacket." She was committed to a state hospital. Quincy Sr. took his sons to visit her. She didn't return home to stay. "I never felt like I had a mother," Jones says. "I used to sit in the closet and say, 'If I don't have a mother, I don't need one. I'm going to make music and creativity my mother.' It never let me down. Never." His mother, who was later released from the hospital, would reappear in her son's life at awkward times. "There was never any resolution," he wrote in Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones. She died in 1999 at age 95.

In 1943, his father became involved with another woman and moved their families (which grew to eight children) to Bremerton, Washington, where Quincy Sr. worked in the Navy shipyards for $55 a week. "Every day my daddy told me the same thing," Jones recalls: "Once a task is just begun, never leave it till it's done. Be the labor great or small, do it well or not at all." Quincy Jones Sr. died in 1971 at age 75.

Finding his way in the mostly white Northwest was not easy. There were no Oprahs or Michael Jordans, and Jones knew that even the black characters on the radio, like Amos and Andy, were played by whites. "I made the Lone Ranger and the Shadow black," he says.

At 11, he and some friends broke into a recreation room near a local Army base to eat lemon meringue pies. Wandering around, Jones saw a spinet piano. "I touched that piano and every cell in my body said this is what you will do for the rest of your life," he says.

He would revisit that piano to learn songs he'd heard his neighbor Lucy play. He began composing music before he knew what a key signature was. When he heard a local barber playing the trumpet, he was hooked, but he tried everything from violin to the sousaphone before he finally got his hands on one.

Living in Seattle after the war, Jones began sneaking into local clubs to watch Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Cab Calloway and Woody Herman. The jazzmen were worldly and intelligent. "This is the family I wanted to be in the rest of my life," Jones says.

Basie took him under his wing at age 13. Quincy approached one of the bandleader's trumpeters, Clark Terry, for lessons, somehow persuading the veteran, who played the clubs until 4 a.m., to meet him at 6 a.m. "He had a way about him of showing sincerity and real deep interest," says Terry, now 87. "Everybody admired the way he tackled life." Terry agreed to show Quincy's first composition to Basie's band, and he protected the youngster from the pros' withering criticism. "I shudder to think how that could have thwarted his attempts to become a successful musician," he says.

During those years, Quincy formed a bond with another Seattle music wunderkind. Ray Charles was 16 and Quincy 14 when they met. "He was like a hundred years older than me," Jones says, recalling something vital Charles said: "Every music has its own soul, Quincy." Jones would go on to arrange some of his friend's notable recordings, including two numbers on The Genius of Ray Charles in 1959 and the follow-up album, teaming Charles with Basie's band, Genius + Soul = Jazz.

In a band headed by Bumps Blackwell, Jones played R & B, and with Charles he played every kind of music: pop at the tennis club for white audiences, R & B and bebop at the black clubs until dawn. When Billie Holiday came to town in 1948, the band backed her. "They had to shove her on the stage, she was so out of it," Jones recalls.

Lionel Hampton even put Jones on his tour bus at 15. Jones was ready, but Hampton's wife, Gladys, told him to go back to school. Three years later (after briefly attending Boston's Schillinger House music school) Quincy made Hampton's band for real, sitting between the great trumpeters Clifford Brown and Art Farmer. There Jones began arranging music, setting the style and tempo and selecting the instruments. He could order his musical world. "After a while all I could think about were four trumpets, four trombones, five saxes and a drum, a bass, guitar and a piano," he says today. Over time, Hentoff says, Jones' arrangements have been "models of clarity and the use of space."


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