You’ve got to believe Quincy Jones was willing to die for his music. His biggest health scare came in in 1974 when he suffered a brain aneurysm. The blame fell to his workload — scoring a half-dozen films a year, recording a solo album each year, and producing and arranging for others.
He required two surgeries to get back to normal, yet friends and family were so convinced his death was imminent, they organized a memorial with Marvin Gaye and Sarah Vaughan among the entertainers.
Jones wound up being healthy enough to attend. That’s the first sign he was unbreakable.
In 2015, he went into a diabetic coma after suffering a stroke and again quality of life was an issue. Since recovering, he’s been producing events and TV shows, guiding the careers of 10 young musicians, most of them focused on jazz, and helping his daughter, Rashida, promote her doc on his life, Netflix’s “Quincy.”
On Nov. 27 he will leave a more permanent mark on Hollywood when his hands and feet are encased in cement in the forecourt of the TCL Chinese Theatre.
Not bad for a trumpet player who had his start in the big band era.
He has been a one-of-a-kind musician for 70 years. His excellence has been rewarded with 27 Grammy Awards, including an album of the year trophy for “Back on the Block,” a Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Oscar, an Emmy for “Roots” and an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And he impressed people who aren’t impressed easily: Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Dr. Dre, Norman Lear.
The pop music audience that doesn’t scan liner notes became wholly aware of Quincy through Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” which has interlinked their names for 35 years. Their affiliation started five years prior with “The Wiz” in 1978, continuing with “Off the Wall,” a product of Jones bringing in a musical team to usher in Jackson’s adult era at the grand old age of 21. While that would be a career highlight for most, it’s but a chapter for Jones.
Nearly four decades earlier, Jones had latched onto music as a way out of the poverty and crime he saw in his native Chicago. In Seattle, where his father had moved the family, he blossomed as a trumpeter, his skills getting him into Berklee and then the bands of Lionel Hampton and Dizzy Gillespie.
With Hamp he displayed a knack for arranging and soon he was getting calls to handle charts for Duke Ellington, Count Basie, his childhood friend Ray Charles and others.
He started recording under his own name in 1957 but, despite steady touring and recording, he never had any money.
This is where Q’s genius kicked in: He saw the difference between music and the music biz and secured a label job at Mercury Records where, in 1961, he became the first African-American VP of a record company. He’d go on to other firsts in the worlds of film scoring and conducting.
You won’t find another musician with as diverse a collection of activities as Jones from the early 1960s up to the attack of that brain aneurysm.
After releasing about a dozen straight-ahead jazz albums, in 1962 he jumped on the bossa nova craze with his goodtime “Big Band Bossa Nova,” which includes his “Soul Bossa Nova,” better known years later as Austin Powers’ theme. That same year, he rethought the role of big band and created “Quintessence,” one of the first albums to make modern jazz orchestra vital and relevant.
Simultaneously, he went into the office and signed, produced and guided the career of Lesley Gore, who started a string of Top 40 hits in 1963 with “It’s My Party.”
He broke into film scoring in 1964 with Sidney Lumet’s “The Pawnbroker” when Hollywood had yet to embrace black film composers. Three of his most impressive scores — for “In the Heat of the Night,” “In Cold Blood” and the TV series “Ironsides”— came out in 1967, a year in which he wrote music for six films and two TV series.
Also in 1964, Sinatra hired Jones to arrange the music for one of the best albums of his career, “It Might as Well Be Swing” with Count Basie. Two years later he had Jones arrange and conduct the Basie band during a January-February engagement at the Sands in Las Vegas.
The resulting album is Sinatra’s finest live record.
He hit a commercial peak with “Body Heat” and “Mellow Madness,” which featured his discovery, the Brothers Johnson.
Seemingly never stopping, unless he’s in a hospital bed, Jones has paired his music with global travels as a goodwill ambassador, promoting
the music of old friends such as Clark Terry, whose name might not make it into the history books, along with vibrant new talent such as Alfredo Rodriguez, Jacob Collier and Richard Bona.
Back in the day, he presciently named his company Qwest. Unfazed by success, he’s still on a quest today.