By Greenwood, Chelsea
"I almost closed the door and left," he says. "But something, thank God, told me, 'Go back in that room, fool.' And I did. I touched that piano and knew then that every part of my soul would be in music forever."
That moment changed the course of Jones' life. He gave up the role of petty thief and gang member to embrace music, eventually becoming composer, artist, conductor, arranger, producer and record company executive. Over his more than 60-year music career, Jones has worked with the greats. Among them: Ray Charles (a childhood friend), Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson (Jones produced Jackson's Thriller, the best-selling album in history). Jones" list of accolades is equally impressive, including 27 Grammys (and 79 nominations, more than anyone in history), the Recording Academy's Trustees Award and the Grammy Living Legend Award.
And that's just his musical career. Jones, 75, has also found success in TV and film, producing such hits as The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and the critically acclaimed The Color Purple, starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey. He has also founded Quincy Jones Entertainment, Quincy Jones Media Group, Qwest Records, Qwest. Broadcasting and Vibe magazine.
FINDING HIS PASSION
Such success was nowhere on the horizon for a young Quincy Jones, born and reared in Chicago until the age of 10.
"My daddy worked for the biggest black gangsters in Chicago," Jones says. "He was a master carpenter who built their homes--the Jones Boys, the Capones, all those people back then. That's all I ever saw in the '30s: the machine guns, the stogies, piles of cash and all the shootings ... ice picks in bodies. It's unbelievable."
On top of that, his schizophrenic mother was institutionalized when Jones was just 7. After moving with his father and siblings to seaule--and discovering the power of music--Jones made a decision: "I made a deal with myself that, if I didn't have a mother, I didn't need one, and I would let music be my mother, because it would never let you down. It's just something that touched me."
Jones immersed himself in all things music. He tried piano, violin, clarinet, percussion and five more instruments before settling on the trumpet. He joined area bands, studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and eventually took up with Lionel Hampton and his big band--Jones big break into the music industry.
He credits that break to his devotion and diligence. "The dictionary is the only place where success precedes work--that's alphabetical," he says. "You have to get off your butt and do it. You have to have a core skill and you have to study all aspects of it. The emotional side is what will drive it, but the science is what will prepare you--if it's playing piano scales or if it's a business course at Wharton, whatever. The science will be there to back up all your ideals and dreams. You know how they say, 'Make the drunken dreams turn into sober realities?' It's really true."
LEARN FROM THE BEST
In the years that followed, Jones was "always inquisitive," he says. "When I was young, I used to sit down, shut up and listen to people who knew what they were talking about--musicians and my mentors, Count Basie, Ray Charles, Benny Carter and businessmen like Steve Ross at Time Warner and Irving Green at Mercury Records."
While on the road with Hampton, Jones' talent for arranging songs became evident. But, even when he began arranging for artists like Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington in the mid-1950s, Jones' lessons from his band days remained relevant.
"The big band is my whole world," he says. "That's what I look at everything like. [All the musicians] play something different, but they do it together--the power of collective creativity. In an orchestra, you have 120 musicians, a composer and a conductor all thinking about one thing. …