On The Incomparable Quincy Jones


by Melissa Kimble

There’s a moment occurs in the middle of the desert during the summer of 2018 that ends the debate on Quincy Jones vs. any producer out today. It’s the very first day of what is now known throughout live music history as Beychella. This is before the multi-million dollar deal with Netflix, the Adidas announcement, a long awaited surprise joint album with JAY Z, The Lion King promo, before the announcement of her husband’s billionaire status, a moment right after having the twins, hallowed into the opening sequence where the Coachella audience has no idea what to expect. The drum pattern drops. A horn section sounds off. Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter appears as the center of the universe draped in regal attire. The biggest music star on the planet, the first Black woman to headline Coachella had arrived with all of her culture and all of her ancestors on her back. In 2018. If the opening alarm sounds familiar it’s because it belongs to the 1978 Black film classic, The Wiz

How is it possible that a forty year old soundtrack is still relevant and very necessary in today’s times? 

It’s because of the mind of Quincy Delight Jones Jr. Through music, he makes the impossible possible. 

“Quincy Jones isn’t simply a producer. He paved the yellow brick road full of possibility of what a producer could be,” shares Hip-Hop archivist Syreeta Gates. The Southside of Chicago born musician, composer, and producer has created across multiple lifetimes, leaving an impact on every single decade and genre. 

In her work, Gates often studies the correlation between Black music history, how it arrives to popular culture and how it is consumed in today’s digital age age. As someone who has interviewed the legend herself, Syreeta says his impact goes beyond having something that every age range can connect to: “Quincy Jones has over six decades of work that is simply unmatched. The Wiz, Michael Jackson, Frank Sanatra, ‘We Are The World’ - we are living in a world that has literally been curated by [Quincy].”

There’s a huge difference between being hot in the moment, and being an innovator. One works amazing well inside of a few summer hits, the other helps to define a body of work. In the 300+ albums that he’s worked on, Quincy didn’t just collaborate. He’s built mutually beneficial relationships with a three point impact that involves himself as an artist, the artist he’s working with, and the listeners of the world. He met Ray Charles when they were both teenagers, setting the foundation for his entire musical career - aiding in the crossover of Black music. His arrangement of "Fly Me to the Moon" with Frank Sinatra & Count Basie was the very first song played on the moon. There’s not an artist born in the 80s and on that hasn’t been inspired by his production hand on Thriller, the world’s best selling album. 

His partnerships aren’t set on Billboard numbers or accolades, they are grounded in a dedication to evolving the art form and pulling up others, breaking down barriers so that music continues to flourish. Want to bring Hip-Hop into mainstream film and television and create new career paths for Black music artists? Let’s create The Fresh Prince. Interested in recording a new era of Black music and contributing to its expansion? Here’s VIBE. There’s not a writer working in entertainment media today that wasn’t inspired by that magazine. 

What producer today can measure up to those contributions? Even if we’re talking about markers that matter in today’s times, he still has the receipts to back that up. He’s done Saturday Night Live - in fact he curated the most artists the show has ever seen at one time. He’s been awarded a national honor by President Obama. He was a fixture in the opening the Smithsonian’s long awaited National Museum of African American History and Culture. And at 86 years old Quincy Jones and his work is the gift that keeps on giving. He’s not doing it for clout or to prove a point, he’s simply doing it from his soul. And he does it relentlessly.

“I’ve been told all the time that ­something’s impossible or nobody has ever done ­anything like that before,” he told Billboard. “I’ve since realized how important it is to be ­underestimated. When you’re ­underestimated, people get out of your way. Let it be noted that throughout his career, Quincy Jones has created a way where there was no way - especially for Black artists and creatives in the entertainment industry. Because he isn’t just for the culture, he IS the culture.