Throughout a 70-year career, Quincy Jones became one of music’s most influential figures, first as a musician in the 1950s, then as a composer, arranger and producer in the 60s as well as a record producer, television and film producer and songwriter.
Born March 14, 1933, Jones began as a jazz trumpeter, working his way into Dizzy Gillespie’s band in 1956 while honing his skills as a composer, arranger and producer, eventually working with artists like Ray Charles, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington in the late 1950s – even setting up the arrangement of Big Maybelle’s 1955 song “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” before it became a Jerry Lee Lewis hit two years later – and ultimately as a songwriter and artist himself.
Throughout the 1960s, Jones began composing films, including the 1967 Sidney Poitier classic. In the heat of the Night and the Richard Brooks-helmed, Truman Capote-inspired In cold blood, and also worked as a television producer.
Transitioning from musician to songwriter and producer, in the 1960s Jones continued to work with some of the biggest names in soul, funk, jazz and pop, producing everyone by Lesley Gore and her two biggest hits “You Don’t Own Me” and “It’s My Party” on her former boss Dizzy Gillespie’s 1963 album New wave!
In the 1970s Jones also produced Aretha Franklin’s 19th album Hey Now Hey (The other side of the sky)before suffering a brain aneurysm in 1974. By 1979 Jones was back and produced Michael Jackson’s breakthrough debut On the wall.
After forming Qwest Records in 1980, Jones worked with Jackson several times, producing his hit albums. Thriller in 1982 and Wrong in 1987, as well as the 1985 USA for Africa charity hit “We Are the World”, undoubtedly leaving its mark on the sound of R&B and pop throughout the 21st century.
While the layers of Jones’ catalog are many, here’s a look at some of the songs he’s written over the decades.
“The Ray”, Ray Charles (1957)
Written by Quincy Jones
Jones and Charles first met as teenagers and remained lifelong friends. Although they didn’t collaborate much, they did get together on several occasions, including Charles singing “In the Heat of the Night”, produced by Jones, written by Marilyn Bergman and Alan Bergman for the 1967 film of the same name . “Quincy had a loving style about him,” Charles said in Jones’ 2001 autobiography. Q. “He was genuine. We hit it off right away.” Although Charles’ signature raspy voice is nowhere on “The Ray,” on his second album The Great Ray Charlesit’s a snapshot of Jones’ jazz roots perfectly captured by his friend.
“Rat Race”, Count Basie (1959)
Written by Quincy Jones
First released by Count Basie in 1959, and also covered by Gustav Brom Big Band and Taylor Baker, “Rat Race” was one of 10 songs Jones wrote on Basie’s 1959 album. Basis one more time.
“The New York Blues”, Peggy Lee (1962)
Written by Quincy Jones and Peggy Lee
Written by Peggy Lee and Quincy Jones, the song was featured on Lee’s 1962 vacation album. It’s Christmas with Peggy Lee. In a nostalgic ode to NYC, Lee sings:
Once I said goodbye
At New York
i said goodbye
But I have to come back to you
If I have to walk
Or crawl or fly
I can’t say goodbye to New York City
something must give
They say it’s a great place to visit
But my heart tells me it’s a better place to live
“Ascend, King Jesus” Little Richard (1962)
Written by Quincy Jones and Richard Penniman
Produced by Jones, The king of gospel singers was a more witty outing for Little Richard capturing his soulful side on “(There Will Be) Peace in the Valley (For Me)” and his innate rock and roll side on “Joy Joy Joy.” Jones also co-wrote two tracks on the album – “Ride On, King Jesus” and “Do Lord, Remember Me” with Richard Penniman.
“Just Tonight”, Aretha Franklin (1973)
Written by Quincy Jones, Avery Parrish, Buddy Feyne and Robert Bruce
Aretha Franklin’s 19th album Hey Now Hey (The other side of the sky) first started as a jazz record, but took more soulful routes with producers Jones and Franklin. Jones also co-wrote a song for the album, “Just Right Tonight”.
“PYT (Pretty Young Thing)”, Michael Jackson (1982)
Written by Quincy Jones and James Ingram
Excluding Michael Jackson Thriller, “PYT” offered funkier soulful pop on the album, which was eventually overshadowed by the title track. Although Jackson never performed the song live, it was still one of his many Top 10 hits, peaking at No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 – and one of six chart-topping hits Thriller.
“Good Life”, Kanye West, with T-Pain (2007)
Written by Quincy Jones, Kanye West, Faheem Najm, James Ingram, Aldrin Davis
On the third single from Kanye West’s third album Graduation, Jones lent a helping hand as the songwriter for the hit. Produced by West and DJ Toomp, the song features rapper T-Pain and peaked at number 7 on the Billboard Hot 100.
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