Most people know Quincy Jones as a legendary musical composer, record producer, arranger, conductor and instrumentalist who has amassed 27 Grammy Awards and a record 79 Grammy nominations over a 60-year entertainment career.
But Jones’ work in the TV and movie genres has also earned him accolades. His production credits include such groundbreaking projects as the 1985 film The Color Purple and the popular 1990s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. As a scorer, he’s lent his musical expertise to more than 40 movie and television projects.
Jones’ ingenuity in successfully straddling—and in many cases fusing —the music and video genres over his more than six decades in entertainment have earned him a Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award.
Jones, 82, began his entertainment career in the 1950s as a musician and an arranger for such artists as Sarah Vaughan, Ray Charles, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Dinah Washington and LaVern Baker. After ascending to vice president at Mercury Records in 1961—a rare position of authority for an African-American at the time—Jones said he looked to tune his musical ears to a different media beat, the world of television and film.
“I always believed music was an important part of the movie and television experience,” Jones says. “The music eventually became the identifiable mark for the show.”
Indeed, producing the musical soundtrack for such theatrical films as Sidney Lumet’s 1964 drama film The Pawnbroker—which includes the song “Soul Bossa Nova,” made famous in the 1990s by Mike Myers’ Austin Powers film series—and creating the theme songs of the 1960s TV crime drama Ironside and the 1970s comedy Sanford and Son gave Jones the insight and the desire to eventually jump into the production end of the video business.
“It was new, and at the time when I was doing [the film scores], I was also involved with inspecting what it takes to produce television shows and movies,” he said.
Jones was one of the “original disruptors,” Revolt CEO Keith Clinkscales said.
“He helped to usher in the modern era of communications by using his true love for music and culture, and found different ways to fuse it together with technology in the spirit of humanity,” he said.
But it wasn’t until 1985 when Jones would officially don the filmmaker hat, serving as co-producer with Steven Spielberg on the classic film The Color Purple. The movie, based on Alice Walker’s novel, would go on to earn 11 Academy Award nominations and provide mainstream exposure to a pair of little-known actors, Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey.
In 1990—seven years after producing Michael Jackson’s record-selling album Thriller and five years from producing the record-setting single We Are the World—Jones would team with Time Warner Inc. to launch Quincy Jones Entertainment, a multimedia company that would create theatrical films and cable and syndicated TV shows.
“We had just done Thriller and We Are the World, so I thought that this was the time for me to grow,” Jones says. “I wanted to prove that I could do television, so I did the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”
Indeed, Fresh Prince in 1991 was one of QJE’s first projects, green-lit by then-NBC entertainment head Tartikoff himself. In a May 1990 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Tartikoff himself said the network was high on the series, which starred Will Smith—then an emerging rap artist—as a troubled Philadelphia youth who moves in with his wealthy California relatives.
Tartikoff went on to say the series was the best-testing NBC comedy ever with teen-agers, “including The Cosby Show.”
The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air would go on to be a major hit for NBC over its six-year run, and remains popular in syndication. Jones says he recognized early the appeal of the show and of Smith, who is now one of the biggest box-office draws in the world.
“You had [Smith] getting thrown out of his house in Philadelphia when there was too much trouble to come out here and live with his bourgeois family… every move he makes is a scene full of entertainment and conflict, and that’s when you know you have a good premise for a series,” Jones says. “Will had the personality—he didn’t even know where the cameras were when we first started. But he learned fast and took what he learned from the show and became a huge movie star.”
Jones also served as producer for such shows as UPN comedy In the House starring LL Cool J and Debbie Allen, as well as the sketch-comedy series MADtv, inspired by Mad magazine. It ran for 14 years on Fox.
Jones is also credited with producing the 68th Annual Academy Awards in 1996.
Always on the cutting edge of new technology, Jones said that he is working on a number of video projects across multiple distribution platforms. He said he’s excited about the changes in the television arena brought on by over-the-top services like Netflix.
“I think Netflix is the best outlet, right now because it’s a new concept,” he says.
For those who might label any new Quincy Jones project as a comeback of sorts for the entertainer, Jones says he’s never really left the entertainment block.
“Everybody talks about a comeback, but I say you never have to make a comeback if you don’t leave…and I haven’t left,” he says.