The 1994 Polar Music Prize goes to American composer, arranger and producer Quincy Jones, a boundary-transcending musical magician.
Quincy Jones was born in Chicago in 1933, but moved to Seattle with his family at an early age where he developed his interest in music and started to learn the trumpet. Jones played with Robert Blackwell, Ray Charles and Lionel Hampton, among others.
After high school graduation in 1950, he got a scholarship to study at the Boston music school Schillinger House (which later became known as the Berklee School of Music).
Studies in Paris
Three years later, Dizzy Gillespie tapped Jones to play in his band, and later in 1956, when Gillespie was invited to put together a big band of outstanding international musicians, he chose Quincy to lead the ensemble. In 1957, Jones moved to Paris in order to study with Nadia Boulanger, an expatriate American composer with a stellar track record in educating composers and bandleaders. He went on to start a music career in France and participated in building up the foundations of the modern French record industry.
Record company career
Eddie Barclay, a jazz pianist and high profile within French popular music, opened clubs in Paris in the ’50s where Quincy Jones played with great European jazz musicians like Boris Vian, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Sacha Distel and Glenn Miller. He started his record company Disques Barclay in 1958, hiring writer and musician Boris Vian as “directeur des variétés” and Quincy Jones as arranger and A&R, Frank Ténot and Daniel Filipacchi as “jazz managers”, Raymond Lefevre and Michel Legrand as “orchestrators” and Philippe Bouvard, famous French journalist, as PR-manager.
Quincy Jones then produced and arranged sessions for popular artists like Jacques Brel and Charles Aznavour, as well as traveling American artists. Jones’ work for Barclay impressed the management at Mercury Records, an American label affiliated with the French imprint, and in 1961, he was named vice president for Mercury, the first time an African-American had been hired as an upper-level executive by a major U.S. recording company.
Pop and movies
Jones scored one of his first major pop hits when he produced and arranged “It’s My Party” for teenage vocalist Lesley Gore, which marked his first significant step away from jazz into the larger world of popular music.
Jones also freelanced for other labels on the side, including arranging a number of memorable Atlantic sides for Ray Charles.
In 1963 Jones began exploring what would become a fruitful medium for him when he composed his first film score for Sidney Lumet’s controversial drama The Pawnbroker; he would go on to write music for 33 feature films, including In Cold Blood, In the Heat of the Night, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, and The Getaway.
The recording artist
While Jones maintained a busy schedule as a composer, producer, and arranger through the 1960s, he also re-emerged as a recording artist in 1969 with the album Walking in Space, which found Jones recasting his big-band influences within the framework of the budding fusion movement and the influences of contemporary rock, pop, and R&B sounds.
The album was a commercial and critical success, and kick started Jones’ career as a recording artist. At the same time, he began working more closely with contemporary pop artists, producing sessions for Aretha Franklin and arranging strings for Paul Simon’s There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, and while Jones continued to work with jazz artists, many hard-and-fast jazz fans began to accuse Jones of turning his back on the genre, though Jones always contended his greatest allegiance was to African-American musical culture rather than any specific genre.
Jones + Jackson
When the implements of electronic music came on the scene, Quincy Jones opened the way to a completely new world of sound. In the ’80s, his biggest mainstream success came from his work with Michael Jackson. Jones produced the artists breakout solo album, Off the Wall, in 1979, and in 1982 they teamed up again for Thriller, which went on to become the biggest-selling album of all time, having reached over 110 million copies around the world.
In 1985 Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie wrote in two hours, the world famous charity singel “We Are the World” recorded by 45 pop artists, including Cyndi Lauper, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen and many more. Quincy Jones and Lionel Ritchie returned to the same studio 25 years later to record “We Are The World 25 For Haiti,” this time to help Haiti and support the country after the massive earthquake in January 2010.
The Social Activist
Launched in 2004, the We Are the Future (WAF) initiative was the result of a strategic partnership between the Glocal Forum and the Quincy Jones Listen Up Foundation, with the support of the World Bank, UN agencies, and corporations. The Listen Up foundation is another Quincy Jones initiative, working on breaking cycles of poverty and violence by initiating children to music and creativity.
A rework of the classics
Stockholm, May 1994
Quincy Jones and Nikolaus Harnoncourt were the Laureates of the Polar Music Prize 1994.