When Quincy Jones Came to Bremerton.
Updated: Nov 4, 2019
If you watch the 2018 Grammy-award winning documentary "Quincy" (Netflix), you will hear Quincy Jones tell the story of how he came from humble roots- born on the southside of Chicago, to a mother who, although brilliant (a graduate in the 1920s from Boston University), suffered from mental illness, and exposed to gang life at an early age- his hand once nailed to a fence as a six year old boy.
As Quincy (‘Q’) tells an enrapt Ice Tea:
"If you remember where you come from you will always know where you are going." The Jones family moved to Bremerton in the 1940s, where, as Quincy always tells the story, "I discovered my life's passion, music".
As an 11-year old “Q” tells how he broke into the Bremerton Armory ("we were Baby Gangsters", he noted, in his interview with Steven Colbert). After he and his cohorts devoured all the lemon meringue pie in the cafeteria, he came upon a piano in one of the offices. And when he touched the keys Q said- "every cell in my body and every drop of blood
told me this is what I would be doing for the rest of my life".
This magical story led to the Legend of Quincy Jones, who today has more Grammy nominations (80) than any artist in history. Jones has 30 grammy awards to his credit, won as a performer, writer, producer and director. He produced the greatest selling LP of all time "Thriller" and directed the greatest selling single of all time "We are the World".
Jones’ works span the musical spectrum. At the age of 18 (just seven years after he first touched those piano keys) he toured the world with the Lionel Hampton band, playing trumpet; then played with the Dizzie Gillespie Band. He studied classical music in France, and in the late fifties and early sixties, arranged and directed for Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack (“Fly Me to the Moon”).
He formed his own big band, played around the world, and segued into jazz. His prolific writing led him to write theme songs for movies and television, including the themes from “Sanford and Son" and "Prince of Bel Air".
Along the way he produced the movie "Color Purple", where he discovered Oprah Winfrey. His entrepreneurial drive led him to the world of pop music, where he arranged, and produced Michael Jackson. Q’s own 1989 "Back on the Block" won the grammy for best album and the single by the same name won "Best Single."
So what kind of town was Bremerton when Q grew up here? Bremerton was booming in the 1940s. The shipyard was tasked with building the ships to win the war. In five years- from 1940 to 1945, the population of Bremerton grew from approximately 10,000 to 72,000. Tent cities sprung up to handle the influx of workers into the shipyard. Bremerton rivaled Seattle (90,000) in population.
The African American population meanwhile grew from less than 100 to over 4,500 over the same time span. Unlike Boeing, the shipyard recruited African American employees, including Q's father, a skilled carpenter from Chicago.
As a boy, Q played tuba and trumpet at Coontz Junior High. His family lived in a segregated neighborhood known as “Sinclair Heights”. Recollections were that no phone lines were extended to the homes in this neighborhood (the assumption being that the intent was not to encourage the African American community to remain "long term" ). As one resident recalled, 'if you needed to use a phone you had to walk to a single phone booth at the base of the hill and stand in line’.
In those days there were "sit downs" in downtown Bremerton by the African American community to protest segregation. Even prior to Rosa Parks, the civil rights movement was alive in Bremerton. Bremerton was a hard scrabble, blue collar town with an edge in the 1940s, reportedly with more bars per capita than any town in the west, but its heart and soul was bubbling up.
Young Quincy, a genius of "Mozartian" propensity was about to burst onto the scene- and grow up to become a super nova in the world of music and entertainment.
Music discovered him here.