All that jazz: How Quincy Jones got his start in Seattle

The Garfield High alum played for the likes of Billie Holiday when he was a teenager.

A black and white photo of Quincy Jones in a jacket and tie surrounded by members of the Garfield High marching band

Quincy Jones hung with Garfield High band members during a visit in November 1982.

Photo by Grant M. Haller via MOHAI, Seattle Post-Intelligencer Collection, 2000.

Note for note, there may be no equal to jazz legend and Garfield High alum Quincy Jones.

Over his 70-year career, the composer has racked up 28 Grammy Awards out of 80 nominations, arranged the scores of almost 40 flicks, and worked closely with the likes of Frank Sinatra and Michael Jackson.

Is it any wonder why he’s on our Mount Rushmore of Seattle Music? Though he was born in Chicago, Jones spent his formative years here and continues to influence the budding artists of our city.

Let’s look to see where he’s left his melodic mark.

Sinclair Heights Armory

Jones was about 10 years old when his father moved the family to Kitsap County to find work at a naval shipyard, as did hundreds of other Black families. One night, Jones broke into a Sinclair Heights armory with a few friends and started tinkering with a piano — he later recalled it as a key moment in his musical awakening.

Garfield High School

A few years after moving to Washington, Jones enrolled at Garfield and became an accomplished trumpet player. During that time, he joined a swing band with friends that was eventually run by famed promoter Bumps Blackwell. Jones and the band first played during lunch breaks at the high school, but soon got more prominent gigs backing up touring jazz icons like Billie Holiday.

The Black Elks Club

This Black community club that used to be on South Jackson Street stands out as the setting for one of Jones’ major collaborations. It was here that the 14-year-old trumpeter met the then-unknown Ray Charles and formed a lasting friendship.

Jones went on to fame and fortune after leaving Seattle, but never forgot his roots. He’s made return visits to his alma mater and recently donated $50,000 to the Washington Middle School band to keep the institution’s jazz program alive.

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