A tale of two Quincy’s
Dec 9, 2020 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
My travel plans may be grounded, but that hasn’t stopped me from dreaming about future adventures. The eternally fabulous Palm Springs grabs the top spot on my 2021 list. As a mecca for mid-century design, it’s dazzling. And it’s hard to tell who had the brighter star power – the Hollywood crowd or their architects! While taking my own Google Maps tour I was struck by the name of A. Quincy Jones. Inspired by our article about Edith Head and Edith Heath, allow me to present a tale of two Quincy’s. In one corner we have Quincy Jones, legendary music producer, and in the other A. Quincy Jones, iconic architect. Won’t you join me as we learn more about these two dashing figures?
Similarities pop out from the beginning with the fact that both Quincy’s are Midwestern boys with Pacific Northwest connections. Archibald Quincy Jones was born in Kansas City in 1913, his formative years were spent in Southern California and he studied architecture at the University of Washington. Quincy Delight Jones, Jr. was born in Chicago in 1933 and at the age of ten moved to the Seattle area. Following the end of WWII, both Quincy’s started their careers. A. Quincy established his practice in the Los Angeles area and Quincy embarked on a European jazz tour. Geographically their paths diverged, but as we’ll discover they shared a panache that overcame distance or career focus.
When you think about prolific artists it’s easy to see them as solo acts. This myth can be fed by one name titles (for example, people know exactly who you are discussing when you say Sinatra without the Frank). But what I appreciate about both of our Quincy’s is that they recognize the power of teamwork. For instance, many of the Palm Springs structures we admire today are thanks to the combined effort of A. Quincy and Paul R. Williams. Paul is an amazing designer in his own right and overcame incredible odds. He became a certified architect in 1921, becoming the first African-American to do so West of the Mississippi River. A year after his certification Paul won his first competition and opened up his practice. In the early days his clients didn’t feel comfortable sitting alongside him, so he developed an “upside-down” drafting technique that allowed him to sketch out ideas during client meetings. While my heart breaks that this was a skill he developed, what shines through is Paul’s strength of character and love for design. That level of passion and talent is what made the pairing of Paul and A. Quincy so special. When they changed the Palm Springs skyline in the late 1940s it laid the groundwork for the oasis we know and love today.
Check out A. Quincy’s Case Study house #24. How I wish it had been built!
A. Quincy had many other fruitful partnerships during his career (for example: developer Joseph Eichler who was responsible for bring mid-century homes to the masses). When you consider each of these collaborative works, you begin to see that the distinct structures are a celebration of the individual designers’ gifts, while remaining a study in Quincy’s quest to deliver better environments. You could say A. Quincy had a “jazz-like” quality to his working style, riffing between materials and associates in pursuit of a pure idea (dare I say, a harmony). Quincy Jones, with his abundant musical talent, took this approach literally! His body of work is impressive and spans the gamut of producing, songwriting, and composing. To look at his list of collaborators is to read a catalog of “who’s who” in the entertainment industry.
We’ll pick two of my personal favorites because I think they speak to his range as an artist: Lesley Gore & Michael Jackson. “It’s My Party” is considered Quincy’s first hit. Recorded in 1963, this song became an instant pop classic. But hidden beneath the angst-filled lyrics are notes of Latin inspiration and unexpected instrumentals. I love the layers to this track and in my view it’s an early example of how his Jazz background influences his approach. There is a freedom in not dictating which instruments or tones are “proper” for the genre or the song’s message. For my money, this jazzy methodology reaches its zenith with Thriller. The range of this album is far-reaching: pop, rock, funk and disco. The sheer exuberance catapulted this album into our collective soundscape. Just as mid-century modern became an international movement, Thriller was a global sensation. When you tackle your next project dear reader, think like a Quincy and lean into teamwork!
Innovative and cinematic
If you want a big-budget experience look no further than A. Quincy’s Sunnlyands project. It’s epic. It’s big and sprawling. It’s played host to presidents, diplomats and royalty. The estate is perhaps one of the clearest examples of what A. Quincy could do when caution was thrown to the wind. If you were to describe this estate as a song it would be something from Barbra Streisand’s catalog. But there’s more than one facet to his innovative side. There’s also A. Quincy, the green architect ahead of his time. He pioneered passive cooling and residential green spaces well before sustainability was a buzzword. A. Quincy truly wanted to make the world a better place through responsible and thought-provoking design. His work (whether that was at the scale of Sunnlyands or a factory-made home) was always cool, but never cold. Perhaps we can thank his collaborative spirit for keeping his work grounded in humanity. With over 5,000 buildings to his name he transformed the look of California and as a professor at USC he mentored the next generation.
Similarly, Quincy Jones transforms the entertainment industry whenever he stretches his legs. Take a listen to The Wiz soundtrack or watch The Color Purple (his first time sitting in the chair of film producer). Both examples are thought-provoking and transport you to another place and time. Even though both Quincy’s created via different mediums, their outputs share certain characteristics. December is a time of the year when people start thinking about resolutions. 2020 has been a difficult year and I would encourage you, dear reader, to think about this tale of two Quincy’s when looking to 2021. Be brave, make new friends, encourage others, and create beautiful things!