Hollywood Flashback: Quincy Jones Had an All-Star Tribute to Ellington in 1973

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Quincy Jones (left) in rehearsals for the 1973 Duke Ellington CBS special. Ellington (seated) signed a photograph to Jones: “To Q, who will de-categorize American music,” just before he died in 1974.

Jones, who's the subject of the Netflix doc 'Quincy,' got his first television credit as a producer for the CBS special 'Duke Ellington… We Love You Madly,' which featured stars Peggy Lee, Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles, among others.

Quincy Jones, who's the subject of the Netflix documentary Quincy (which missed out on an Oscar nom but has high Emmy hopes) got his first television credit as a producer with the 1973 CBS special Duke Ellington … We Love You Madly.

Jones, then 39, already had composed music for a long list of films and TV shows, but on Madly, besides being a musical arranger, he shared production duties with Bud Yorkin. The 90-minute live show was filmed at L.A.'s Shubert Theatre, a 2,100-seat venue that sat on the Century City site where the CAA building now stands.

"It was one of the most amazing shows I ever went to," says George Schlatter, producer of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, who was in the audience. "It paved the way for this type of musical spectacular being on TV."

The black-tie affair's list of performers reads like a 20th century Grammy all-star team. Among them were Peggy Lee, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Roberta Flack, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughan and the rock band Chicago. "Being on this show was one of the highlights of my career," says Danny Seraphine, the drummer for Chicago.

The musicians even included longtime Ellington players such as Harry Carney, Cootie Williams and Clark Terry (the subject of a 2014 doc produced by Jones). The Hollywood Reporter described the Ellington tribute as a "labor of love by those who know him best."

THR singled out Jones as "a musician of impeccable credentials as well as a shrewd administrator" for gathering a cast that's "clearly chosen for ability as well as name value."

As the show begins, Jones is seen conducting the orchestra in a tuxedo and wearing what looks like the world's largest bow tie. The opener has Charles sitting with Basie at the piano while the entire cast joins in singing the Ellington standard "It Don't Mean a Thing (If You Ain't Got That Swing)." Madly takes off from there. If there's a flaw to the show, it's that the sound coming from that era's television sets is tinny, which the live performance surely wasn't. The show was not even a midpoint in Jones' career, but Ellington was dead at 75 within a year.

This story first appeared in a June stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.