His career spans six decades in the entertainment industry and a record 79 Grammy Award nominations, and 28 Grammys, including a Grammy Legend Award in 1991. He is best known for his appearances as himself in Yakety Yak, Take it Back,Trash Talk, and Fantasia 2000.
Raised in Seattle, Washington, Jones developed interest in music at an early age, and attended the Berklee College of Music. He came to prominence in the 1950s as a jazz arranger and conductor, before moving on to work prolifically in pop music and film scores. In 1968, Jones and his songwriting partner, Bob Russell, became the first African Americans to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song, their selection "The Eyes of Love" for the Universal Pictures film Banning. That same year, Jones was the first African American to be nominated twice within the same year for an Academy Award for Best Original Score, as he was also nominated for his work on the 1967 film In Cold Blood. In 1971, Jones was the first African American to be named as the musical director and conductor of the Academy Awards ceremony. In 1995, he was the first African American to receive the Academy's Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. He is tied with sound designer Willie D. Burton as the African American who has been nominated for the most Oscars; each has received seven nominations.
Jones was the producer, with Michael Jackson, of Jackson's albums Off the Wall (1979), Thriller (1982), and Bad (1987), as well as the producer and conductor of the 1985 charity song "We Are the World," which raised funds for victims of destitution in Ethiopia.
In 2013, Jones was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as the winner, alongside Lou Adler, of the Ahmet Ertegun Award. Among his awards, Jones was named by Time Magazine as one of the most influential jazz musicians of the 20th century.