Quincy Delight Jones, Jr., known to his friends as “Q,” has reached more musical milestones than anyone in20th century musical history. His accomplishments helped shape the course of popular music over the second half of this century, influencing the careers of Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie,Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Michael Jackson and so many others.
Quincy was producer of both We Are The World and Michael Jackson’s Thriller, until recently the biggest selling single and album of all time. He was the first high-level African American executive of an established major record company, as well as the first major African American film composer. He arranged the first song played on the moon. The all-time most nominated Grammy artist, with a total of 76 nominations and 26 awards, Quincy Jones has also received an Emmy Award, seven Oscar nominations, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. He has scored, at last count, 35 films.
Today, Quincy heads up a multimedia organization that spans the globe, yet his philanthropic accomplishments are equally impressive. One example, of many, is The Quincy Jones Listen Up Foundation. Dedicated to giving every child an equal opportunity to grow to their full potential, Listen Up supports programs that meet the critical needs of healthcare and education for children. Listen Up bridges the gap between privilege and poverty by fostering local initiatives which are capable of a global reach.
We spoke to Quincy about a wide range of topics, but of course we had to start with one particularly near and dear to our hearts: We asked why he became a member of First Entertainment. Quincy had a quintessential answer: “I just go with the vibe, you know. I always have. Can’t help it.” We caught up with Quincy at his new Westside home, where he’s working on the score for 50 Cent’s new movie, Get Rich or Die Tryin’.
the Show: By the looks of it, you’re having a lot of fun doing this film.
Quincy: Always, man. It’s a notorious deadline, but it’s going to be exciting.
the Show: This is your first film since The Color Purple?
Quincy: It’s been awhile, but this one is important because I respect Jim Sheridan (the director) and 50 Cent so much. It’s a great movie. A real insight into what the hip hop and urban hood mentality is all about. The importance of family, and what the family has to grow into.
the Show: If it weren’t music, what else do you think you’d be doing for a living?
Quincy: I don’t have a clue, I really don’t. Because we came from Chicago, the spawning ground of the biggest gangsters, black or white. That’s all we saw when we were kids. It was the depression in Chicago, you know. So, we had that thug stimuli all the time. So at ten years old my father took us out to the Northwest, where it was almost as though black people didn’t exist. And at that time I met Ray Charles. I was 14, he was 16.
the Show: It must have changed your life when Ray taught you to read music.
Quincy: Oh yeah, absolutely. He did it in braille, too. He had sight at one time so he knew how to describe it to a person with sight. I was working on it before I met Ray, but he used to teach me how to arrange, really, more than how to read. I lost him and (Marlon) Brando three weeks apart. They were my two oldest friends. When Ray and I were kids, we didn’t know who we wanted to be because there was nobody to emulate. Joe Louis was a boxer and my father worked for him, but I didn’t want to be a boxer. But thank god I ran into Count Basie and Duke Ellington and Erskine Hawkins and Louis Armstrong. These bands represented something very unified, very dignified – black men that were worldly and had fun and had talent. And I said, that’s for me, that’s the family I want to be in. From a very early age, from, like, 12 years old. And it saved my life. Because we were out thugging and doing all the dumb stuff.
the Show: Did you realize at that point that you had a special gift for music?
Quincy: I only knew it’s what I wanted to do. I never imagined where it would all lead, that wasn’t important. Talent is one thing, but it’s divinity that connects you to work with Billie Holiday and Ella and Sarah and Duke and Basie, all of them. Miles, Sinatra, all the way to Diana Ross and Michael Jackson and the rappers and everybody. It’s a blessing, because you know you don’t have anything to do with it. You can’t call up and say, “Mr. Sinatra I want to work with you.” Give me a break. They called you. And I was just lucky enough that enough people called. Very lucky.
the Show: You’re artistic output is mind-boggling. Any advice you can give to creative people to nourish and sustain their own creativity?
Quincy: You have to use it or lose it. You have to stay on top of it. And you have to be flexible enough to open your ears and eyes to all the different genres, everything. When I was in Turkey, I used to sit in the St. Sofia mosque and the Blue Mosque, and all night long listen to the singers sing the Qu’ran, in quarter tone. It’s just as painful as the blues.
the Show: And what are you listening to these days?
Quincy: It’s across the board. From African music to classical music. I love Cuban music. Cuban music is so good that it hasn’t changed in 70 years because there’s not too much room for improvement. This is true. They still use the trumpet section the same way. It’s the most polyrhythmic application of African music, similar to Brazilian music. Or the Mystery of Bulgarian Voices Choir, which is also African influenced. I listen to everything, man.
the Show: At what point did you decide to devote so much of your life to helping children?
Quincy: Well, when we were younger we used to do just little regional things to help, whatever. Because when you come out of poverty you never forget it. I don’t care where you live. You see kids living out of boxes, no water, no electricity … it hits you right where you live. I remember, in 1953, we were finishing up a job, a one-nighter in Tunisia for Lionel Hampton, and Clifford Brown and I were coming down the steps, like, at one in the morning out of this dance hall. And in the spring rain there was a little girl about 5 years old in a little flower dress, no shoes on, one arm behind her back, and she was asking for money. We were making $17 a night so there was only so much we could give her. She was sweet and curtsied and so forth, and after we gave her some money we watched her go around the corner and two guys in an alley were waiting for her and the money. Our guide told us that the two were her uncle and father. Evidently, they had cut off her left hand so she could beg better. She never showed us the left hand though. I couldn’t believe it, man. That people could get to that point. It was rough over there in the 50’s, you know. It was right after the war. Berlin was still in shambles. Same with Tokyo.
the Show: Back then, did you ever imagine that music would allow you to make such a difference in the world?
Quincy: Never. It’s amazing. Our Listen Up Foundation has a scope that’s just incredible … I’m 72 now and I used to be able to run around and do a lot more, but today it’s about pulling people together to help. One of the things we’re doing is building homes in South Africa, and we’re working with Habitat For Humanity International, Artists For A New South Africa (ANSA), and the Creative Artists Agency (CAA). It’s fantastic to just mix the people up, take all their energy and consolidate it.
the Show: It doesn’t seem like you’ve slowed down one bit.
Quincy: You can’t just get half involved. It’s no joke, man. It takes the same intensity as a career. You see Sudan. You see Niger. You see New Orleans. My stomach just turns. But I’m a criminal optimist, man. Criminal. I just believe that this army of light is going to work. We’re going to Cambodia the 21st of October, trying to build $20 million worth of hospitals. Last year we did a concert at Circus Maximus in Rome to benefit the children of conflict – we had 700,000 people. In 1999 (U2 frontman) Bono and I went with (Bob) Geldoff to see the Pope to talk about third world debt. We had a 25-minute appointment with him. That was on a Thursday. Bono and I read in the Herald Tribune that Saturday that because of that meeting we were able to get $27.5 billion in debt relief for the world’s poorest countries. Two raggedy Irish rock and rollers and a brother from Chicago. It was amazing.
the Show: What can people do to help Listen Up?
Quincy: Money and time, we could use all of it. My dream is to see that little girl who’s begging for money, who’s life has been hell, and see that transform into hope. I have a twelve year-old daughter and I see that hope in her eyes all the time. If we want and expect security for our kids, we have an obligation to find a way to provide a common destiny for every child on this planet.
If you would like to help The Quincy Jones Listen Up Foundation or learn more about this remarkable organization, call 818.954.7756, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.qjluf.org