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If you like Quincy Jones story, you might also like:
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Quincy Jones also appears in the video:
Crossroads of My Life

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Quincy Jones in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Pursuing a Career in Music

Related Links:
Quincy Jones Music
PBS
A Passion for Jazz

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  Quincy Jones

What it was like for a black kid traveling in America at that time?

Quincy Jones Interview Photo
Quincy Jones: Killer. Absolute killer.

I had no idea because in Seattle, even though there was racism there, it was more on the level of a lower education basis, sailors and so forth. We just had our 50 year reunion at Garfield High School this year. That is the school that America dreams in its wildest dreams that they will have 50 years from now. That school had everything, Filipino, Jewish, black, Chinese, everything, all together and it was no big deal. I married one of the girls from that school. She talks about getting thrown out of all the top sororities and everything else and I didn't even know that until 50 years later, all the stuff that was going on.

But regardless, that was one of the most progressive schools in America in 1947 and '48.



Then we hit the road and we'd get to places like Texas. This is when every place had "white" and "colored" to wait in the bus stations and the water fountains, all over America. You couldn't stay in a white hotel anywhere. We played dances in New Orleans and they'd have chairs straight down the middle of the thing with chairs to go both ways, white on this side and that side. Then the places in North Carolina and South Carolina, they'd have $2.50 and $3.50 general admission for the black people, white spectators $1.50. I still have the signs, you know. And they'd sit upstairs and drink and watch the black people dance, you know. It was unbelievable. We played juke joints and people would get shot and we'd go through Texas. We always had a white bus driver because we couldn't stop in the restaurants. And sometimes we'd see effigies -- like black dummies -- hanging by nooses from church steeples in Texas. That's pretty heavy, on the church steeple, and they've got a black dummy, which means "Don't stop. Don't even think about coming here," and the bus kept moving. And then they'd finally get to places where we'd get the driver -- the white driver would go in and get food for the band. And sometimes in Newport News we slept -- I remember Jimmy Scott and I slept in a funeral parlor where the bodies were. There was no hotel so this guy said, "I've got a place. You can stay here these two days." We got $17 a night. You're not thinking about some suite at the Waldorf.

[ Key to Success ] Courage


How does that affect you psychologically?

Quincy Jones: It's painful. It's a killer. It slaps your dignity just right. I loved the idea of these proud, dignified black men, and I saw the older ones wounded, and it wounded me ten times as much because I couldn't stand seeing them hurt like this. I knew their mentality, their sense of humor, their wit, their intelligence and everything, totally aware of it, and I'd see people with one-tenth of this, trying to degrade them, trying to be a giant and make a midget out of them to feel bigger. I saw it over and over and over again. When you're unified you get a sense of humor about it or else.


We had confrontations all the time. Please! We had police run us out of town many a time, you know. And, they'd have the joke. You go in a place, they'd always say, "We don't serve niggers here." We'd say, "That's cool. We don't eat them."


You just have to get an attitude about it. You can't let it take you out.

It doesn't seem to have left you embittered in any way.

Quincy Jones: It makes you angry. But I always thought, "Let's harness that anger, let's do something that's going to mean something." If you punch some dude out, that doesn't do anything because they still say you're a nigger. I've seen that happen. That doesn't straighten it out, that's why I get involved in all the battles there are, but on another level.

I went with Lionel Hampton for three years. Out of that came a trip to Europe.


I went to Europe at 19 and it turned me upside down in many ways. It gave you some sense of perspective of past, present and future. It took the myopic conflict between just black and white in the United States and put it on another level because you saw the turmoil between the Armenians and the Turks, and the Cypriots and the Greeks, and the Swedes and the Danes, and the Koreans and the Japanese. Everybody had these hassles, and you saw it was a basic part of human nature, these conflicts. It opened my soul, it opened my mind.


Quincy Jones Interview Photo
I tried to learn 20 to 30 words in every language in the world. I came back to New York after playing with Hamp. I freelanced, wrote for almost every singer in the business. Then I went on a State Department trip in 1956. I organized it for Dizzy Gillespie. We toured all over the Middle East, and South America.

When they send a black band around the world as ambassadors, you know you're going to do a lot of kamikaze work, and we did. They have these categories. The plum jobs are in London and France and so forth. They sent us to what they call the hardship posts. So, we went to Tehran, and Dacha, Karachi, Istanbul and Damascus. It was very exciting. Some of these people had never seen western instruments before.


We got a last-minute call one time from the White House to go immediately from Istanbul to Athens, Greece because the Cypriot students were stoning the embassy. Whenever that happened we got called immediately to go in there, and play for these same kids. That was pretty scary because you could feel the energy and the hostility against whatever policy was going wrong at that time, whether it was Beirut and Israel, or the Cypriots and the Greeks. And after that concert, they rushed the stage -- the kids -- and we thought we were in trouble. Instead, they put Dizzy Gillespie on their shoulders and they were just running around the auditorium singing to him and everything else. It was great!

[ Key to Success ] Courage


They sent us to South America, and back to the United States.


I moved to Paris in 1957 to study with Nadia Boulanger, and to work for a record company called Barclay Records. That was an incredible experience. I went back in 1959, did a Broadway show and had a whole big band to play with the show. I was supposed to eventually pick Sammy Davis, Jr. up in London and come back to Broadway. My band was featured in the show with costumes and parts, and plans didn't go that way. So, we got stranded in Europe for ten months after the show closed, which is the closest I ever came to suicide. And, we finally came home. I hocked everything I had in my publishing companies and got the band and all 30 people back home.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance


Quincy Jones Interview Photo
A friend of mine who was the president of Mercury Records, which was about to merge with Philips Records of Holland, asked me to work there, so I could pay some of my debts back. I was vice president, and two years later got a chance to really learn what the record business was all about. I became a troubleshooter in Europe and Greece.

It was a great education from the other side, the other perspective of our business. Because, for the most part, artists feel that all corporations get up at 7 o'clock in the morning figuring out how to get them. It's not quite like that, but it's a whole different perspective. I learned a lot about the inner workings of a business that I was going to be in for 48 years.


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This page last revised on Aug 26, 2015 19:12 EDT
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