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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
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Quincy Jones Interview (page: 8 / 9)

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  Quincy Jones

From the beginning you attracted the interest, or the respect, of older musicians. What did they see in you? What did they see in Quincy Jones?

Quincy Jones: I don't know. They knew I wanted to do whatever I did well. They could tell that I hadn't gotten it together yet, but they knew I wanted to, and they knew one day I would. I don't know why they'd waste their time otherwise.

Count Basie practically adopted me at 13. We became closer and closer and I ended up conducting for him and Sinatra.



All my life Count Basie was there. He was like manager, mentor, father, brother, everything. He'd help me get jobs when I had my big band later. And, I remember we played up in New Haven, a job that he didn't want to take, and he said, "Okay, I've got a job for your band. You got it." And so they got the contracts. We were the same agency, Willard Alexander, and we got a third of what he would get naturally. It was a 12 or 1300-seat place and only about 700 people showed up, and I was really disappointed and hurt. I had a big band from New York. Basie showed up, and he said, "Okay, give the man half of the money back." I said, "What do you mean, half of the money back?" He said, "He put your name down front and the people didn't come. He will be important for you in the future and you shouldn't hurt him because the people didn't come. Give him half of his money back." I gave half the money back. He always tried to teach me how to be a human being.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity


Quincy Jones Interview Photo

A lot of the guys were like that -- Oscar Pettiford -- they just took me under their wing, and that's why I automatically help young people. I just love it, because they did that for me. They were there.

And Benny Carter, please! Benny Carter is one of the finest musicians on the planet. He was my idol. When I went to California, Benny puts you on his shoulders, gives you the target and helps you pull the bow strings. Just amazing. Benny and me are just beautiful close friends now. He's 96 years old, with a mind just as sharp as a tack.

People like Milt Hinton, the bass player that was so kind to me when I first went to New York. Some guys try to take advantage of you, some don't pay any attention to you, and the others embrace you and put their arms around you and help you.

You went from playing the trumpet to arranging, conducting, film composing, being a record company executive -- you have done all these things. And you didn't stop at being a jazz musician, you went on to do so many different kinds of music. Wasn't that difficult?


Quincy Jones: We started that in music very early. We had to play schottisches and boogie-woogie, blues or rhythm and blues or be-bop, pop music, concert music, Sousa, everything. From the beginning, we played it. That's why a lot of the jazz musicians, when I did Michael Jackson, they said, "You sold out." I said, "I've been doing this all my life. What do you mean, sold out?" It's not even a stretch, you know, to go from different kinds of music. And, if you start out like that it's not unusual at all. Everything feels good, whether it's Wynonie Harris, Louis Jordan or Charlie Parker or Bartok, Alban Berg or whatever. Nadia Boulanger used to say, "There's only 12 notes, so listen to what everybody does with those 12 notes." That's all there are really.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity


Quincy Jones Interview Photo
You worked incredibly hard for everything you've accomplished, but it's obvious that you also had a great talent. Did you have any idea where it came from?

Quincy Jones: No, not at all. I do now, later on in life. Alex Haley was a dear, dear friend of mine before he wrote Roots. We worked on Roots together. He asked me, "Where did the music come from in the family?" I said, "I don't know. My mother played a little piano -- religious piano because she was a religious fanatic -- and I heard a little of that, but nobody else that I remember played in my family before." And so Alex said, "I'll tell you what. I'm going to call some friends of mine in Salt Lake City. The Mormons could have saved me ten years if they had done Roots because they are the greatest researchers."

That Christmas they sent me a book of information that just blew my head off. I couldn't believe it. Number one, my mother's family came from a plantation that was owned by James Lanier, who was a relative of Sidney Lanier, the poet. He had a baby with my great-grandmother, and my grandmother was born there. We traced this all the way back to the Laniers, same family as Tennessee Williams.

Quincy Jones Interview Photo
They were originally Huguenots from France, who came over to England and then America. It turns out there were fourteen Laniers who were court musicians in France, Nicholas Lanier and so on. They worked for Henry the Fourth, the Third, and on. That was the musical strain, and it shocked me because I've always had this ridiculous passion for France.

The first time I went there I couldn't sleep. My heart was pounding. We were coming on the train from Switzerland and I couldn't sleep. I had to get up and I just stood up in the back of the train all the way. We went into Palais D'Orsay. Palais D'Orsay was a train station -- it's a museum now, and a hotel -- so we came in about 6:30 in the morning and the music almost came from my soul when we saw that crimson sunrise and the smell of Paris. I could feel something very strange and then it all became answered when Alex found these people, this Lanier family.

Quincy Jones Interview Photo
It has been an amazing experience. I am very nosy so I am constantly exploring to find out what the hell happened, what is it all about.

You spoke earlier of the battles you've been involved in. I wanted to ask you about that.

Quincy Jones: When I was in France, Mandela asked me to come down. I've been involved with South Africa and Mandela for 30 years. It's a way to really do something, whether it's with Jesse Jackson -- we helped him put together Operation Push in the '70s, or with Dr. King in '55. Malcolm X's daughter is working for me now.

We're working with Julian Bond right now. Julian Bond and Kweisi Mfume called. We're putting up $9 million and we're doing a ten city bus tour -- Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Detroit and those places -- to try to get out the black vote.

Why do you do it? Why is it important to you to do those things?

Quincy Jones: Because you have to do something. You're fighting for your dignity, the dignity of your children, your grandchildren, kids who shouldn't even be subjected to this kind of a thing.

Quincy Jones Interview Photo
What I'm also learning as I get older, is that so many times -- to deal in semantics -- the word "racism" just blurs into economics and vice versa. Slavery wasn't about racism; slavery was about economics. It was about free labor, slave labor. You have to go down to the core to see what the real problem is, because sometimes we're dealing with a superficial problem. You've got the funnel of America; if they block that funnel, you've got whites and blacks or Hispanics or Asians fighting at that funnel with other people, all at the $35,000 level. You don't see the people with $3 million fighting at that level.

That was a big lesson. You've got to try to improve the economic plight of black America, or any of the minority groups, so that this country can get as powerful as it really can be. Because if everybody in America had that thing we say we have in the constitution, this country would be hard to mess with. It's hard to mess with anyway because it's a powerful country, because we have that diversity. If we could learn to respect that diversity, that's what makes us strong. I don't care what you say, whatever the black kids in the ghetto are doing, two years later every kid in America is going to be doing it.

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