When Quincy Jones teaches, he starts with the classics
Sunday, November 14, 2010
"Youngblood," the jazz greats would whisper in whiskey-smooth voices to a young Quincy Jones, "step into my office." The office could have been a backstage hallway anywhere with musicians practicing bebop. Or a juke joint in downtown Seattle, where Billie Holiday had to be helped onstage. The office might have been a jazz club corridor with broken lights and a 17-year-old Ray Charles, who "might as well have been 100 because he had his own girlfriend and apartment." The office might have been a seat on a bus traveling with the Lionel Hampton Band.
In the "office," the older musicians would educate Jones about music and life.
"Youngblood, you gotta . . ." Jones recalls them saying as he sits at a corner table in the bar lounge at the Ritz-Carlton in Northwest Washington. Jones has come to town to promote his new book, "Q on Producing." In the book -- the first of three in "The Quincy Jones Legacy Series," written with Bill Gibson -- Jones dispenses advice to a younger generation, which he says doesn't seem to understand its music history or recognize its musical heroes.
The book is Jones's "step into my office" lesson for younger musicians.
"I talk a lot now," he says, "but I used to sit down, shut up and listen."
Jones was only 14 in 1947 when he joined a jazz band in Seattle. Throughout his career, there was always someone older on the scene to "school" Jones.
Jones pauses. Ice cubes clink in glasses at the bar. "Count Basie practically adopted me when I was 13. I would play hooky and go down to [Seattle's now-defunct] Palomar Theatre."
The jazz tenor saxophonist Ben Webster would say, "Step into my office. Let me pull your coat for a minute," Jones recalls. "That is the way they would say it then: Let me pull your coat for a minute. Come over here. I want to teach you something."
Basie would tell him, "This business is all about hills and valleys. You find out what you're made out of when you're in the valleys," Jones says. "That's why it comes easy for me to help young guys, because I was given a hand up when I was young."
John Coltrane reminded Jones to study Nicolas Slonimsky's "Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns," which Jones read in school. "Coltrane always had Slonimsky's book with him," he says.
Nadia Boulanger, a famous composition teacher in France, told him, "Quincy, your music can never be more or less than you are as a human being."
For more than six decades of his life, Jones has worked with music's greats: Duke Ellington, Coltrane, Basie, Miles Davis. His hits as a producer range from Lesley Gore's "It's My Party" to Michael Jackson's "Off the Wall," "Thriller" and "Bad," and Frank Sinatra's "Sinatra at the Sands." Jones's latest album, to be released this month, is "Q: Soul Bossa Nostra," which features contemporary artists such as Usher, Ludacris, Jennifer Hudson and Amy Winehouse singing Jones's hits.