You don't hold a conversation with this man as much as you surf it, riding a stream of turbocharged consciousness. Ask a question, and hang on:
"This thing is about the joviality, and embracing and reaching out to each other and celebration. People crack me up when they talk about next year. I mean, 1997-1998, that's 'next year'; 1999-2000, that's not next year, that's the beginning of the next thousand years. I don't know how anyone can be cynical about that. Because that's pretty heavy stuff. Not many people ever get to cross that line into the next thousand years, really. Not even into a new century. It's more than that. A person that for instance would become a hundred years old New Year's Eve night has seen three centuries. . . . That's awesome, just awesome. . . . It's a big deal to me, crossing over."
Ever the musician, Quincy Jones takes one phrase in the conversation--in the above instance, why he chose Will Smith to host the White House's millennium gala--and riffs on it, stretching it out, turning it upside down, returning to the original motif and then chasing it away, until the notes tumble every which way just like a bebop blitz blaring from Bird's horn.
In other words, Quincy Delight Jones Jr. is a motormouth.
But then he's got a lot to talk about. This is a man who's spent his life amassing a major musical portfolio, working in his award-winning, nearly 60-year career with everyone from Michael Jackson to Sarah Vaughan to Count Basie and Frank Sinatra.
And along the way he's seen it all: The gangster life in Al Capone's Chicago. Losing his mother to mental illness. Dining on baked "rats and fried greens" as a hungry kid growing up in Chicago, and then Seattle. Playing polkas with a very young Ray Charles, and then taking on jazz with Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Lionel Hampton. Watching Billie Holiday self-destruct. Suffering through three failed marriages. Surviving two brain aneurysms that have left him with a metal plate in his head, holding things together. Surmounting a nervous breakdown and a couple of near-death experiences and coming through the other side, convinced that life is . . . "Awesome! Just awesome."
These days, he can't seem to contain that much experience in the narrow confines of a recording studio. In fact, he hasn't released a CD of original recordings since "Q's Jook Joint" in '95. Instead he's turned his attention to large-scale endeavors, from overseeing a multimedia company to founding Vibe magazine to producing the Oscars and Clinton's inaugural fete to his latest effort, co-producing the White House's New Year's Eve celebration, "America's Millennium."
"It's going to be a smoking night," Jones says, "Almost anything we can conceive, we can achieve. Sometimes you want to see how big you can dream. And this is big."
But big is what he does. At heart he's a conductor who relishes pulling together the disparate components of a symphony, smoothing over the discordant notes until they're all on key. Doing his bidding.
"You have to love the people you're working with enough to dig and probe," he says. "Then you have to create the environment so that they have no choice but to give it up. You hit that button. The emotion notion."
Most of the time, he chooses to ignore "no." As Michael Jackson once attested, "I told him that I had something but I didn't want to play it for him. And so he forced me to drive to my house, he forced me to get the engineer and do the song. I was there singing my heart out to this song, and when it was over, he just loved it. He said, 'That was just the song that we were looking for.' It was 'Beat It.' "
There's the image of Quincy, the cool Q, the young Q, the Q seen in black-and-white, clutching his horn to his chest as a cigarette dangles from his lips, a haze of smoke misting over his pretty-boy face.
And then there's the other Q, the cuddly Q, the Q who is poised on the edge of a new century: the 66-year-old grandfather who's given to wearing suede bucks, gabardine slacks and a preppy V-neck sweater, a tiny gold hoop in his right ear the only betrayal of his hipster roots. The once-sleek belly has expanded into a gentle paunch, pads of fat soften hooded eyes. Time changes things. Time changes him.
Back in the day, he was a devotee of healthful living, sweaty sessions of Bikram yoga and sushi. But never mind all that. Right now, what he'd really like is some ham hocks and salami.
Greasy food. Really-bad-for-you food.
Because, hey, when you've got a show to pull out of thin air, you've gotta have sustenance.
"Where can I get some soul food around here? I've been feeling like I'm homeless."
The week of the show, Jones is on the phone in his makeshift office just outside the Lincoln Memorial, where the New Year's Eve gala will take place. He's talking to South Africa, trying to nail down Nelson Mandela for the show. No need for him to fly in, but how about wishing the United States "Happy New Millennium" via satellite?
Mandela's people promise to get back to him. He hangs up, and the fax machine spits out pages upon pages of the score from his hip-hop hybrid hit, "Stomp!"
"This is great," Jones says. "This is just great. I'm so excited."
In the show, he explains, the song will introduce the drum-dance ensemble Stomp!, which he says was named after his song.
It's another example of things coming full circle, a notion that he likes.
Four days until showtime and he's still looking for some local rappers to fill out the hip-hop quotient and he really can't tell you just what Robert De Niro and Kris Kristofferson are going to do, but Q is playing it cool.
He doesn't believe in the "paralysis of analysis," preferring instead the rush of deadlines, that gun-to-the-head feeling that forces you to "write from your belly button."
Which means sleep gets short shrift. Fine by him. If you're sleeping, he says, the muses will pass you by, on down the street to someone more receptive to their charms.
His is the classic case of the workaholic artist, living the life of a man so absorbed in the process of creation that he doesn't look up until his lovers have moved on and his children are grown.
"I substituted my need for a mother with music," Jones says. "If I had a great family, I'd probably be a sad musician."
To that end, he's spent much of his romantic life hooking up with a succession of glamorous blondes, including actresses Peggy Lipton and Nastassja Kinski. The relationships, which resulted in seven children ranging in age from forty-something to 7, inevitably broke up, casualties of his career. This time around he's spending his time with Lisette Derouaux, an ebony-haired, olive-skinned publicist of Zairean-Belgian-Portuguese descent.
They met four years ago at the Montreux Jazz Festival.
First we were friends, Derouaux says.
"Then we became better friends," Jones says, beaming like a man who just won the lottery.
Derouaux is wise beyond her years, Jones says, "28 going on 50."
She dotes and she coos, plying him with a concoction of echinacea and Snapple for his cold, urging him to eat the smoked-salmon sandwich that she's brought just for him. He stubs his finger; she picks it up and kisses it.
Quincy soaks up the love, melting into mellow mush. And for a little while, the motormouth is . . . still.