Interview with Quincy Jones

Not withstanding his two autobiographies, summing up the career of Quincy Jones cannot be done in one book and certainly not in one article. To truly understand the man, one must spend time to talking to him and I had just that privilege.
In a lengthy interview that began in the afternoon and ended in the evening, Q, as his closest friends call him, revealed in conversation why he is more than just a man, but also a life force. He talked about his production of the biggest selling album of all time, Thriller by Michael Jackson, which has sold over a 100 million copies, producing “We Are the World,” countless movie soundtracks, solo recordings, sessions with the likes of Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles, the recording of the last Miles Davis album, as well as the countless legendary jazz dates that Jones produced, arranged and through his sheer will and talent, has helped usher into jazz history.
His recording, “Soul Bossa Nova,” from his album Big Band Bossa Nova, is the theme song of the Austin Powers movies. Also noteworthy was his stint as Vice President of Mercury Records, the record company (Qwest) that he runs and his tireless humanitarian efforts. With such upcoming projects as films on Louis Armstrong and Carnaval, and his spearheading of the call to have a Secretary of Arts as a cabinet level position in the White House, Jones is interested more in the future than in recounting the past.
For someone who has achieved so much (including 79 Grammy nominations and 27 Grammy awards, both the most by anyone), Jones is amiable and soft-spoken, and punctuates many of his answers with a self-deprecating laugh. Jones will be producing Tony Bennett’s next album—a jazz collaboration with Stevie Wonder. As for Bennett, Jones said, “I’ve known him for 57 years. He’s the best. I’m really looking forward to this album. It’s going to be exciting.” He talked about how the technology of recording and instruments has evolved and said, “None of it [technology] bothers me, because I’m always following it. One of the great things about getting older is you see how everything turns out.” Yet, at 76, Jones added, “The older you get, you realize how much you don’t know.”
In terms of how much he knows about music, one would doubt there’s very little left he doesn’t know. Surprisingly, Jones did not place being a record producer at the top of his list of what he feels he does best. He said number one would be composing, orchestrating and arranging. Yet, for Jones the challenge of being a record producer is “how to make one hundred musicians play together at the same time, or nineteen. Understanding who you’re working with, their range and constraints. You have to investigate how far you can push and when you should stop. When you tell Ray Charles, Sinatra and these guys to jump without a net, you better know what you’re talking about, because they’re tough. They’ll know if you know what you’re doing.”
Our conversation touched on many topics—from culture and history to nanotechnology and respect for American culture, particularly jazz, to the countless languages Quincy can read and write (he’s currently learning Mandarin Chinese) and the love he has for his children. He kept coming back to two words that were integral to his life and artistic endeavors—love and respect. With all he’s done and all that still lies ahead, he said, “I’ve never been happier in my life.”