Archive for Sunday, December 9, 2001

December 9, 2001


"One secret of Quincy Jones' success, my friends, is in his belly button.

"I tell him, 'How come you're gonna work with such-and-so? He hasn't done sh in 10 years,'" recalls record executive Clarence Avant about a conversation with Jones.

"He says, 'Belly button, Clarence. I got a feeling about him in my belly button.'"

To gauge how accurate that belly button has been, start reading Jones' autobiography "Q" (Doubleday, 412 pages, $26) with the last 43 pages. There you'll find one of the most amazingly exhaustive lists of accomplishments in the history of black music no, in the history of all music.

At the right place

Jones, known to friends and fans as Q, reveals painfully personal stories about his childhood in this book, which includes chapters written by family and colleagues. Who would have guessed that as a child growing up on Chicago's South Side, this musical legend caught rats for dinner when there was nothing to eat. Or that he longed to hear his mother say "I love you."

But this is no weepy tale. Jones' unending optimism grows from his own characteristically musical take on life. "You don't have to let suffering define your experience of life. ... you teach your pain to sing."

Jones merits the title "Ghetto Gump," given to him by one of the book's contributors for his penchant for appearing during many of the most critical moments in music history. He hung out with Ray Charles and Lionel Hampton while still a kid, directed big bands for Count Basie and Frank Sinatra, and crossed over to pop in time to produce Michael Jackson's "Thriller," the all-time best-selling album.

Jones gets personal, but doesn't waste much time answering critics. He lightly dismisses disapproval of his string of interracial marriages by some in the black community. In Seattle, where Jones lived for a while, the pickings among sisters were few, he says, so he learned to "expand his criteria."

He counters charges that he sold out when he changed his focus from jazz to pop, arguing it was primarily a way of keeping food on the table.

Learning from the business

Jones managed to get quite a bit of work done, but often at the expense of his personal life. He recounts staying up until all hours "rolling around under the piano" writing and arranging, sometimes letting cold water drip on his wrists to keep him awake. He began scoring music for Alex Haley's "Roots," one of the most popular TV miniseries, shortly after recovering from life-threatening brain surgery.

The result is that Jones became a master at his art. As a conductor, producer, composer and arranger, he learned how to "explore the creative psyche" of the musicians for whom he arranged.

It's the kind of sensitivity that guided Jones to design a repeated section for Basie's band in the arrangement of "I'm Beginning to See the Light" so diva Ella Fitzgerald would have time to "go to church."

Jones came up during a difficult time in the music world, but he was made better for it. He pursued the business aspect of music after seeing too many artists hung by their heels literally and figuratively to renegotiate their record contracts. He escaped to Europe to arrange for strings, because in America, blacks weren't trusted to arrange anything but "black music."

He is deservedly respected throughout the music world, nurtured and praised by, among others, Duke Ellington and master composition teacher Nadia Boulanger.

After the International Herald Tribune used the headline "Quincy Jones is black music's Leonard Bernstein," Jones received the clipping with a note from Bernstein:

"Dear Q, I wish I were white music's Quincy Jones. Love, L.B."

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