THINGS I LEARNED WHILE DRIVING WITH QUINCY JONES!
June 14, 2007
Before 26 Grammys, an Emmy, 7 Oscar nominations, and becoming one of the most successful record producers of all time (“Thriller”, “We Are The World”), before producing hit TV shows, (“Jenny Jones”, “Mad TV”, “Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air”) and films (“The Color Purple”, “Listen Up”), Quincy was first and foremost a musician of the highest order!
“People have called me a jazz musician, but that’s ludicrous. I have yet to figure out what a jazz musician is.”
Q was the first high level black executive to work for a major record label in the 60’s, when he was producing Leslie Gore (“It’s My Party”, “You Don’t Own Me”) for Mercury records. Although Kelli Ross and I ran his publishing companies, in New York for years, I didn’t really get to know him until I moved to California and worked for Warner Brothers music. in 1972 he wanted to concentrate on writing and scoring more films.
He had already done, “In Cold Blood”, “Bob, Carol, Ted and Alice”, “Cactus Flower”, “The Getaway”and “Cotton Comes To Harlem”, a highly successful “Blaxpoitation” film. In his eagerness to take Hollywood by storm, he had over committed himself and promised his friend, Sam Goldwyn, Jr. to do the music for “Come Back Charleston Blue”, the follow up to “Cotton”, although he was weeks behind in scoring another film.
The usually cool “Mr. Jones”, was in a panic and needed a Black composer fast, or risk facing an embarrassing situation. He called me and asked if I’d do personal favor for him and help him out of a jam. The first person he wanted me to approach was one of our Warner Brothers writers and Atlantic artist, Donny Hathaway, who was riding high with his first album and singles, “The Ghetto” and “Where Is The Love” (with Roberta Flack). I remember Donny, in his Kongol Cap and me in my “Superfly” hat, “bopping” into a screening of the film and leaving with an enthusiastic commitment from Donny, which got Quincy off the hook!
Q said that he would let me have his screen credit as musical consultant if I could continue to help to put the soundtrack together. Needless to say I jumped at the chance! Although I just learned how to drive, knowing that Quincy didn’t drive at all, I volunteered to take us wherever we had to go over the next hectic month. Although he seemed nervous and at times held onto the dashboard for dear life, he never said anything about my driving! He did, however, introduce me to some of the most important men in Hollywood, and gave me a tip on how to deal effectively with them.
“Use “fuck” in your conversation every once in a while to get their attention!”
While driving around he also clued me in on what I could expect from life itself! We were both between wives, and hung out with football Hall of Famer, Jim Brown, and “Hair” director Michael Butler, who always had a party going on. We also were warmly welcomed at “The Candy Store”, “The Factory” and the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills hotel, where he introduced me to some of the most incredible women in the world! I remember one actress in particular, who was as emotionally disturbed as she was beautiful. On one of our drives I told him I was falling in love with her, he just shook his head and said,
“She can be saved…but do you want to be her savior?” A question I’ve asked of myself on several occasions, concerning other complex relationships I’ve had since then.
He also showed me how to deal in social situations with the”Soul Handshake”, which can be a very elaborate and varied ritual. Q had a simple way of handling it. He’d grab the shaker’s hand with both of his hands and hold them until the “shaker’s”urge went away. A method I’ve continue to use to this day.
On long drives I took the opportunity to pop in an 8 track and play a song or two I was promoting. This usually led to a discussion about music. I tried to interest him in covering a couple of songs by Sly and The Family Stone, which he passed on, saying he liked their tracks but the songs weren’t melodic enough for him. He laughed and said,
“I like my music, like my women…pretty on the top and funky on the bottom!”
When I complained about the quality of the 1972 state of pop music, Q said,
“The Pop market always comes back to classically influenced music…when a genre goes as far as it can go, that’s the only place where it can go.”
35 years later, his words still ring true. Today, Rap, Hip-Hop and Pop artists are incorporating more and more long passages of classically influenced music into their recordings, including Alicia Keys, Kanye West, Ne-Yo, Michael Buble’ , John Legend, and Rihanna.
Even though I haven’t seen Q in years, I remember the time that we spent together as one of the highlights of my life! I read something recently he said to his critics that inspires me whenever I get low on self esteem.
“Not one drop of my self-worth depends on your acceptance of me”
Official Quincy Jones website http://www.myspace.com/quincyjones
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