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Singing Endorsements: Working with 'Uncle Q'
Quite a number of celebrities may be popular and accomplished enough to be known by a single name. But is there anyone besides Quincy Jones who is instantly recognizable by a single letter? "Q" -- as he's known to his innumerable colleagues, friends and fans -- has built a career notable for almost superhuman levels of achievement, and those achievements have been duly celebrated:
He's won 27 Grammy Awards out of 79 nominations; he's an eight-time Oscar nominee; and he's the recipient of AMPAS' Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, the Ivor Novello Special International Award for songwriting and composition, France's Legion d'honneur and a Kennedy Center Honor, among numerous other awards.
But perhaps even more noteworthy is the immeasurable positive personal impact that Quincy Jones has had on those he's worked with at every phase of his career. Jones is a uniquely beloved and respected figure around the world, and in speaking with those who have had the chance to work closely with him, it becomes very clear why so many people cherish their moments with Q.
"He's the most positive man I've ever met," says renowned producer and engineer Phil Ramone, a longtime friend and colleague who first met Jones at sessions for the 1959 album "The Genius of Ray Charles," for which Jones provided arrangements. "The old joke about Q is that he could walk into a room that was piled full of horseshit and say, 'There's gotta be a pony here somewhere.' He's the most loving man I know, and in all the work we've done together, probably the most important thing I learned from him is just how he brings out such a great side of everybody that's around him. There's nothing I wouldn't do for him, and I don't think there are any of his friends that feel any differently."
Ramone adds that some of Jones' talents aren't work-related at all. "Oh, he's just as impressive out of the studio. Give him a good meal and some wine and a chance to talk about anything -- he's the champion of headlining a dinner table."
Sidney Lumet, the veteran director of classics like 1975's "Dog Day Afternoon," 1976's "Network" and, most recently, 2007's "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," took a chance on Jones, hiring him as the composer for 1965's "The Pawnbroker." But Lumet didn't see much risk in giving Jones his first shot at a Hollywood film score.
"Any doubts I had were eliminated the minute I met him," Lumet says. "You're comfortable with him immediately, and he's so smart -- God is he smart. By the time we launched into the film -- before we even got down to specifics -- I felt completely confident in him. We connected on every level and became close friends. And we did five films together. We did a picture with James Mason, 'The Deadly Affair' (1966), that in my view is one of the best movie scores ever written.
"Very often the best of a movie composer is in their early work because eventually they get caught up in their own cliches -- but with Quincy that just didn't ever happen. His music was always another character in the film and added to it in all kinds of ways. There is really almost nothing you could ask of him that he couldn't do."
During the making of 1967's "In the Heat of the Night," Jones worked with the songwriters Alan and Marilyn Bergman on what would become the first of many collaborations. "With songwriters and musicians, there's a chemistry that either happens or it doesn't," Alan says. "With Quincy, it happened. He just radiates love, and after working with him once, we felt like our friendship was etched in stone."
Marilyn Bergman recalls a moment from the "Heat" recording sessions when Jones had to adjust the chemistry in the room. "Some studio executive who didn't need to be there walked in and was kind of brusque with the people he spoke to," she says. "Quincy went to the guy right away and said, 'Unless you're going to cool out, this isn't the place for you.' He corrected the environment right away. In order to work, he needs an atmosphere of joy, so he creates it, and people respond to that."
Marilyn Bergman also points out one of Jones' unusual nonmusical interests: a penchant for bestowing odd nicknames. "He calls Alan 'Owl,' and he calls me 'Irving,'" she explains. "I have no idea where those came from, but we answer to them." (Phil Ramone says he understands where his own nickname comes from: "Quincy calls me 'Garbage' because wherever we went I'd end up with stains on my shirt. He told me, 'I can't dress you up, Garbage -- you don't know how to handle it.'")
Songwriter Rod Temperton first worked with Jones when he wrote "Rock With You" for Michael Jackson's Jones-produced "Off the Wall" album in 1979. Temperton has subsequently been a key part of such Jones projects as the 1982 "Thriller" album and the soundtrack to "The Color Purple" in 1985. He most recently witnessed Jones' charms and talents during a recording session for last year's "We All Love Ennio Morricone" tribute album. "Quincy wanted to record 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,' and he booked Herbie Hancock and a bunch of great players, and the session was set," Temperton says. "I didn't have anything to do with the session, but word got around town that it was happening, so I went down to watch. There must have been about 50 musicians there. Quincy got the rhythm tracks done in about three takes, but we were there from 4 in the afternoon to 2 in the morning, just because everybody missed being together for a Quincy recording date. Nobody wanted to go home if they could be hanging out with him."
Jones enjoys a glowing reputation as a guide and mentor to younger talents, and one of the beneficiaries of his guidance is Glen Ballard, a remarkably successful songwriter and producer in his own right. "I continue to pinch myself to see that I'm not dreaming because Quincy's had such a huge impact on my life," says Ballard, who met Jones when he contributed a song to a Jones-produced George Benson album and went on to become a staff writer and producer for Jones' Qwest record label.
"My association with Quincy has been the most enriching relationship for me imaginable, and the interesting thing is that I'm one of hundreds if not thousands of artists, singers, dancers and performers of all kinds that have felt that. The way he empowers people is through encouragement -- you feel you can kind of go out there on the wire and he's got the net ready for you. He's so open-minded, and his soul is so open. What he communicates ultimately is love, in all its many manifestations and incarnations. That's got to be at the center of what he's doing or he's not interested in it."
Jones has mentored Mervyn Warren by asking Warren to work with him in a number of capacities -- as a vocalist, arranger, songwriter and composer. Most recently, Jones trusted Warren to perform a custom edit on his 1969 recording "Walking in Space," which was used as "wake-up music" on last month's flight of the space shuttle Atlantis. "Quincy is a wealth of information -- he's like a walking almanac," Warren says. "He's always got advice to give, but it never sounds preachy. He just suggests things in ways that make you look at your task in a whole new way. He calls you to work on something because he likes what you do, but then he has a way of stretching you. I think he calls me because he trusts my sensibility -- but, of course, my sensibility has been shaped by him."
Jerry Schilling wasn't in particular need of a mentor when he served as talent coordinator for the ambitious 10-hour television series "The History of Rock 'n' Roll," which Jones executive produced in 1995. Schilling had spent years as a member of Elvis Presley's "Memphis Mafia" and had managed such acts as Billy Joel, Jerry Lee Lewis and the Beach Boys. But Schilling quickly recognized Jones as a source of uncommon wisdom. "I was actually a little nervous to meet him, but he was just as warm and friendly, dignified and intelligent as you'd think he would be," Schilling recalls. "I remember how important it was to him that we covered rap and hip-hop well in the series, and considering those genres to be an important part of music history was not a popular idea at the time. Throughout the production, you never had the impression that he was telling you what to do, but you remembered everything he said. I always felt like I was having these nice, casual conversations with Quincy; then I'd step away and I couldn't believe how much I'd just learned from him."
One of the signature achievements of Jones' career is his production of the 1985 megasuperstar recording "We Are the World," which raised money for famine relief in Ethiopia. "It wouldn't have happened without him," says manager and philanthropic activist Ken Kragen, a longtime friend of Jones who subsequently worked with him on a number of large-scale events, including the 1993 inaugural celebration for Bill Clinton. "Quincy kept after Lionel Ritchie and Michael Jackson to get that song written, and he understood that in dealing with all those stars, if we left anything to chance we'd have anarchy. He came up with the famous phrase 'Check your ego at the door,' and everybody listened because it was Quincy talking. He's one of the warmest, classiest, most talented people I've ever known, and anytime I'm asked to do something big, Quincy is my first call."
Jones' legendary aura will soon be broadened through the efforts of Quincy Jones Enterprises, a licensing venture that will extend Jones' imprimatur to audio components, a fashion line, online content and a restaurant nightclub, among many other endeavors. "People are flattered when we talk to them about Quincy," says QJE president Greg Redlitz. "His name gets the doors wide open. But the challenge is that the products have to warrant his name. If Quincy's involved, you have to be dealing with the best of the best."
QJE CEO Robert Thorne reveals the one downside to a partnership with Jones: "He's always engaging and inspiring and a pleasure to be with, but I can't keep up with him. When we go out of town on business, he's up entertaining people to all hours when I'm getting rest for the next day. Then he's fresher than I am the next day. It's just his nature."
Jones monumental legacy will certainly be carried forward in his music and his artistry, as well as in the hearts of those he's touched. But Kragen points out one other way in which Q has made an admirable contribution to our world: "I think it's worth noting that Quincy's always been involved with stunningly beautiful women, and he's produced a lot of gorgeous children. He's not only given us all that great music -- he's actually made the population that much more attractive."
In his work as a film and television composer and record producer, Quincy Jones has created musical moments that range from subtly brilliant orchestrations to instantly recognizable pop hooks. Here are his thoughts on just a few memorable sounds from his remarkable career.
"Soul Bossa Nova," 1962, from the album "Big Band Bossa Nova"
I got excited about bossa nova music when I went down to Brazil in 1956 and met Joao Gilberto and Astrud Gilberto and Antonio
Carlos Jobim. Then I did a whole bossa nova album in 1962, and I wrote "Soul Boss Nova" for that. It was one of Lalo Schifrin's first record dates -- he's playing piano on that. Bossa nova comes and goes, then here comes Mike Myers 40 years later and makes that little track the "Austin Powers" theme song. Then Ludacris has a hit with it. That's heavy. You don't know what's going to happen, but you just let it happen. It's out of your hands. You just let the music live on.
"In the Heat of the Night," 1967
You've got to serve a film, and sometimes you're surprised at the music a film pulls out of you. You find yourself doing things you wouldn't dream of. The bridge scene in "In the Heat of the Night" was like that. We had Don Elliot in there doing the mouth percussion and stuff. If you tried to overintellectualize that moment, you wouldn't think that having that music in there could work. But it does.
"In Cold Blood," 1967
One of the frustrations I found in writing music for film was that you couldn't always get the music to the screen. Optical sound couldn't handle the music. We'd record on magnetic tape, and by the time it was transferred to optical sound, the bottom end just wasn't there. "In Cold Blood" had a very low score, with cellos and basses and one of the first synthesizers on a soundtrack. Richard Brooks knew about my concerns, so he went with an RCA engineer to adjust all of the speakers in all of the 65 first-run theaters for "In Cold Blood" so that the music would be right. Man, it sounded great. I couldn't thank him enough.
"Sanford and Son" 1972
Bud Yorkin came and said, "I'm doing a pilot with a guy named Redd Foxx." I said, "You kidding? I knew Redd Foxx at the Apollo 20 years ago. I can write his music right now -- I don't need to see the thing." I wrote it in 20 minutes and recorded it in 20 minutes with four guys, including the great harmonica player Tommy Morgan. Still sounds good to me.
People say that music is the universal language, but African-American music is what they really understand. It's fascinating that every country in the world has pushed their indigenous music aside and uses the music that's come from jazz and blues as their Esperanto. It just blows my mind. I go to every country in the world and I hear it. You pick the country -- you go out for a drink in the disco, midnight rolls around, and what do you hear? "Billie Jean." Twenty-five years later, it's still there.