Quincy Jones Recalls "Freaking Out" at Michael Jackson's Death and His Private Nickname for the Star (Q&A)
Jones listened to 800 songs for the iconic album 'Thriller' and says of the now-beloved music video's shoot: "Michael had no idea what we were doing there."
Quincy Jones, the iconic musician and composer who produced Michael Jackson albums including Bad and Thriller, says he "freaked out" when he learned of the pop star's death in June 2009.
Jones was in London and had just learned that two other stars had died — Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon — when he was told about Jackson. "I freaked out," he said. "You know, I couldn't believe it. No, it was heavy. Really heavy. Because, boy, the relationship with a producer and an artist is really special. And there's no room for B.S. at all. It's got to be pure. It's got to be love and respect, amazing mutual respect for each other, because that's what makes a good record. When they trust each other, and you tell them to jump without a net, boy, you better know what you're talking about."
Speaking to students at Loyola Marymount University's School of Film & TV on April 8, Jones recalled meeting Jackson as a 12-year-old and then getting to know him on the 1978 movie The Wiz. Later, "I used to call Michael 'Smelly,' because he wouldn't say 'funky.' He'd say 'smelly jelly.' They'd say, 'Who's in the studio?' I said, 'Smelly, Worms and Mouse.' "
Jones said he listened to 800 songs before choosing the ones for Thriller, and then recalled shooting the now-celebrated video for the single in gang-infested territory. "Michael had no idea what we were doing there, man, with Thriller," he said. "You know, with Vincent Price there and Edgar Allan Poe narration, and stuff like that. There's crazy stuff on there. And people didn't get it until, I'd say, eight months later."
The 79-time Grammy nominee took part in the ongoing Hollywood Masters interview series, which this season has also included Clint Eastwood, Sean Penn, Kenneth Branagh, Gale Anne Hurd, Ethan Hawke and Ken Burns. The series will resume in the fall.
Jones also recalled falling in love with music as a child, when he and his brother broke into a building on a thieving mission, pursuing a life as budding gangsters, and finding a piano there.
"We broke into the armory," he said. "That's where we had some lemon meringue pie, and three different flavors of ice cream. We ate up all the ice cream and stuff, and then we played little food fights with each other. And then we went around individually and broke into different rooms. You know, that was our style. And I broke into one room of the supervisor, Mrs. Harris, and I saw a piano there, and I closed the door, and something said, 'Idiot, open that door and go back in that room!' And I went back in and I touched that piano, and every cell in my body said, 'This is what you'll do the rest of your life.'"
A full transcript follows.
STEPHEN GALLOWAY: Hi, everyone. I'm Stephen Galloway, and welcome to The Hollywood Masters, filmed on the campus of Loyola Marymount University. I want to say, just before I introduce our guest, who's really one of the towering musical, film, TV figures, you know, of the last few decades, I'm really delighted to welcome the Ghetto Film School here. And I so admire you guys for what you're doing. I really hope you talk to the other students here and make some contacts. So, you're starting in a hard place. Our guest started in incredibly hard places, you'll find out. He's scored films from The Pawnbroker to The Color Purple. He's produced a presidential inauguration. He's worked with Steven Spielberg and Will Smith, and almost all of the creative figures in film and television of the past 50 years. He's been a bandleader. It's hard to tell you how many fields he's approached and touched with his own special magic. I'm really delighted to end this season of The Hollywood Masters by introducing Quincy Jones.
QUINCY JONES: Thank you. Please, stop.
GALLOWAY: Hello. Nice to see you.
JONES: How are you man?
GALLOWAY: Nice to see you.
JONES: It's not my limp, my shoes hurt already.
GALLOWAY: That's OK, honestly.
JONES: We'll see, me, it's a kick in my booty. How's everybody?
GALLOWAY: I want to go back to your early days, your childhood. Roughly 1941, you're about seven years old, and you hear glass breaking in a bedroom upstairs, and you go there and you see your mother. What happened?
JONES: Well, we were on the front porch in the South Side of Chicago, in Prairie. And they took her away. She was a graduate of Boston University. Twelve languages, all that stuff. Dementia praecox, they took her away in a straitjacket. My brother's a year younger than me, and we watched on the front porch. And, you know, God's plan is for Oedipus, with sons and mothers, and daddies and daughters, right? Better believe it, I had six girls. They say the bad guys — the good guys get boys, and the bad guys get girls. I got six girls, one boy. So I —
GALLOWAY: We'll come to the badness. So what happened with your mother, and how did that impact you?
JONES: She had dementia praecox, and we went out to Sisters of Manteno State Hospital, and it's very freaky in Chicago, 'cause Chicago, man, let me tell you something. There's something in the water there, I don't know what it is. But the actual word Chicago means, in the Indian language, garlic. It was just garlic and mosquitoes there. It's like the Second City, famous Second City, right? And that is the roughest city on the planet, and I been to every place in the world. And when I got out of Chicago, there were five million black people during the Depression. South Side of Chicago was no place to be. And when I got out, Compton and Harlem looked like Boys Town to me. You know, boy, Chicago's rough. I still have my medals. They stuck a switchblade in my hand when I was seven years old and nailed it to a fence, and they put an icepick in my head, at seven years old.
GALLOWAY: They put an icepick…
JONES: Yeah, right here, man. Right there.
JONES: Yeah. You don't forget that, you know? [LAUGH] Or when somebody puts your hand through the fence. My daddy was a carpenter that worked with the Jones boys, who are the most notorious in America. The black gangsters, you know, they were no joke. And he was their master carpenter. He used to build their homes, and all I saw when I was 11 years old were dead bodies and tommy guns and stogies, and backrooms, you know, Drexel Wine and Liquor, with the big piles of money underneath. 'Cause man, it was so much gangster stuff. There's something in the water there. I don't know what it is. Jennifer Hudson, and that thing happened to her, I just felt it like it happened to me, you know? I could feel it. Her brother-in-law did it, you know. Killed the mother, brother, all them.
GALLOWAY: So your mother was taken away?
JONES: Oh yeah.
GALLOWAY: But she kept coming out and trying to find you. Were you afraid of that?
JONES: No, but it was just a weird relationship, you know? You need your mother before you're nine-and-a-half years old, you know? And the alpha state, the child's in an alpha state 'til nine-and-a-half years old. And with my brother, we had to figure it out by ourselves, 'til daddy came home. Back then he also was a master carpenter for Julian Black, who was the manager of Joe Louis. And so we used to go to Joe Louis's fights when we were young, and his manager gave my father the boxing gloves he won a fight with. And the kid down the street, who eventually became my stepbrother, I traded my boxing gloves for his BB gun. And daddy kicked my butt, boy. Woo, he kicked my butt, and went back to get it back from him, and came back with his mother, who was like somebody from Precious. You see Precious?
GALLOWAY: Yes, I did.
JONES: So we didn't have a chance with mothers. You know, it did not work, you know? So we had to figure it out ourselves, you know, and you really do, and I just remember the things that we used to say when we were young, 'cause the transformation from Chicago, with 5 million black people, and the Depression… Getting to school was a monster, you know, 'cause I used to see Two Gun Pete, just shoot at teenagers in front of Walgreens, you know? I mean, that's what Chicago was in the '30s. You know, it was amazing, man. Stuff you'd see, you know?
GALLOWAY: Your family moved to Washington when you were, what, around 10?
JONES: 1941, the Jones boys made $115 million. That's equivalent to a billion dollars back then. And the next day, [my father] came to the barbershop and got me and my brother, who was a year younger than I, and put us on a Trailways bus and we went to the Northwest. Thank God, that saved our life. Then we wanted to be baby gangsters, you know, at 11 years old. We had all the supermarkets and stores, everything, locked, man. Telling you, we'd watched gangsters a long time, so we knew how to roll, you know.? [LAUGH]
GALLOWAY: So you were living then in Washington. You moved from Chicago to Washington.
JONES: Bremerton, Washington.
JONES: We took a Trailways bus from Chicago to Birmingham, my brother and I and daddy on a Trailways bus. And then Precious came out later with her three kids and all. [LAUGH]
GALLOWAY: [LAUGH] What happened to you growing up at that time?
JONES: Well, you know, you're a street rat, and you're aware of it. You're cognizant of it. And so you realize you have to figure [it] out. You are the streets, you know? So when I go to Soweto, I go to Rio, I go to Cambodia — what is the place over there? We just built two hospitals there and adopted 15 families — Angkor Wat.
GALLOWAY: Oh, Angkor Wat.
JONES: Yeah, but it's all the same, man. It's the same. It's a pyramid system, you know. I go to the favelas in Brazil. It's the same in the South Side of Chicago. It's the same, or just more violent. We're trying to get them to stop selling dope. You see kids with AK-47s, and nine-year-olds with nine millimeters. You know, they don't play. They make us look like nuns. Well I doubt that [you see that] in Compton.
GALLOWAY: But you were a troubled kid. You were busting into places. You were stealing things.
JONES: Yeah, all the time. That's all we saw. You know, every kid, if you can see it, you can be it. That's what you're inspired by. That's all you saw were pimps, and the Jones boys had the numbers racket, the numbers systems. And they also had the five and dimes, which they referred to as the V's and X's, in roman numerals. But they were tough, boy. And smart, man, really smart. Eddie Jones, who was the head of the gangs —we're doing a movie about this, 'cause I want the kids to see what it was like then. You can't imagine it all, not a chance, you know? It was something. And so they've got that money, and Capone said 'No.' He ran them out to Mexico. And Eddie Jones' daughter Harriet, who I still hang out with — she's 73, you know: eight languages, most amazing, eloquent lady, elegant lady — when I was seven, she asked me to cut her hair. And she was five years old and I was seven, and I cut all of it off. Baby, my daddy kicked my butt again. He said, 'Do you know who her father is? That's Eddie Jones, the head of the gang, you know?' It's amazing.
GALLOWAY: Do you remember when you fell in love with music?
JONES: Yeah. Well, it was accidental, 'cause we were out there [in Washington] being baby gangsters in control of Sinclair Heights. They had all the black people living up on a hill in Sinclair Heights. You had to walk three miles up a hill. So we took that baby over quick, all the grocery stores, and we'd steal big boxes of honey, man, and go out in the woods — and I didn't eat honey for 20 years after that, there was so much honey. You know, but it's amazing when you're young what's happening, 'cause you're in an alpha state, you know? And you do whatever you feel is right for you to do. And so I was trying to figure out what you do when you don't have a mother, 'cause it's a big deal, you know? Like my daughters, we get along so — I mean, just like I love them so much, I can't stand it, you know? — and they're sweet. We talk real straight to each other, no BS. Even if they go to Harvard and all these different places, like my daughter's graduating from here next month, Loyola Marymount, my little 23-year-old. And I tell them, 'Great, you get all the Ivy League stuff going, but I want you to have some street in you too, 'cause the street always has to second-guess the status quo.' It's like that all over the world. And it's fascinating.
GALLOWAY: So you broke into a building called the armory?
JONES: Armory, that's right. You know?
GALLOWAY: [LAUGH] Well, I read your autobiography, among other things, which was wonderful.
JONES: Okay, 'cause you weren't even born then, man.
GALLOWAY: Nope, I wasn't.
JONES: What year were you born?
JONES: Lord have mercy!
GALLOWAY: Yeah, you're telling my secrets.
JONES: My daughter was born in '53. [LAUGH]
GALLOWAY: So what happened? You broke into the armory?
JONES: We broke into the armory. That's where we had some lemon meringue pie and three different flavors of ice cream. We were on top of it, man. I don't know how we did it, but we did. We had all of the grocery stores covered. We worked there, so nobody could get past us. And we ate up all the ice cream and stuff, and then we played little food fights with each other. And then we went around individually and broke into different rooms. You know, that was our style. And I broke into one room of the supervisor, Mrs. Harris, and I saw a piano there and I closed the door, and something said, 'Idiot, open that door and go back in that room, because it's very important.' And I went back in and I touched that piano, and every cell in my body said this is what you'll do the rest of your life. I'm telling' you, I never felt like that in my life. I didn't know human beings played these instruments. I heard them in Chicago and Louisville and St. Louis all my life, you know? But I didn't know human beings played them, you know? So the next day I went to Coontz Junior High School and I started on sousaphone, tuba, B-flat baritone, E-flat alto, French horn, trombone — you used to play trombone so you can be out front in the marching with the girls, the majorettes, you know? Trumpet players way in the back, you know? But then I just got to trumpet, finally. That's why I love to write for brass, and [Count] Basie and [Frank] Sinatra and all that stuff, 'cause that's just like part of my DNA, you know? It's just my mother. And I said, 'If I don't have a mother, I'll let music be my mother.' And that's what happened.
GALLOWAY: So you gave up being a gangster?
JONES: Yeah, oh, absolutely. Well…
GALLOWAY: At the old age of 12.
JONES: Partially, yeah.
JONES: I had to be a gangster with my daughters every now and then! 'Cause they're smarter than we are, you know?
GALLOWAY: How did you then learn about music? Who taught you to play?
JONES: Oh, everybody man. Ray Charles was teaching me in Braille. [Jones met Charles as a teenager in Seattle.] I'd sit up at night, write until my eyes would bleed, when I was 12, 13, or 14. Every big band that came to Seattle, I'm sitting right down front. We go in the back door and we had these leather cases, you know? The bebop bags, you know? I had little cigarettes. I didn't even smoke then, just pretended we were older. Had a little hippie stuff going on. And so we'd walk in the back door: 'Oh, we're with the band, with the band.' You know, get in free. And he'd grab us, go back, you not with the band. The band is Les Brown, Woody Herman, Basie, Duke Ellington. Every one of them. Clark Terry. I don't if you saw Keep On Keepin' On or not.
GALLOWAY: We're going to play a clip of it later on.
JONES: Oh that's great. Well, he was my teacher when I was 10, and Miles Davis too.
GALLOWAY: And how did you get him to be your teacher? This is one of the greatest trumpet players ever.
JONES: Well, what happened was, Basie adopted me at 13, and we just never stopped, you know? But the worst gambler on the planet — on the planet, man. And I love that man so much, but the first night I went to —
GALLOWAY: I heard he taught you to gamble.
GALLOWAY: I heard he taught you to gamble.
JONES: Oh, no, no, no, no, no. He didn't know how to gamble then. The first night we went to Vegas, '64, to work with Frank, I had never been to Vegas before. And at that time [Harry] Belafonte, Lena Horne, Fats Domino were not allowed to go in the casino, it was so racist. They had to eat in the kitchen and sleep in a black hotel across town, after making $17,000, right? So Frank said, 'No, we're not playing that.' And I walked in that night, and Keely Smith's brother, Piggy, said, 'The old man wants to see you and the band, over there near the slot machines.' The whole band was over there. Basically it's about 18 men, plus Harry Edison, who brought him in. And he had 18 goombahs there. [LAUGH] And he put one with each of the guys, and he said, 'If anybody even looks at him funny, break both of their f—ing legs.' [LAUGH]
JONES: Oh no, Frank doesn't play, man. [Shows off a gold ring.] I wear this all my life now. He left this to me. He wore it for 40 years. That's his ring.
GALLOWAY: That ring? That's Frank Sinatra's ring?
JONES: It was a family crest. It's Frank's family crest from Sicily. I go every year to the Amalfi Coast, and they are darker than me. Hannibal left no prisoners there. The south of Spain, you know? And Sicily and Naples, forget it, man, that's where The Godfather and all that stuff comes from, you know?
GALLOWAY: So here you are, you're in your teens. Clark Terry comes to town. This great trumpet player.
JONES: He's with Basie. Basie lost so much money gambling that he had four horns instead of a big band. It was a natural rhythm section plus Serge Chaloff, baritone, Buddy DeFranco, clarinet, Wardell Gray, and Clark Terry. Four horns, that was it. And so I used to live at the Belmont Theatre. Could hear all the stories from back east, 'cause there was no television then, you know, and just have to figure it out, you know? So Lionel Hampton was like bigger than Duke Ellington, Basie, and Louis Armstrong back then. I mean in terms of popularity. And they talk about Bill Haley and Elvis, but man, in the '40s it was Lionel Hampton were spreading the word on the gospel of what rhythm and blues was, and it became rock 'n roll when the white population started get hip to what the black people were listening to, you know? And it's an amazing thing to see all that, you know? [LAUGH] To see the evolution, the genesis and evolution of the power of jazz and blues, and to this day we're the only country in the world without a minister of culture.
GALLOWAY: I know.
JONES: And it's not going to work. And we are suffering for it, we really are. Cats blowing each other away, they don't like us. We don't really know who we are. I'm talking about, really, our culture, how powerful it is all over the world. All over the world. And I travel as much as anybody on the planet, I really do. I have done the last 65 years.
GALLOWAY: When you were a teenager and you were studying music, how did you imagine your life? What did you want for the future?
JONES: To get up, to get by, man. To survive. [LAUGH] The thing, is we had a problem just going to and from school in Chicago, you know? And the gangs were shooting, blowing teachers away every weekend, you know? Friday, late Friday, they're going, 'I'm going to take the teachers out now.' You can't forget that, you know?
GALLOWAY: So you —
JONES: My brother was more vulnerable than I. My sister-in-law lives with me now. She was married 33 years to him, and she's Korean. And he just couldn't take it, and he got renal cell carcinoma. He didn't smoke, he didn't do anything. And he died in 1998, about two weeks before Sinatra.
GALLOWAY: You were close to him?
JONES: That's life. And they say the statute of limitations has expired on all our childhood traumas, man. Fix your shit, and get on with your life, you know? Quit complaining about how rough it is. You're damn right it's rough, man. [LAUGH] But fix it. And the main thing is, I tell all my kids, find out who you really are. You know, that's the most important. Whether you read Road Less Traveled or whatever. Gail Sheehy's Passages, whatever, all those books. Know the difference between love and [fantasy]. You know, when you see a face on a body you love, and you project the character on it, that's who you'd like it to be, but it ain't even close.
GALLOWAY: [LAUGH] We've all been there.
JONES: You see that all the time. And if people are getting married, and three years later they just go, 'Who the hell is that? Who is that, you know?' You project all of the characteristics of a person as you want them to be. And I understand that.
GALLOWAY: Well, you tell an amazing story, in the book, about getting a phone call from a woman. Very warm, very enticing. And you became fascinated by her. But she would never meet you.
JONES: That was Ariana. That was in Vanity Fair. You see that?
GALLOWAY: I did.
JONES: And everybody was in there. Sting, De Niro, everybody was in there. Everybody was in there. Richard Perry. She pretended to be this heiress, this 19-year-old heiress that was going to Tulane University down in Louisiana. And she — look it, I don't feel bad, because she hit all the dogs, you know? She just, all the guys that are supposed to know what they're doing. Yeah, she tore all of them up. And she really was 54 years old, and big and fat, you know. But nobody saw her, or knew what was going on, and she was amazing. I mean, amazing. She's a lesson for every woman of what to do, because she knew what to do. She'd send me sweaters, my favorite Missoni sweaters, or my favorite wine. But she'd get Bobby De Niro's credit card. But all these are my buddies, you know? They're my brothers. And, I mean, all of the dogs, man, they were all there. Richard Perry was with Jane Fonda, and that was my third cousin, I believe.
GALLOWAY: So you go out to school, and you go briefly to university in Seattle, and then you go to Boston, studying music?
GALLOWAY: What's now the Berklee.
JONES: Well, I went to Seattle U, but it was a very conformist type of curriculum that didn't really take me well into going musically, so I got a scholarship from Boston, to the Schillinger House of Music then, before it was Berklee, you know? But there was like 300 kids there, and later on my son wanted to go there. I took him to all the Ivy League schools, but he wanted to go there, too. But they had crack dealers on every floor when he went there.
GALLOWAY: Oh, wow.
GALLOWAY: And then in the '50s, you landed Paris? Tell us about Paris.
JONES: Yep. I went for two weeks and stayed five years. Because you know, if it hadn't been for the French, we wouldn't have jazz. Even during the slavery at Congo Square. The Emancipation Proclamation of 1865, with the African powerful, powerful polyrhythms from West Africa, and powerful vocal skills from South Africa. Still the most powerful music in the world, you know? We went up for Mandela's inauguration, and Colin Powell was sitting with me. He said, 'Man, that sounds like home.' I said, 'This is where home came from.' [LAUGH] Amazing vocal groups, you know.]
GALLOWAY: You also studied under Nadia Boulanger, who is really one of the great classical music.
JONES: That's in the history.
GALLOWAY: What did she teach you?
JONES: I had to audition for her, you know, because, and, Lalo Schifrin told me about Olivier Messiaen and [Pierre] Boulez. I used to go to their classes on Wednesday, where they teach you La Mer for two months. You feel like you wrote it afterwards. And when he mentioned Nadia's name, it just like made my soul sing, you know. And so that's the one I wanted to study with. She was Stravinsky's mentor, [and] Leonard Bernstein, Philip Glass, Daniel Barenboim, all those guys, James Levine, Aaron Copland. And the first thing she said is, 'Your music can only be as good, more or less, as you are as a human being.' And that's very true. Your humanity will come through the music. There's only 12 notes, and people don't realize that. For 700 years, we had the same 12 notes. Everybody gets all stirred up about Blurred Lines, with Robin Thicke and Marvin Gaye. But there's only 12 notes, man. And she said, 'Until we get 13, Quincy, I'm going to make you to learn what everybody's done with those 12 notes.' And I did. Listening to the symphony orchestra, brass, woodwinds, strings, percussion. I don't care what it is. Hip-hop, disco. Four to the floor was happening with Basie in the 30s, you know? And Lester Young was calling Basie homeboy 90 years ago, you know. When I first walked into New York, I was 18 years old, with Hamp (Lionel Hampton), and a junkie walked in my hotel room and said, 'Hey bro's, could I stash my axe in your crib for a few ticks while I go cop me a few Zs?' All the jazz guys understood the language there. What he was saying was, 'Could I leave my horn here while I go get me some rest?' [LAUGH] Jazz, modern jazz, the whole idea was not about money or fame. Never came across your mind. And that was embedded in me as a principle. I never thought about money or fame, even on Thriller and stuff, you don't do that. You have to do something that moves you, man, makes you get goose-bumps, you know? If you don't like it, somebody else don't like it, you're really in trouble. But you can't go in there talking about money, 'cause God'll walk out of the room, that's for sure. The divinity.
GALLOWAY: But you did hit this sort of financial crisis in France, because you —
JONES: Oh yeah, but that was a different.
GALLOWAY: You had your own band. You went on tour and then the money ran out. And you were horribly in debt.
JONES: Yeah, I was 26 years old, man. I was a maniac. You don't know nothing at 20.
GALLOWAY: What happened?
JONES: I had 33 people. We were all there with a very big Broadway show that was written by Johnny Mercer and Harold Allen called St. Louis Woman. And the Nicholas Brothers were the lead in this. We went to Utrecht, Amsterdam, Belgium, and we went to Paris to this theater, and we were there at the beginning of the Algerian crisis. Man, it was incredible living in Paris during that time. Incredible. I remember having my daughter on my back through the Champs-Élysées. Everybody's saying, 'Come home, man, they're going to bomb your ass,' you know?
GALLOWAY: So you took your band on tour, and then you completely ran out of money?
JONES: We ran out of money. I had to come up every week with some money. And I had to hock my publishing companies and all that stuff. We didn't have a manager or an agent. I call [agent] Willard Alexanderand he says 'I'll get back to momentarily.' I said, 'But the plane is already there.' I had one gig in Paris and two in Stockholm, and for those three nights I took the chance of taking 33 people all over the world. And Yugoslavia was under [Marshall] Tito. [We went] everywhere, Portugal, Stockholm, all the folk parks, everywhere. Between that and Dizzy Gillespie's tour — I was the musical director of his tour — I was in Iran when I was 18 and 22 for like two weeks. Drinking in Iraq and doing all that silly stuff down there. You got pimp-slapped if you called them Arabic. 'I'm Persian,' you know, 'Speak Farsi.' And that's why I miss our minister of culture so much. There's so much energy and creativity in our culture, between jazz and blues, all of it, double Dutch jump rope, all of that stuff is all part of a major, major culture that's come from so many places. We're doing a 3D animation film for the young people of our country, specifically for them.
GALLOWAY: Why did you come back from Paris to America? You moved back to New York.
JONES: I almost turned my passport back in, and I didn't want to come home.
GALLOWAY: So why did you come back to America?
JONES: I don't know. Out of curiosity. [LAUGH] See what could happen, 'cause they would let me write for strings there, in America. But in Paris they said, 'You'll have all you want.' I had studied with a guy that was a concertmaster for [Arturo] Toscanini. I met him when I was 15, and [watched] all of the rehearsal. You learn so much, sitting behind the cellos, sitting behind the violins and everything, and learn how the bowings and stuff work, and registers and so forth. And met Harry DeCosta, who was a concertmaster for the New York Philharmonic then, and we did a lot of jazz things, and I learned how to transcribe Herbie Hancock solos and Toots Thielemans' solos and put it down for violin. Up bow, down bow, third finger, fourth finger, portamento, so they could not help but play it funky, or with the feeling. 'How we doin' man? Why we soundin' so funky, man? That's not where we come from.' I said, 'Yeah, well I'm taking your conservatory language and transferring it to what our language is about,' you know? And it was very exciting. Very, very exciting.
GALLOWAY: So you come back, and you have this dream that you want to score films?
JONES: Well I had that since I was 15. And I used to go to theaters, 11 cents a movie, and in two years I could tell all the movies that came from 20th Century Fox, because of Alfred Newman. He had a personality that ruled that place. Lionel Newman was the music director, finally, then Victor Young at Paramount, the same thing. He used to tell me,'Never look back' and to just trust God, because deadlines are killers with writing movies, you know? Donnie Williams, we all started together. Bernie Herrmann, you know. Hitchcock.
GALLOWAY: Alfred Newman gave you an interesting piece of advice for when you scored a film.
JONES: Always. He said, 'Don't tell the same joke twice.'
JONES: Meaning there's representative scoring, where the ear does everything that the eye does. What you see is what you hear. Alfred used to call us the rollers, because we were rolling around on the piano trying to get new ideas, different ideas of how to do this. I was looking at In the Heat of the Night the other night, looking back, that was like years ago, you know? And I did In Cold Blood right after that. And my friends talked me into submitting In Cold Blood for the Oscar. [LAUGH] And it lost to Thoroughly Modern Millie. And Elmer Bernstein said to me, 'How the hell did this happen? How can a category of a musical be up against the darkest drama you've ever seen in your life, of truthful drama?' 'Cause [Truman] Capote's thing [In Cold Blood] was the truth, you know? They shouldn't even be in the same categories. And later on I was on the board of the Academy, and we changed a lot of the rules so the Beatles could win for Let It Be. And that's the case with Shaft, and Prince could win for Purple Rain. And even the pimps out there, It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp.
GALLOWAY: Let's take a look at the first American film you did. I think it was your second movie.
JONES: Yeah, the first one I did was Swedish.
GALLOWAY: Right. And the second one was American classic. Your first collaboration with Sidney Lumet. Let's take a look at a scene from The Pawnbroker.
JONES: He had 20th-of-a-second [flashbacks]. That had never been used in films before. 20th-of-a-second flashbacks for the Holocaust.
GALLOWAY: Yes, right.
JONES: The FCC prevented Madison Avenue from using it because they were using them in commercials, and it really affect people's subconscious mind.
JONES: And so they forbid it, you know.
JONES: Rod Steiger was up for an Oscar on this.
GALLOWAY: So how did that come about? And when you scored that film, what was your thinking?
JONES: Blink. You read Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, right? It's just intuition. That's the personification of left and right brain, because before you can get involved in creativity, you have to get to the scientific part, which is the sprockets. Those sprockets don't lie. Every time it's exactly the same. So they have two little strips, and then punches [MAKES NOISE]. That's the cues for the conductor to know where to start. The score is spotted, and it's nailed to the same sprockets every time. So you're not going to change anything. So you have to find out what they are doing first on the synchronization side, so everything is synchronized. For instance, if you have an 80 mm close-up on somebody in an interior shot, then you go exterior, and you got 300 people out there, you can't have the same music. So you got to make it sound organically like that's part of the interior that goes to the exterior. Like The Last Emperor. I remember when [director Bernardo] Bertolucci — was it Bertolucci? Yeah, Bertolucci — I guessed all nine Oscars he was going to get on that, I don't know why. But that kid came out, the little royal kid came out, and they went through the opening, which was like cloth, and he went outside, and there must've been 3,000 people and it was just air. I know Spielberg would have smothered that with some music. [LAUGH] We call it emotion lotion. Because music can make you feel anything that you want in a movie. We used to do an experiment with the lyricist and composers organization, and Nathan Scott, Tom Scott's father, was a composer of Lassie. So he came in with a 2 ½-minute pictorial version of Lassie crossing a vacant lot in broad daylight. And 30 different composers, we all did something different — sinister, comedic, romantic, pastoral, whatever. And 30 different composers had a whole different take on it. And whatever they did made you feel that and believe it. All it is is a dog walking across a vacant lot, you know, in broad daylight. But it's the same as a girl walking down a dark hall in Elm Street, or Friday the 13th, you know, but she doesn't have that 'Oh shit' card, you know. There is tension and release, you know. Conflict and resolution. Everything is about that. Music especially, but music, that's the emotion lotion. That's what makes you feel it, man. We the younger guys liked to deal with the situations like [Federico] Fellini, where he'd have a calliope at a carnival, you know. [SINGING] And all of this joy, joy and everything going on, with the joy of a carnival, and over here in the shrubs, in the bushes, this guy is murdering this woman. [LAUGH] And because, that way, if you get the music here, and the visual's there, then this pulls the audience into that, and pulls them in emotionally. It's an amazing psychological situation.
GALLOWAY: So when you did The Pawnbroker, what conversations had you had with Lumet about how to score the film?
JONES: Well he tells you what he feels, and then you do what you want to do, you know? And the thing is, like with Spielberg on Color Purple — and Spielberg knows a lot about music, you know, but enough to get me in trouble, and him too. Because each composer can write 30 different scores to a movie. Hitchcock told Bernie Herrmann he wanted a modern score. And Bernie was as tough as Hitchcock. 'Modern, my butt, man. I don't want to think about that.' And he went into the studio that morning, and 10 minutes into the thing, he calls the contract over, Hitchcock does. He says, 'Cancel the session.'
GALLOWAY: Oh wow.
JONES: I've seen it happen so many times. And that's the biggest fear we all had, is that your score would be thrown out. They wouldn't give you a second chance. You're following the director, and they won't give you the second chance. They called somebody else. For instance, Lalo Schifrin, The Reivers, he tells [director] Mark Rydell, 'This is a great idea man. Let's do a Dixieland band.' Mark's a great musician. I recorded him as a singer once, you know, before he was a director. And he said, 'Great idea, man.' Nine instruments from New Orleans, you know. Da-da-da, even up there, got up there and conducted a few, 'cause he's a great piano player, Mark Rydell was. And he pulled Lalo right into that, you know. And Lalo can write any kind of score. And you don't know what's going to work until you hit Todd-AO, or that dubbing stage, and you got special effects, dialogue, and music to all put together so that it feels natural. And then he finds out it didn't work. After all of that, threw Lalo into that hole. He said, 'Call John Williams.' [LAUGH]
GALLOWAY: Has anybody thrown out one of your scores?
JONES: No, baby. Uh-uh. No. I used to write 10 scores for every movie, man. It took so long for brothers. Because when I started, they only had three six-syllable Eastern European composers. DImitri Tiomkin, la-da-da-da-da. Never, Billy Carter, Calvin Jackson, they were never on the screen, except doing a song or something like that. But I had a great agent, you know. It was Peter —his father was a big — come on…
JONES: Percy Faith, Peter Faith, his son. Percy Faith's son. And he said, 'I'm only going to let you do "A" movies.' And I didn't like that, because I wanted to do a lot of movies after I did Pawnbroker. You know it took 15 years to get there. Lena Horne helped me do that, you know. And Sidney Poitier and Sidney Lumet. Sidney gave me six pictures to get through the jungle. And Lumet gave me about six too, you know, starting with Pawnbroker. And then The Wiz, we did The Wiz last.
GALLOWAY: So when you did The Wiz, you met Michael Jackson. How did you meet?
JONES: I met him before. I met him when he was 12 at Simon Davis's house, but that was just 'cause he was on the Ed Sullivan show. But I really met, knew him, and got to know him when we did The Wiz.
GALLOWAY: When you got to know him, what was he like?
JONES: Michael Jackson!
JONES: He was, we used to be in the studio, and the piano player was on every session we ever did, called Greg Phillinganes. One of the best piano players in all the world. And Rod Temperton was from Grimsby in England. You know Grimsby? That's a fishing village up there. But he used to live near Frankfurt and Worms, you know. So they would ask me, 'Who's in the studio?' And I used to call Michael 'Smelly,' because he wouldn't say 'funky.' He'd say 'smelly jelly.' And so they'd say, 'Who's in the studio? I said, 'Smelly, Worms, and Mouse.'
GALLOWAY: You collaborated with him on three very major albums?
JONES: Yeah. Well I think it's more than those three. We did The Wiz album. And so he first met me, he said could you help me find a producer for our first album on Epic? We called on Epic, now I'm doing a solo album again. And I said Michael, I don't want to talk about anything now but The Wiz. You don't even have a song yet. That's all he had to sing was Ease On Down the Road with Diana Ross. But he didn't, the thing up front with the curls. How many people here saw The Wiz? Okay. Well that, well he didn't have that song You Can't Win then. We had to shove that in at the last minute. And then Valerie Simpson, and Ashford and Simpson, we did three of his, we wrote lot of extra songs for the movie. But, boy, [LAUGH], what a journey.
GALLOWAY: Well let's look at the most successful album ever, I guess. Thriller. Let's take a look at a clip from Thriller, and then tell us what went into making that.
JONES: OK. I keep forgetting you got a screen there.
GALLOWAY: I know. People do.
JONES: Wow. Genius. We had ten cameras that night. It was amazing.
GALLOWAY: You were there for that?
JONES: Oh yeah.
JONES: It didn't, John Landis had ten cameras on that thing that night.
JONES: We had Crips and Bloods, everything, you know. [LAUGH] Yeah.
GALLOWAY: Wow. Where did you shoot it?
JONES: It's authentic. Huh?
GALLOWAY: Where was it shot?
JONES: In the hood.
GALLOWAY: Wow. (LAUGHTER)
GALLOWAY: Hey… Was it a difficult album to put together? I know you went through something like 600 songs that you read before?
JONES: Yeah. Well it's real simple there. Thank God, 50 years ago I learned that a great song, our entire business is all based on two things; a great song and a great story. Film, television, if you don't have that story, nothing else matters. You don't call anybody else or direct anybody. The same with a song. A great song can make the worst singer in the world a star. But a bad song, the three best singers in the world cannot save it, and that's the bottom line, man. It's about the song, you know. And Michael had no idea what we were doing there, man, with Thriller. You know, with Vincent Price on there doing and Edgar Allan Poe [LAUGH] narration, and stuff like that. It's 'cause there's crazy stuff on there. And people didn't get it until, I'd say, eight months later, because at that time I had a joint venture with Time Warner, with Steve Ross, who's like my brother and father, mentor, everything. And he said why don't you just, we want to do something together, well why don't you just be the guy in music? I said we just did Thriller. We had the world, what do you want from me, you know? This is when I wanted to get into movies and TV, 'cause he said how do you know you can do it? I said I did 14 TV shows, and you know, Ironside, and Sanford and Son, and all that stuff. Cosby's first stuff. And I done 40 movies, and I paid attention to what the elements are to put the movie together. It's not easy man. [LAUGH] And he said prove it. And he said I'll never meet you in a office. And we never did. We would be on a boat in Sardinia somewhere talking about all this stuff. And so, he said prove it, and I went and did Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Color Purple. And that said it all, you know. Oprah got $35,000 for that film. She's worth $3 billion now. Will too. That show made Will one of the biggest actors in Hollywood, you know.
GALLOWAY: So when you did the first cut of Thriller, you had too many songs on it, and the records wouldn't hold that much material?
JONES: No that was just, that was a sonic problem. Because what the device we usually use is after 800 songs, I don't like to do that on every album, but 800 songs, 'cause everybody kept saying Michael can't be any bigger. I said you want to bet? I'm not going to let him make a bomb, you know. He can't be any bigger now, so we had to fix that too. We also had to take disco out. We were faced with disco staring us right in the face, you know. Four to the floor. And I did an album with Donna Summer right before I did Thriller. You know, Love is in Control, and all that stuff we did. State of Independence. But when I look back and think about how these things happened, because we did Donna Summer's album, that's, I said there's 16 bars segment there, which I like to have the best voices on the planet, and in the '80s we we're on fire, you know? [LAUGH] And so we'd try anything. And so I had Michael, Lionel, Stevie Wonder, Diana, Christopher Cross, what's the name, James Ingram, Christopher Cross. You know, just about one-third of We Are the World. That's why when Belafonte called Lionel and those guys, they called me. Because nobody had ever done anything like that before, to take all those people in the studio, 'cause man you're asking for it, man. [LAUGH] Ooh, baby.
GALLOWAY: Where was the last time you saw Michael?
JONES: In London. He wanted to bring the kids over, you know. Prince and all the kids. And so something else was going on and he said let's do it in LA. And I was coming back from China, and I got in Luxembourg, and new conductors had a band there, and welcome us and everything else, and in the car on the way home they said by the way, Ed McMahon and what's the girl's name, another girl died, big actress. Farrah Fawcett? Huh? Yeah. Farrah Fawcett, Ed McMahon.
GALLOWAY: They know their stuff. [LAUGH]
JONES: And Michael just died. I mean, I freaked out. You know, I couldn't believe it, you know. No, it was heavy. Really heavy, because, boy, the relationship with a producer and an artist is really special. And there's no room for BS at all. It's got to be pure. It's got to be love and respect, and amazing mutual respect for each other, 'cause that's what makes a good record, I think, you know, is when they trust each other, and you tell them to jump without a net, boy, you better know what you're talking about. But Sinatra, Ray Charles, I don't, I'm sorry, they kick butt now. They don't play.
GALLOWAY: You and Michael worked with Steven Spielberg on an album for ET.
GALLOWAY: What happened?
JONES: Well, we were in the middle of Thriller, man, and I was late because I'd been working with Donna Summer, and we're late to get to Thriller, and we had to stop in the middle of it and cut a record with McCartney, 'cause he was in Tucson and we had to go down there and do it, you know. But that got out and it was number two on the records, so the pressure was coming from both sides, you know? [LAUGH] And then Spielberg came back, and who was like my bro-literally like my brother. And he said I need you to do the whole album. I said Steven, we're right in the middle of Thriller, man, and you know… So Rod and the Bergmans, Alan and Marilyn Bergman, wrote a song for it. Someone in the Dark. Then he said do the whole album. And here's a guy comes with all the ET's footsteps and all that stuff, you know. We had to do that really in like less than a month, you know. And it was tough. But we did it.
GALLOWAY: You then have a brief falling out and then you got back together for The Color Purple.
JONES: You what?
GALLOWAY: You had a brief falling out with him after that?
JONES: Well no. Here's what happened. I'll tell you not falling out, falling out my butt. I had Grand Master Flash in the studio ready to record and anti-crack song in 1987 with Michael. And Michael told Frank DiLeo Quincy's getting old, too old for the business now. He doesn't understand, rap is dead. In 1987.Yes Michael, OK. [LAUGH] I'll see you later. And he had to pay those guys $150,000 a song. Rodney Jerkins. Akon, all of 'em. You know to do it, rap was far from being dead. It didn't even come in 'til '92. We helped usher rap in, you know. And too, we had the second rap Grammy with Black on the Block. You know, we got the album of the year that year, and had Kool Moe Dee, (Big) Daddy Kane, Ice T, and Melle Mel, who to me is the godfather of rap. He's never pimped a hood. Never. White lines. He never pimped a hood. And we have done a lot of great stuff together. We're going to do some more together.
GALLOWAY: So then you collaborate in this film. Let's take a look at a clip from The Color Purple. This is a great clip, where these two sisters are going to be torn apart, because the husband of one is…
JONES: She was a princess from Kenya, I mean from Ghana. Akosua Busia. The sister that got thrown out?
GALLOWAY: Yeah. She's a-
JONES: Yeah, she's from Ghana.
GALLOWAY: Oh wow. Huh.
GALLOWAY: Did you say that, that actress is so wonderful.
GALLOWAY: And did you say she's a princess from Ghana?
JONES: Did you what?
GALLOWAY: Did you say that she's a princess…
JONES: She's a princess from Ghana, yeah. Akosua. Yes. She always used to say yes, and then I'll get married and get me some land. [LAUGH] Great, incredible memories. And you know what, this is when I also learned about the strength of being underestimated in this business. Perfect example, because at that time I met Spielberg when I was doing Thriller, he was doing ET. And his girlfriend at that time introduced us, and we met, it was like love at first sight. It was ridiculous, man. He'd come to my studio and bring me a viewfinder. I'd give him a synthesizer. I'd go to Laird's, he was shooting at Laird's, you know. That picture only cost $11 million, ET. And Jerry Belson was the writer that used to call him "Slimehead Goes West". 'Cause at first, when they had eight to operate ET, and the first version of ET was a $700,000 ET that looked like a brother. And so they had to start all over again. I said you notice in the movie, he had blue eyes, [LAUGH], you know. They had to do it all over again. But it was hilarious, 'cause he said we work exactly alike. And we do, we get a very powerful structure, and then improvisation on top of that, you know. So you can't get in too much trouble, you know. And he said that's the same way I work too, you know. And that's the only way to work, 'cause that way you get involvement. Steven always used to say you have to make film, everybody's film, so everybody can get involved in it. And that's true, from the costume designer, whatever. 'Cause we at first we came up with all these slave costumes. I said no, no, no. This was a middle class family. That's not, wasn't that at all. Alice Walker said that, you know. It's not a slave situation at all. It's a middle class family. And I was a line producer on this, man. It's I was out in the woods rehearsing the choir while he's doing this and all that now. I have to keep them from clapping on one and three, 'cause the assistant director had them clapping on one and three. I said you can't do that in a Baptist church, man. [LAUGH] That ain't going to get it. But it was an amazing experience. So Steven drove me to work every day, and taught me, told me about a lot of the things that John Ford taught him, you know, about creating light in a film is half of your battle. You know, because in our business, and I've always been torn between the two things. Hal Ashby, 'til he died, was trying to get me to direct, be a director, you know, for a interracial romantic film with Bobby De Niro. And I got a hundred takes of him telling me how that works, you know. They're not going to ask you if they wanted to talk to the director of photography, they talk about lighting and so forth, you know. Because Steven said the original, John Ford taught him the original lighting came from watching the master painters, you know. Monets and Magrittes and so forth, of how they put light on a bowl of fruit, or whatever it was. And I was in art before I was in music, you know, so it always fascinated me. But it's amazing the relationships, you know. And we have in records, you know, we have an engineer that captures [COUGH] the sound that you're dreaming of to the ears of the people, hopefully, that will be listening to it, and the same with a movie. You got a director of photography. If he don't get it right, they don't know what Steven's talking about. And he loved to put smoke all over everything, you know. It's unbelievable.
GALLOWAY: When you did that scene, which is so intensely dramatic, what was your thinking when you came to do the score? What did you want to achieve with that score?
JONES: Well, if you just go with your, as I said before, with your intuition, and you know, you have to with the intuition. And what is it telling you? It's like the, you know there's some planes now, well it's been happening for a while now, but at one point it locks into almost like a high-tech thing, and it goes down a inch at a time. So it measures destination, velocity, and all that stuff with the… And I recognize that, because that saved our butt, remember the scene where Celie was getting ready to shave him when she was going to cut his throat, you know?
GALLOWAY: Yes. Great scene.
JONES: And she, and Shug's runnin', tryin' to stop him? Well that, Steven went with an 8 1/2 minute cue, and it was, had to pick up speed. We had to go from an 11-frame click to a 8-frame click and 8 1/2, you know, I had a eight minute cue there. And boy, it was technically, you can't do it, you know. So the technology, the same technology that they have on the planes came out that three weeks before we scored.
JONES: And we had African drummers on that, you know. And thank God. And it's funny, 'cause Jay-Z and Kanye used it in one of their things in Empire of the State, you know. That's one of the samples on that, you know. But it's heavy.
GALLOWAY: So just before we wrap up, and then we're going to go to everyone's questions. I find it interesting that one of the most recent projects that you've done is this really wonderful documentary of…
JONES: Keep On Keepin' On.
GALLOWAY: Keep On Keepin' On, which showed at the Telluride Film Festival last year and was quite a sensation. And this takes you back to your youth.
JONES: Ten years old.
GALLOWAY: And the man we're talking about, Clark Terry, and Quincy went up to him and said, you know, teach me to play the trumpet. So I just want to show you a clip of that. [LAUGH] We're going to see the very young, the young Quincy Jones. And while we're watching this, why don't you get up, you know, the guys who want to ask questions, let's get you to the microphone. So let's watch a clip from Keep On Keepin' On.
JONES: He taught Miles too, back then.
JONES: Yeah, you don't miss a thing do you?
JONES: We weren't supposed to live past 35.
GALLOWAY: Well, you did.
JONES: It's true. Charlie Parker, we lost him a 34 years old. Nica Rothschild's apartment, Desanto. Because jazz bebop was designed, it filtered out of all the big bands, you know, like Jay McShann was had Charlie Parker with him. Cab Callaway had Dizzy. They all ended up in Earl Hines's band. And they got Miles and Sarah Vaughan, and J.J. Johnson. And Billie Eckstein took all the bebop guys into his band, and they were all there together. But their attitude was forget money, fame, all of that crap, and let's take all of the need to be entertainers out of music, out of jazz. You know, 'cause Louis had did what he had to do in those sociological times, you know. But they wanted to be, they were listening to Stravinsky. I used to watch Bird and Charlie's tavern all the time, listening to Stravinsky. They wanted to be pure artists. And they succeeded to take the music to that level, but it went over the heads of the public. I remember takin', when that Charlie Parker, one time to see King Curtis at a concert with about 6500 people. And Bird was high as usual, you know. But he couldn't believe, he saw all these people clapping along with Kind Curtis. He'd never seen that before. You know, Lionel Hampton used to do that a lot. And Bird used to come from next door at Birdland, and we were with Hamp, and come in to practice reading second tenor parts, you know. And he was starring next door with Mingus and Dizzy and all those guys. It's amazing transition. And we got curious about why we ended up with the words bebop, doo-wop, and hip-hop. Nobody talked to each other about that. It just came from a certain sociological situation, 'cause our music was born not out of a culture, but out of a serious slavery situation, you know, sociological situation now. And if it hadn't been for France we wouldn't of had jazz, that's for sure. And Congo Square in Louisiana. And in France, too, 'cause they don't play.
GALLOWAY: Your grandmother was a slave, wasn't she?
JONES: Absolutely. And I just learned, with [his daughter] Rashida, they did a show called Who Do You Think You Are?, and they went to her, to Ireland, 'cause her mother's Peggy Lipton, you know. And they were a Jewish family, Rosenberg, they changed their name to Benson, you know, in Ireland, to get to America, you know. And the father was from Odessa. People think Peggy's from the Lipton tea family. It's Lipschitz. [LAUGH] It's Jewish, you know. It's amazing.
GALLOWAY: And I think I read that you are directly descended from King Edward I of England?
GALLOWAY: See, we're both English.
JONES: And not only that, Jane Fonda's my third cousin.
GALLOWAY: Really? [LAUGH]
JONES: Yeah, 'cause we had Cameroon African, and Tikar. [To a student:] And, you too?
JONES: Go on, girl.
GALLOWAY: Let's get the first question please.
Q: So you are-
GALLOWAY: And tell us who you are.
Q: Oh, I'm Jake Weinstein. I'm a recording arts student here at LMU, and you already kind of addressed how you felt about the Blurred Lines lawsuit, but I was wondering how you feel about hip-hop producers that make a lot of their work by sampling your music. I mean, you've been sampled by pretty much everybody, in-
JONES: That's the bottom line. About Blurred Lines, right? Robin Thicke?
GALLOWAY: Well, but how do you feel about having your music sampled by all the hip-hop.
JONES: Well, they pay for it. [LAUGH] You see it 36 samples a week. Tupac's biggest record, I didn't even want it as our record. [SINGING] Body Heat, you know. All of it, all of it gots the sample all over the place. Pharcyde, the Dream Warriors and stuff. But you pay for it. But you can't take somebody else's stuff, you know and…
Q: Have you ever thought about having a more like active role in crafting hip-hop music for guys like that?
JONES: And do what?
GALLOWAY: Have you thought about having a more active role in hip-hop music?
JONES: Oh, but we man, we helped usher hip-hop into the mainstream. Are you kidding?
Q: No I mean, never mind.
JONES: What? No, what, what?
Q: No, I was wondering if you were thinking, 'cause jazz is really getting big in hip-hop again. If you've heard of Flying Lotus, he had an album called You're Dead, and he had, he brought, he had Herbie Hancock on there, guys like that. And I was wondering if you were interested in roles like that?
JONES: Yeah, but people are talking about it all the time. And Mark Ronson, Uptown Funk, right? Yeah.
GALLOWAY: Next question.
JONES: But I just wouldn't of liked to see, I talked to four of my close friends, Ludacris, Drake, Common and Will, about two or three months ago, and asked them, in your mind, what was the year of the origin of hip-hop. And everybody, without fail, said 1971, because they young, you know. In '71, along with the Black Panthers, or Gil Scott-Heron, man we were rapping in Chicago man in 1939, when I was five years old, man. Doin' the dirty dozens, the Titanic, and the signifying monkey and all this stuff. It's all basically come from the Ubangi in South Africa, the praise shouters. 'Cause the mother is the goddess of the family, and her voice, this that you can view somebody as they talk about their mama. Leonard Bernstein had me for two years trying to teach him how to say, 'Yo mama' in the right place, you know. 'Cause he's always saying Yo-Yo Ma. I said, 'No, LB, it's yo mama.' You know. Said well where do I put it? If the second cellist says Mr. Bernstein, with all due respect, but your downbeat on bar 41 was a little flabby, say 'Yo mama.' So we were going on with this for two years, 'cause he really wanted to be authentic, you know. Used to have meetings with the Panthers in his apartment in New York. So we are in '88, we're in Rome. Michael had me over there to do like 850 interviews with Frank DiLeo, for 13 countries, and so Leonard's over there, and he takes us to the Sistine Chapel.
GALLOWAY: This is Leonard Bernstein?
JONES: Bernstein, LB, yeah. He's a piece of work man, I love him. And he, seven of us go to the Sistine Chapel, with the oldest daughter, girlfriend, and stuff like that. And we're lying down on the floor, which is definitely forbidden. They got a big, running, no way did you lie down on the floor. They're thinking about, you know, during tourist hours. But he's the conductor of the Vatican Symphony and all. So he's lying down, and I got pictures of this, I'm not lying. And he's got his glasses on, and he's looking at the, they had just re-cleaned up the whole top of it with Michelangelo's stuff up there, right? He said, man, Michelangelo never saw a woman in his life, man. That's a man with boobs, man. He's as gay as I am. [LAUGH] And so the monsignor comes up, doesn't recognize, he's the Vatican conductor. And he says [FOREIGN LANGUAGE], they want, you know, what's going on here, you know. Every time he says, 'Yo mama.' I said LB, 'That's the right way, but the wrong place.' [LAUGH] I'll never forget that. I got those pictures man. He was serious as a heart attack.
GALLOWAY: Let's have the next question.
Q: Hi, Mr. Jones. My name is Eric Escalante. I just want to say, first of all, thank you. It's an honor to have you here with us at LMU.
JONES: Right back at ya.
Q: I'm a senior music major here at LMU. I just want to start, I mean, my question is based, I think, around your life. I mean, all your experiences in music, you, you know, started as a young musician playing all kinds of gigs, all kinds of styles of music, at least, from what I know, and you know, you've worked over, I mean, lifetimes of musicians, and so many different eras of music and styles of music, and I mean, you worked at Ray Charles to Tupac to Stevie Wonder, to even more recently, Nikki Yanofsky, which I love her stuff. She's fantastic. But, you know, I'm a music student here, originally in performance, emphasis in performance in classical guitar, and now I'm doing ethnomusicology, study of world music.
GALLOWAY: But what's your actual question?
Q: My, sorry, my question, I'm sorry about that. My question is, you know, I've done, I do guitar work, vocal work, percussion work. You know, I try and do as much as I can in music, just to, you know, put all my irons in the fire, but what's your advice, I mean, in succeeding in this business and starting in this business and then being successful and continuing to be successful in your career.
GALLOWAY: What advice do you have? [LAUGH
JONES: I was going to say, it says empty the cup every time and it comes back at twice as full. I developed that attitude when I was very, very young, when I decided I didn't want to be a gangster anymore. Whether it's just shining shoes, I said okay, I'm going to do this better than anybody else did it in my life. And all of the pimps used to wear those Stacy Adams back then. Remember? No, well you weren't there. The '40s, and brand new Stacy Adams, with the strings and everything else, and they'd take two razorblade cuts right here for a little bunion comfort there, right? White silk stockings. I'm 12 years old, whatever. And see all the other guys there, they'd get all carried away and get to the shoeshine juice, you know. And they'd put it right over those holes, man, and mess up these dudes white silk socks. I learned right there, I learned real early why God gave us two ears and one mouth, because you're supposed to listen twice as much as you talk. You know what I mean? Especially if somebody knows what they're talking about. And I said OK. I took my toothbrush out and put the Clorox on it to clean the strings first. And I go around the sides with the juice with the color in it, on that, and exhaust all the juice, so it was not that much left, so when I hit those things with the stripes, I didn't hit the socks or mess the socks up. And I had the pimps coming back to me every night, [LAUGH], to get their Stacy Adams done up, you know.
GALLOWAY: Your father gave you a piece of advice every day?
JONES: Yep. He said, 'Once a task is just begun, / Never leave it 'til it's done. / Be the labor great or small, / Do it well or not at all.' Every day he made us say that. And the other one was not one drop of my self-worth depends on your acceptance of me, because there was so much racism, you know. And Ray Charles and I used to say that to each other every day. 'Cause we got together at 14 and 17. He was 17. And man, I just like, he was like my idol. He had his own apartment, a record player, two girlfriends, man, I couldn't believe it. Woo, he had it down, man. 17 years old. And he played, he sang then like Nat Cole and Charles Brown, and played a piano and a alto sax, like Charlie Parker. Then he went down to California, that's when he got involved in heroin, you know, and got into booze, taking gospel music, making it into what became legendary, you know. But he was a bad mother— man.
GALLOWAY: Next question, please.
JONES: But the man back to the thing, you talk about if you can see it, you can be it. And go for it. Go for it.
GALLOWAY: But what would the, if someone wants to be a film composer, let's say…
JONES: Work, you know, number one…
GALLOWAY: What's the first step that they should-
GALLOWAY: What is the first step they should take is-
JONES: Learn music, man. Learn the science of music. Damn, is it, you know, we all try to deny it and act like yeah, I read music, but not enough to hurt my swinging. Man, that's bullshit, you know. You've got to have the, it's a left and right brain thing. The emotion, you don't have to practice emotion. That's, emotion lotion is automatic, you know. What the science of it, you've got to, God gives you that talent. You've got to give God back to work, you know, because they say the dictionary's the only place you find success before work. And that's alphabetical. [LAUGH] Only alphabetical, 'cause it doesn't work like that. Got to work your butt off, man. Sorry. If you believe in it, you know, believe in orchestration?
JONES: [Down a part], retrograde inversion, you know. Go for it, man. You cannot get enough.
GALLOWAY: Do you think you work too hard in your career?
GALLOWAY: Did you work too hard in your career?
JONES: Too hard — no, it's not, it wasn't work, man. It was joy. You kiddin? I'd stay up 'til my eyes were —
GALLOWAY: You had six kids, then…
JONES: Eyes would bleed. Huh? Seven.
GALLOWAY: Seven, and uh…
JONES: Yeah. I don't care. I worked anyway. I would start at midnight, man.
GALLOWAY: Did they, how did they feel about that?
GALLOWAY: How did they feel about it?
JONES: Oh, listen. Rashida? Are you kidding? I had a different birth system with Rashida. And not only being Pisces, but she's Pisces too, but Rashida, we did the LaBoya birth system, and it is unbelievable. It affects 2500 parts of you, from ambidexterity to everything else. She was playing Bach two-part inventions at five years old. But I'd come by, I would go into writing for movies, I'd go by her room, all the three of the girls were right next door to each other, and she'd have her sheet up, at five years old, with a flashlight out, reading five books. [LAUGH] And I told her she's going to be a little girl until she finishes school, instead of gettin' involved in this stuff at 12 and 13, 'cause she was acting since she was seven. But I said you're going to Harvard first. She got out of Harvard, 21, said, 'You can do whatever you want now.'
GALLOWAY: Next question.
Q: Hi Quincy, how are you doing?
Q: [LAUGH] My name's Emmanuel St. Ange. I'm writing and producing for television major. My question has to do-
JONES: A scriptwriter?
Q: Yeah. Writing and producing. So I write it, then we make it.
JONES: Oh, great, man.
Q: Yes sir. [LAUGH] So my question had to do also with longevity. It's so easy to find somebody who's talented, who will get their one minute of success, but then they fall off. Even with Jay-Z, he was talking about when he started Rock Nation, one thing that he did was he didn't release any artists for three years, because he wanted to make sure that there was a foundation, and he built that foundation before he released artists. So I just wanted to know, in terms of after reaching "whatever success may be for you", how do you keep the fire going, and what were some strategies that you had for yourself, and even for Michael, to make sure that you guys reach where you at.
JONES: Well, you know, you have to maintain a passion, man. A passion. And Johnny and I, you know who Johnny Mandel is? He wrote Emily. He wrote The Shadow Of Your Smile. I mean, one of the greatest orchestrators and composers that ever lived, you know. We've known each other since before electricity. [LAUGH] He was in Basie's band. I was in Hamp's band. And he called me, I guess, a couple of weeks ago and said Q, we're going to be the first two dudes that go from infancy to Alzheimer's without passing grownup. Never want to grow up, man. Just don't grow up, man. That's the way you do it. And be, remain, keep that child in you. I mean it.
JONES: But the work that, the left brain work has to be done, man, to get that science together. 'Cause nothing scares you then, man, with music. And Nadia said to me, 'til God gives us 13 notes, I'm going to make you learn what everybody's done with 12 so you never have to worry about any genre. Well, I never did anyway, 'cause we were doing everything from the time we 11, 12, 13 years old. You know, playing the Seattle Tennis Club with tuxedoes on, playing To Each His Own, and all that pop music. You know, it's amazing what they played before 1954. [LAUGH] How Much Is That Doggie In The Window? Mule Train. Yellow Rose of Texas. You know. Tennessee Waltz. It's so crazy, man. And then all of a sudden, you know, I was with Tommy Dorsey, and this 17-year-old dude showed up from Muscle Shoals, Elvis, you know. [LAUGH] And Tommy wouldn't play with him, and they had to send back to Muscle Shoals to get the musicians, you know. But it's the different kinds of music. And then folk music, you know, it's just… As I said before, bebop, doo-wop, and hip-hop, how those names came about is just a miracle. It's a miracle, you know.
GALLOWAY: What do you listen to? Do you like classical music? Do you like opera?
JONES: I like every, good music, man, that's all. It's good or bad. It's that simple, you know. Everything. I love the Bulgarian singers, they were farm girls that a French ranger went over. And in fact I had 'em on the show when I conducted Miles's last concert with the Gil Evans stuff in Montreux, 1991. And we had these girls from Bulgarian singers, with their little farm hats on and stuff like… Miles didn't know what it was until he heard 'em, you know. 'Cause they saw in Africa. [LAUGH] Unbelievable.
GALLOWAY: Last question, please.
Q: How's it going? My name's Randal Rydell, and I have a question for you, and it is what special skill or trait did you see in Will Smith to want to cast him in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and what has it been like to see his career evolve?
JONES: What's the second one.
GALLOWAY: Will Smith.
JONES: Right, what I see in him? I could see his intellect, you know. I could see his intellect, 'cause he had just got all in trouble as a rapper then. He lost a million dollars with Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince, you know? And the story really happened from Benny Medina's life story. Benny Medina's back with J-Lo now. He's been with everybody. And pretty smart dude. And, I lost my point.
GALLOWAY: You said he had an intellect.
JONES: Yeah. And, Brandon Tartikoff, they were scared to death that we saw them about six o'clock. And as Benny Medina's life-
GALLOWAY: This is the president of NBC Entertainment?
GALLOWAY: The president of NBC Entertainment.
JONES: Exactly. And what's the other guys' name, Warren…
JONES: Littlefield, yeah. And that never happens. We had a six o'clock presentation, pitch, and they called me back at 11 o'clock and said we'd really like to do this, but we are terrified of putting rappers on TV. I said man that's the least guy you should be terrified of, is Will Smith. You know, I'm the ODB, man, and Suge Knight, man. That's where you get, that's who you're going to be afraid of, you know, and some [LAUGH]… Please. You gotta be kidding. And Will did, we did 170 episodes, and I watched him, we were at Sunset and Gower when there's still Columbia Pictures before, we'll read about it for Sony, and the studio, he didn't know what camera to see. And I said watch the red light, you know. [LAUGH] Only thing is he learned so fast, man. It was like Michael was like that too. He learned so fast. Everything that he watched on a movie, he'd watch every, knew everybody's lines, you know, everybody's dance steps, everybody's dialogue. And this one pertains to Michael. After we finally got over, he was worried about producers, and let's get the movie first, he had, remember he pulled those saying out of his chest, the straw chest, you know. Da-da-da-da-da, Confucius, da-da-da, Kierkegaard. Then he says, 'Da-da-da-da-da, So-crate-ees.' I said who the hell is So-crate-ees? I said, 'Michael, it's Socrates.' He said 'Really?' I said, 'Really, it is, man. Trust me, man. It's Socrates.' [LAUGH] And when he said really, it was such a innocence in his face, you know. And just, I'd been watching him learn all the people's lines and everything else, and how intuitive he was. He was a hard worker, man. Hard worker. He'd, it'd take five hours to put all that stuff on his face every day, you know. And so he got it together.
GALLOWAY: Good. Well thank you. Everyone, thank you so much for being a wonderful audience this season. We'll pick up again in September.
JONES: Thank you.