An Early Discovery Leads to a Lifelong Musical Journey
Listen to Part One of Bob Edwards' interview with Quincy Jones.
Listen to Part Two of the interview.
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Nov. 6, 2001 -- Quincy Jones says he was about 11 years old when his lifelong connection with music first clicked into place. Left on his own with his father at work, Jones and his buddies broke into a Seattle recreation center.
Photo: Matthew Jordan Smith, Courtesy Qwest/Warner Bros. Records
"We were roaming around and...in the shadows I saw a piano and I almost closed the door," he recalls in an interview with Morning Edition's Bob Edwards to discuss his CD anthology, Q: The Musical Biography of Quincy Jones.
"Then something deep inside me said to open the door again. I went back into the room and slowly went over to that piano and I felt goose bumps... I had touched a piano before, but I had never thought about myself being involved in music. And from that day on, thank god, that changed my life. That was the crossroads for me."
Jones says that when he was 14, he learned to read music from Ray Charles, who was 16 at the time. "We used to spend most of our midnight hours staying up writing arrangements on Dizzy Gillespie songs... .
"From the very first moment, I understood the concept that four trombones or four trumpets, separately or collectively, could make that great sound...playing the same syncopations without the same notes... Something about it just fascinated me and I knew that's where I wanted to live the rest of my life."
And so began Quincy Jones' musical journey, the one that brought him the job titles of composer, arranger, conductor, producer, record company executive -- and numerous accolades, including 26 Grammy Awards (out of 76 nominations).
Jones said he had wanted to write movie scores from an early age. "I used to play hooky and go to the 11-cent movies all day long."
He composed scores for 33 motion pictures, including The Heat of the Night, The Pawn Broker and Mirage. It was on the set of 1965's Mirage, (which starred Gregory Peck and Walter Matthau) that Jones encountered a producer who "was not aware that I was black. He saw me with my attache case and with my...Italian suits and everything and he says, 'I'll be right back.' We all know the look in the eye." Jones says he got the job anyway after his friend, Henry Mancini, put in a good word for him.
Jones has worked with some of the biggest names in show business, including, of course, Michael Jackson; he produced the best-selling Thriller album for the Gloved One. For Frank Sinatra, he arranged and conducted Fly Me to the Moon -- the first song played on the lunar surface by astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Jones proudly points out.
And while Jones is concerned with his legacy in the Q autobiography project, he also laments that fact that Americans know so little about their own music.
"It's astounding to know that every place you go in the world, they're playing this music: Estonia, Yugoslavia, Taiwan -- everywhere. Unfortunately, the American kids -- black and white -- don't really get it. They don't have a clue what their music is really about.
"I'll bet my life that in 50 years, the music of Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Miles, Coltrane, Basie, Ella and Sarah will be the equivalent of the American version of Brahms, Bach, Beethoven...because it's classic."
• Read an NPR Jazz Book Review of Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones
• Kennedy Center Honors: Quincy Jones
• Rhino Records Web site featuring Q: The Musical Biography Of Quincy Jones
• ASCAP Legend: Quincy Jones, including timeline and Q-ography
• The Quincy Jones Listen Up Foundation