Quincy Jones on Scoring 'Get Rich'

Ed Gordon talks with Quincy Jones, who scored the music for new film Get Rich or Die Tryin, starring rapper Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson.

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ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon, and this is NEWS & NOTES.

Quincy Jones is a man of many titles. For six decades, the award-winning musician, songwriter, band leader and record label executive has worked with the hottest acts of any generation. From Count Basie to Michael Jackson, from Frank Sinatra to Chaka Khan, he's worked with them all.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Singer #1: I can't tell you what I want. Make you (unintelligible) against the law. Look how high you could go, but exactly how low. What makes you feel like you can do stuff like that?

GORDON: Jones has produced projects on the small and big screen. TV's "Fresh Prince" and the movie "The Color Purple" are all part of his resume, and now he's part of the team bringing "The Color Purple" to Broadway this fall. He's also worked as a film composer, scoring almost 40 movies, including the controversial new release "Get Rich or Die Tryin'." The composer says it's his latest expression of a lifelong passion.

Mr. QUINCY JONES (Musician/Songwriter): I'm a junkie, music junkie, and if you get up every morning, you know, you get the same influences that the 14- and 15-year-olds do, so you just have to pay attention, you know. Ray Charles and I started together, like at 14 and 16, and in those days, they had all--and you had to play everything to schottisches to rhythm and blues and strip music and pop music. You had to play everything--Sousa and so we started out that way, you know, at 12, 13, 14 years old. We played every kind of music. We played with Billie Holiday when she came through. We had a band. And Billy Eckstine came through, Cab Calloway or whatever, and we had singing group and we used to do comedy, and it was--we had a lot of fun then, a lot of fun.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Singer #2: Guiding, shining, dancing, dining, with some man in a restaurant. Tell me, is that all you want, you sophisticated lady...

Mr. JONES: We were not after money or fame. That was our--nobody thought about that then, you know, because all of our idols were broke, you know.

(Soundbite of music)

GORDON: You know, I've often said to people that one of my most favorite interviews when I was at BET is we did one with you and Ray together, and to watch the two of you and just the true genuine love and friendship that you-all have shared for so long, I suspect it must be bittersweet for you in the sense that...

Mr. JONES: It...

GORDON: ...it must be sweet to see the success that Ray has seen from a new generation, but I'm sure you miss him.

Mr. JONES: Oh, absolutely, man. He never--we'll never lose each other, never. I just adore him and I was with him right to the end, and, I mean, I couldn't believe it happened to him, but an unbelievable human being.

(Soundbite of music)

Group: (In unison) Hey!

Mr. RAY CHARLES: (Singing) Just a little bit of soul now.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JONES: You have to remember in '47 and '48, I left Chicago for the biggest ghetto in America, and we went out to a Trailway bus with my daddy to the Bremerton Shipyard in the Northwest and it's like black people didn't even exist, you know, because there was no TV. Radio had Beuler(ph) and Rochester on "Jack Benny" show and "Amos and Andy," which we knew were white, and so I'd lay on the floor in the dark, you know, and make "The Green Hornet" black, you know. We'd make up anything we wanted, because it was all just audio, you know. But we had to figure out who we wanted to be when we grew up, and a lot of big bands came through, and we'd see the four trombones and four trumpets and five saxes, the rhythm section with Basie and Erskine Hawkins and Louis Armstrong and Louis Jordan, and I said, that's the family I want to be in, you know, and that identified it for me right away, and I was gone. I was hooked, you know. I don't know. It's just like God just sent down to me to get me out of that thug life, you know, because we were definitely thugs.

GORDON: Is it possible, in your mind, that someone today will come up and be allowed, if you will, to be as successful as you have been, as Ray Charles was? It is an entirely different business than the one you came up in.

Mr. JONES: Yes, it is, but it's better now. Oprah put it as succinctly as I've ever heard it. They had a 15-year-old little brother on her show. He was getting a little mouthy, you know, and she said, `Son, do you know how many black people got beat and whipped and died so you can be where you are today?' and it's really true. And she says, `The crown is already bought. All you have to do is reach down, pick it up and put it on your head.' It's very true. Of course, I mean, black artists in the '50s and '60s, they used to get killed with their financial deals, everything, just the works, you know, just totally exploited and everything. And today, you know, before they even get a record deal, they come--walk in with a publicist, a manager and an agent and everything else, you know, and that kind of exploitation is not happening, you know.

GORDON: "Get Rich or Die Tryin'," a movie that is highly anticipated, particularly by young black men, waiting to see the story of 50 Cent. Curtis Jackson is his given name.

Mr. JONES: Yeah.

GORDON: It's a semi-biographical tale, and you are scoring this picture. Why'd you decide to take this one on after, I guess, what would be a 20-year la...

Mr. JONES: Yes, about 20 years since "The Color Purple." Well, I've been doing a lot of other things, you know, and I love that, because I think after you try to master your core skill, it gives you discipline and insight, you know, and I've done scores for 14 TV shows, about 40 movies, you know. You learn how--what it takes to have the facility, you know, to put together shows and make it happen. But it's--the same discipline applied to all of it. This was nice because it's a situation where you're dealing with a great story, which is his life story, and a real good director. Jim Sheridan, you know, did "In the Name of the Father" and "My Left Foot," and 50 Cent surrendered himself to him, which is a smart thing to do, because you're a star as a rapper, you know. You still have another--it's another skill that you have to learn as an actor.

(Soundbite of "Get Rich or Die Tryin'")

Unidentified Woman #1: You the boss, Marcus?

MARCUS: Yeah. This is Justice. That's Keryl. And you know Antwan.

Unidentified Woman #1: Hey, man.

Unidentified Woman #2: Why me ...(unintelligible)?

Unidentified Man #1: ...(Unintelligible).

Unidentified Man #2: I'll go...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #2: ...(Unintelligible).

Unidentified Woman #3: So what do you do?

MARCUS: I'm a gangster.

Unidentified Woman #3: No, really, what do you do?

MARCUS: I'm a rapper.

Unidentified Woman #3: Seriously, Marcus, what do you do?

MARCUS: I'm a gangster rapper.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #3: Marcus is a gangster. He's a rapper. There it is.

GORDON: You know that there was going to be, going into this, controversy surrounding this movie and the question of stereotypes and whether or not violence is being glorified. I'm interested in your take in this, because as I have interviewed you through the years, you have often had a broader eye to society than most.

Mr. JONES: Well, I came up almost the same way 50 Cent came up. I just didn't get shot as many times, you know. They didn't have the sophisticated equipment then, like I did--switchblades and ice picks and--but I identified with a lot of the stuff he was going with, and so it wasn't a reach, you know.

GORDON: Are you concerned at all of the imagery we see today with young black men in particular, the gangster rap, the...

Mr. JONES: And the content?

GORDON: Exactly. And...

Mr. JONES: The content? Yeah, it disturbs me, because it's flavor of the week or flavor of the month, you know, and for all of the perception of being non-conformist and everything else, it's all conformity, and that's what knocks me out, you know. But my daughter's boyfriend's all--got the uniform on the ...(unintelligible) with the strings open, you know, and the jeans all down on his booty, you know, and the hood hat on, you know. That's like a uniform all over the world. I saw Run-DMC in Finland, and the 20 Finnish dudes got the same thing they got on, you know, or France or wherever, Croatia, man. It's unbelievable, you know.

And it's a very seductive culture, but black music always has been, you know. The cultures have had culture for 3,000 years identified and understand it more than Americans do, and that's one of my problems with the school system, is the souls of our young people, especially black kids, you know, if they knew really the entire 360 of our music, you know, they'd have a different mind-set. Indigenous music's been shoved aside by all the foreign countries all over the world, which is strange, you know. Kabuki or German lieder and all that stuff--they shove their indigenous music aside for delta blues and jazz and R&B and rap and hip-hop, whatever. And they use our culture as a (unintelligible) and to express themselves. That's a very strange phenomena, you know, and guess who knows the bit thing about it? Americans.

GORDON: Do you see yourself, as many in the industry do, as a godfather, one that so many seek wisdom from? And if so, do you cherish and like that role?

Mr. JONES: Yes, I do. I'll tell you why. Because, you know, you can relate to what happens to you, you know, and when I was young, it was Clark Terry and Basie and Ray Charles. Now Ray was only two years old when he was like--felt like a hundred years old, you know. He has girlfriends--two girlfriends back then, an apartment, man, and two suits and a record player, and I was simply living at home with three dudes in the attic, you know. Benny Carter and those guys--they put me on their shoulders and helped me, you know, they answered questions. And I was nosey. I wanted to know everything about everything. Benny Carter had been in movies, and they didn't have many black people in movies, and that's what I wanted to do since I was 15.

And it's a role I enjoy. I mean, Usher--all the dogs all me all day long, you know, Terrence Howard and stuff, and I love it. We all hang well, you know, and Usher stays at the house sometimes, Jermaine Dupri and stuff, and it's just beautiful. Besides, that's exactly the way I came up. I'd hang out and worry Clark Terry and Basie to death, you know. How do you do that? How do you hit that sound, you know? And that's the way it's supposed to be. It's like an apprenticeship, really.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Singer #4: But the dude know the street ain't no kiddie game. You don't know the dude, Quincy's his first name. He told me, `Ice, keep doing what you're doing, man. Don't give a damn. Those squares don't understand. You let them tell them what to say and what to write. Your whole career will be over by tomorrow night. Rap from your heart and your heart's with the street. Rap on my record, man, ...(unintelligible). What can I say? The man can roll with Ice T and Michael J.

GORDON: Let me ask you about another project that's coming, so many people talking about it, and it's "The Color Purple" hitting Broadway.

Mr. JONES: Well--and my daughter, who is hard on stuff. She said she's never seen anything like it in her whole life. And it's great, you know, because when they first asked me to get involved, I was too busy, and I started to get closer to it as a co-producer, you know. Then I went to see it and then Oprah saw it and she's put money in it and she's presenting it now, and it is tight.

GORDON: Is there anything that you've yet been able to do that you long to?

Mr. JONES: Well, we're getting ready to do it December 1st, and that's Broadway. Yeah. I did a Broadway show with my band in '59. We went to Europe first. It was "Free and Easy." It was the original to "St. Louis Woman," but, I mean, really get involved in it. And we've done that, and I guess the next step would be to write one. And I've got enough stuff to do for 200 more years. I don't think I'll make it. But...

GORDON: Well, as long as you're around, we'll look forward to whatever you put, because often, we throw the word `legend' around, and I think too often it is attached to people that it does not necessarily apply to, but in your case, Mr. Jones, you might as well put it in front of `Quincy' and just utilize that as the new first name, and it's always a pleasure for me to talk to you. I thank you for being with us.

Mr. JONES: I thank you, too, my brother. I appreciate it, really.

(Soundbite of music)

Group: (Singing) ...(Unintelligible) is what you do. The music plays (unintelligible).

GORDON: Thanks for joining us. That's our program today. To listen to the show, visit npr.org. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

(Soundbite of music)

GORDON: I'm Ed Gordon, and this is NEWS & NOTES.

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