Copyright ©2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHELE NORRIS, host.

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Michele Norris. And on this Thanksgiving, we're going to spend some time with the man known as Q to his friends. To the rest of us, he is Quincy Jones, Quincy Delight Jones, Jr. to be exact, and it's been said his work sings for itself. He's arranged big band hits...

(Soundbite of song "Fly Me To the Moon")

Mr. FRANK SINATRA: (Singing) Fly me to the moon, Let me play..

NORRIS: He scored films.

(Soundbite of song "In The Heat of the Night")

Mr. RAY CHARLES: (Singing) In the heat of the night...

NORRIS: He's composed a signature sound for TV shows.

(Soundbite of "Sandford and Son" theme song)

NORRIS: And he has moved from hit...

(Soundbite of song "It's My Party")

Ms. LESLEY GORE: (Singing) It's my party, and I'll cry if I want to...

NORRIS: To hit...

(Soundbite of song "Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough")

Mr. MICHAEL JACKSON: (Singing) Lovin' is the feeling now...

NORRIS: To hit.

(Soundbite of song "We Are The World")

USA FOR AFRICA: (Singing) We are the world, we are the children.

NORRIS: It seems Quincy Jones has worked with everyone in music at some point - Count Basie, Bruce Springsteen, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon, Sarah Vaughn, Ray Charles, Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, Nat King Cole, Ice T - I could go on, but we simply don't have the time. That list is a testament to the diversity and the genius of his career.

Mr. QUINCY JONES (Music Producer, Arranger): And I've been blessed and humble about accepting advices, shutting up and listening to people that know what they're talking about because it's an amazing balance of science and soul.

NORRIS: And staying power. He has managed to be the coolest cat in any room for more than six decades. And at the age of 75, he now has a new book about his career. "The Complete Quincy Jones: My Journey and Passions." It's not a typical autobiography. There's already been one of those. It's more like a scrapbook filled with photos, ticket stubs, sheet music, and memories. He joined me to reminisce about his life in music and where it all started, in Chicago.

Mr. JONES: The afluent section, no. No.

NORRIS: You were rich in other ways, though.

Mr. JONES: Give me a break, honey. We lived in the heart of the ghetto. You know, gangsters, nothing but gangsters. Back in the 1930s, it was all I ever saw were machineguns and stogies and big piles of money under lights.

NORRIS: You saw all of this?

JONES: That's all - as a kid, that's all I saw. I wanted to be a gangster until I was 11. Are you kidding?

NORRIS: In your book, you tell the story. You say that they pinned my hand to a wooden fence with a switch blade when I was seven years old. Who is they? What did they do to you?

Mr. JONES: They is being on the wrong block. If you went in a wrong street and didn't have the right call, you'll get a switch blade through your hand. I was seven years old.

NORRIS: And they literally pinned your hand to a fence?

Mr. JONES: Yeah. And it was a switch blade, but also ice pick on my temple. That's real fun.

NORRIS: They held it to your temple or did they actually?

Mr. JONES: They stuck it in my temple.

NORRIS: Oh, my goodness!

Mr. JONES: Oh yeah, I've got the scar right - my medal to prove it.

NORRIS: How did you get out of Chicago?

Mr. JONES: Capone ran the Jones Boys out because they didn't know they were making so much money, and they ran into Mexico, and they came - they got my brother and I at a barbershop the next day and took us on a trailway bus, no toys, and went straight to the Northwest. He went to the Bremerton Navy Yard during the World War II, and then we went to Seattle two years later.

NORRIS: Now, that's where you met up with Ray Charles.

Mr. JONES: That's right. Exactly. Exactly - you got your homework on.

NORRIS: You know I did my homework.

Mr. JONES: You sure did.

NORRIS: I knew who I was going to be talking to.

Mr. JONES: I met Ray Charles at 14, and he was 16. But he was like a hundred years older than me.

(Soundbite of singing)

Mr. CHARLES: (Singing) Quincy, my buddy, My buddy, quite so true.

NORRIS: How did you meet?

Mr. JONES: We met, it wasn't like the film. We met up at the Elk's Club. The Elk's Club was where we all went after all of the paying jobs, whatever they were, whenever they came. That's where we went to just play bebop for jam all night for free.

(Soundbite of bebop music)

NORRIS: Musically speaking, you've bridged so many genres and generations also. I understand that Lionel Hampton was the person who gave you your big break, and what you told me not just about Lionel Hampton, but also about Gladys Hampton because I understand she stayed on top of you.

Mr. JONES: Yeah. Gladys. She was beautiful. Absolutely. I was very upset, though, when I got thrown off the bus now because I really wanted to go on the road. That's just all I cared about.

NORRIS: Thrown off the bus?

Mr. JONES: She said, honey, what's that child doing on here, Lionel?

(Soundbite of laughing)

Mr. JONES: Honey, get off of this bus and go back to school. We'll talk later. And I sat on the bus for four hours. So, they wouldn't change their mind and why it had - didn't happen.

NORRIS: Tell me the story.

Mr. JONES: At 15 years old, he saw a piece of music I'd written called "Suite for the Four Winds." I didn't know what I was talking about. He wanted to hire me as a trumpet player and arranger, and I just jumped on the bus. I didn't want to tell my parents or anybody. I didn't want to let them change their mind because it's been my dream to be a member of a big band.

And Lionel Hampton at that time was bigger than Duke Ellington, Basie, and Louis Armstrong. They all worked with Joe Glaser of Associated Booking, and he was the number one band. He wrote 300 days a year, you know. And it was the most exciting, educational, learning experience I've had in my life.

NORRIS: So, you went back to Berklee to study music. It wasn't called Berklee at that time.

Mr. JONES: Yes. It was the Schillinger House of Music. That was a Russian mathematician. My teacher said, Quincy, you're going to learn everything everybody ever did with the 12 notes, from Stravinsky to Elvin Bird to Duke Ellington - everybody.

I spent 28 years to hone my craft so I could write any kind of music. And I learned so much by working as a conductor and arranger for, you know, Billy Eckstine, there's Ray Charles, and Peggy Lee with no pressure on me. And those days, we didn't care about money or fame. We couldn't care less.

(Soundbite of song "As Time Goes By")

Ms. PEGGY LEE: (Singing) Moonlight and love songs never out of date, Hearts full of passion, jealousy, and hate. Woman needs man, and must have his mate...

NORRIS: What's the key to arranging for a particular song?

Mr. JONES: Number one is understanding the arrangement of every instrument singularly and then collectively. I look at everything I do in life with my foundation, everything. This is how I could say it, everything like a big band - four trumpets, four trombones, five saxophones, a rhythm section of a piano, bass, drum, and guitar. And I look at the whole world like that.

I think of all these people doing different things but doing exactly the same thing. Playing one composer's music and one conductor there, they're all thinking about one thing - 16th notes, eighth notes, whole notes and half notes. No stock markets, none of that stuff. They're thinking about one thing, and it's a lot of power. It's a lot of energy. Nobody should think about anything, but what's - what that music is going on.

NORRIS: Help me understand how you would arrange music for a particular sound to make sure that you captured the essence of that performer and perhaps even took them to a different place.

Mr. JONES: Say, that the whole thing is to try to make them sing even better than they sang before, and that's asking for a lot with a Sinatra, a Nat Cole, a Ray Charles, you know. It was like Frank used to say, you know how to press my buttons, you know. There's a certain major seventh note of that. You go to a minor seventh on and, you know, there are certain things musically that I know that, emotionally, it turns him on because it turns me on, too, you know. So that's how I first got to work with Frank, you know.

We got a message one day while I was in France that said, Grace Kelly's office called from Monaco, and they would like you to bring 55 musician down to work with Frank Sinatra. And I almost fainted, you know. Because you don't call up Frank and say, I'd like to work with you. It didn't work like that. You'd have to wait till he calls you.

Four years later, I guess 1962, I get a call. He says, Q - and nobody had ever called me that before - he called from Kauai. He was directing a film called "None But the Brave," a military film. Would you consider doing an album with Basie? And I said, man, is the Pope a Catholic? Are you kidding me? You wait all your life to work with Sinatra and Basie, and it doesn't get any better that.

NORRIS: We have the song "More" from one of those sessions. And as we listen, I want you to talk me through this.

(Soundbite of song "More")

NORRIS: You hear strings there. It's very zesty.

Mr. JONES: Oh, I love it. Emotion lotion.

(Soundbite of song "More")

Mr. SINATRA: (Singing) More, than the greatest love the world has known, This is the love I give you alone.

NORRIS: Take me inside that room.

Mr. JONES: It was amazing. He just finished this movie, and then there were 60 of the extras, of Japanese extras that were in the film. He had all of them there. He had Dean Martin there and about 30 percent of friends, and it was just fantastic. But, you know, it really - I was real on the spot, but I didn't feel any pressure. I didn't at all. It felt, I felt love, and I felt comfortable, and I felt of a part of something really important and especially to me and...

(Soundbite of song "More")

Mr. FRANK SINATRA: (singing) I know I never lived to be far, And my heart is very sure, No one else could love you more.

Mr. JONES: And it's astounding. He had his music sheets in a little manila folder and his conscientious and sensitive and excited to get to work as everybody else was. Basie couldn't wait, I couldn't wait, he couldn't wait. And we just loved working with each other.

(Soundbite of song "More")

Mr. SINATRA: (Singing) Could love you more, No one else could love you more.

NORRIS: Quincy Jones went from arranging to producing. As a record executive, he turned out several chart toppers. Always restless, he moved to producing films and TV shows in the '60s and the '70s. Through the '80s and the '90s, there were more hits, "The Color Purple," Michael Jackson's blockbusters, humanitarian work in Africa. I asked him how he's able to keep up that pace.

Mr. JONES: I don't know, probably from not having a mother. There's a great book I called "Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart." And one of the things it said that I love is that the statue of limitations has expired on all childhood traumas, get over it, get on with your life, and enjoy your life and all. And so, very early in life, my mother was in a mental home, and I had a stepmother and a bunch of strange people taking care of me and my brother.

I'd made a deal. I said, I want to make music, my mother. So if I probably had a great family, who knows, I might have been a sad musician. We'll never know. And I've never been happier in my life. It said that like dreams that we would never even imagine, you know, 50 years ago traveling through the South, you know. You just couldn't imagine it.

NORRIS: Before I let you go, I just want to sneak one last question. I'm going to do this because it's sort of a personal prerogative because it allows me to talk about one of the songs that I really love from your library.

(Soundbite of song "Back on the Block")

Mr. JONES: (Singing) On the block, you know, I'm back on the block. I'm back on the block

NORRIS: You have moved across genres from jazz to pop, to R&B, and to hip-hop. And as we listen to a song like "Back on the Block," so I'm just curious about how you were able to do that, to sort of skid from one decade to another and one genre to another and always sort of ride this sort of crest of cool from one generation to the next. You managed to stay ahead of it and let it instead of fall behind it.

Mr. JONES: It's natural law. It's just that's just the way I am, you know. I like 360 people, 360 in every part of life from food, to love, to music, to helping kids, everything. I like all 360 of it. Sinatra used to say this every night. Q, live every day like it's your last, and one day, you'll be right.

NORRIS: It has been such a pleasure to talk to you.

Mr. JONES: My pleasure.

NORRIS: Thank you so much for sharing your memories and your experiences and your time with us.

Mr. JONES: Thank you, and your heart is reflected in your voice.

NORRIS: Oh, thank you.

Mr. JONES: Thank you.

NORRIS: Thank you. Quincy Jones, his new book is "The Complete Quincy Jones: My journey and Passions"

(Soundbite of song "Back on the Block")

Mr. JONES: (Singing) Comin' here, comin' here startin' stuff, But Dude is back on duty fo' sho'.

NORRIS: You can hear more of my interview with Quincy Jones. Just go to our Web site npr.org/music.

(Soundbite of song "Back on the Block")

Mr. JONES: (Singing) But dude he know you'll never forget it, Back on the block to stay.

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