Quincy Jones: The Fresh Air Interview Legendary music producer, arranger, composer and media mogul Quincy Jones was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on May 18. In 2001, Fresh Air spoke with him about his career and working with the likes of Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Frank Sinatra and Michael Jackson.

Quincy Jones: The Man Behind The Music

Quincy Jones: The Fresh Air Interview

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Legendary music producer Quincy Jones. Kevin Winter/Getty Images hide caption

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Legendary music producer Quincy Jones.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

This interview was originally broadcast on Nov. 5, 2001.

Quincy Jones is one of those people to whom the word "legendary" is often attached. So it was no surprise when, on May 18, the 80-year-old Jones was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.

Jones grew up poor on the south side of Chicago during the Depression, but moved to Seattle when he was 10. It was there, as a teenager, that Jones befriended and began collaborating with Ray Charles — a friendship that would remain strong until Charles' death in 2004.

Although Jones had been pursuing music as a young teenager, it wasn't until 1952 that he took a job as a trumpeter in Lionel Hampton's band, at which point his career officially began.

As he told Fresh Air's Barbara Bogaev in 2001, "I knew that music was my ticket out of this other life that I had, you know, of the thug life and dysfunctional family life."

But Jones never became a noted instrumentalist. What made him famous and wealthy was his work as an arranger, composer, producer and media mogul; his work spans the big bands through bebop, pop, movie soundtracks, television themes and hip-hop. He has arranged or produced recordings for Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Dinah Washington, George Benson, James Ingram, Ice-T and, perhaps most notably, Michael Jackson.

Jones produced Jackson's mega-hit Thriller.

"Thriller was a combination of all my experience as an orchestrator and picking the songs and Michael's — all the talents he ha[d] as a dancer, as a singer, as an amazing entertainer," Jones said. It was like us throwing everything we'd accumulated as experience and putting it all together."


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Quincy Jones was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last month, receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award. This year, he turned 80. Today we listen back to our 2001 interview with him. Here's an excerpt of what Quincy Jones said when accepting the award.


QUINCY JONES: I believe that a hundred years from now, when people look back at the 20th century, they will look at Miles, Bird, Clifford Brown, Ella and Dizzy, among elders as our Mozarts, our Chopins, our Bachs and Beethovens. I only hope that one day, America will recognize what the rest of the world already has known, that our indigenous music - gospel, blues, jazz and R&B - is the heart and soul of all popular music; and that we cannot afford to let this legacy slip into obscurity, I'm telling you.

GROSS: Quincy Jones started his career as a trumpeter in Lionel Hampton's big band in the early 1950s. Jones never became a noted instrumentalist. What made him famous and wealthy was his work as an arranger, composer, producer and media mogul, work that spans from the big bands through bebop, pop, movie soundtracks, TV themes and hip-hop. Jones arranged or produced recordings for Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Dinah Washington, George Benson, James Ingram and Ice-T, and he produced the Michael Jackson megahit "Thriller." Here's a sampling.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) Another bride, another June, another sunny Honeymoon, another season, another reason for making whoopee.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) I never cared much for moonlit skies. I never wink back at fireflies. But now that the stars are in your eyes, I'm beginning to see the light.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) Look at me, I'm as helpless as a kitten up a tree, and I feel like I'm clinging to a cloud I can't understand. I get misty just holding your hand. Walk my way...


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) Fly me to the moon, let me play among the stars and let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars. In other words, hold my hand; in other words, baby, kiss me.


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) You don't own me. I'm not just one of your many toys. You don't own me. Don't say I can't go with other boys. And don't tell me what to do, don't tell me what to say, and please when I go out with you, don't put me on display

GROSS: One of the first musicians Quincy Jones became good friends with was Ray Charles. They met when Charles was 16 and Jones was 14. I asked Quincy Jones how they met.

JONES: I think it was at the Elks Club, Terry, where after we played two jobs - we'd worked from 7 to 10 in the white tennis clubs and the - well, we'd play a couple of - music of the popular music of the day, "To Each His Own" and "Room Full of Roses." And then at 10:00, we'd go play the black clubs, The Black and Tan, The Rocking Chair and the Washington Educational and Social Club. And we played for strippers. We sang.

GROSS: Oh, really?


JONES: We had choreography. We had everything. As kids, we were pretty cocky because we had a great band. We could read music very well. And we did everything. It was a show band, too. So we got most of the jobs that came around. It was nice. We played with Billie Holiday in '48, behind her. And then in '49, we played with Billy Eckstine and Cab Calloway and all the bands that came through, so we were pretty confident in those days. And the band just kept getting tighter because we rehearsed a lot.

GROSS: You said that you admired Ray Charles' independence. He was 16 years old, he was blind, but he had his own apartment, he got around town himself, he had a girlfriend; I mean, he had a lot of things that you wanted.

JONES: Yes, he did.


JONES: He had his own apartment, too, and two suits. It was amazing. But I guess what impressed me the most with Ray is that he was so independent, and his sightlessness did not hinder him at all. It's one of the treasured, cherished friendships that I really have because as kids we used to talk about everything.

He'd show me how to write music in Braille, Dizzy Gillespie songs like "Emanon" and bebop, etc. And we used to dream about the future, like wouldn't it be great to work with a symphony orchestra? One day we're going to do that. One day we're going to have three girlfriends each, you know? One day we're do movies together. We're going to do all of that stuff, and we did it.

That's what's amazing. We did, you know, "In the Heat of the Night" together. And we did "We Are The World," all of those things, everything, the girls.


JONES: So we did - it's amazing to dream and have your dreams executed like that, you know

GROSS: I thought I'd play a 1959 recording that you arranged for Ray Charles, and this is from "The Genius of Ray Charles" album, which was recorded in 1959. We're going to hear "Let the Good Times Roll." Would you like to say anything about this track?

JONES: I would just like to add that we had half of Count Basie's band on that session, and half of Duke Ellington's band on that session. And in those days, that's when I first started to work with Phil Ramone, the engineer, who's now producer.

And Ahmed Ertegun, Nesuhi Ertegun and Jerry Wexler came by because in those days what you heard was what you got. It wasn't about fixing in the mix. There was nothing to mix so - because it was mono. And we went in the booth to listen to a playback of that tune. I remember this very vividly. And when it was playing back, I said what's that, Phil. And he said that there was something coming out of the left speaker and a different thing coming out of the right speaker.

He said it's called stereophonic sound.


JONES: Never forgot it because I had heard it earlier in Portland put on earphones, and it was called binaural sound by the man that invented stereo.

GROSS: This is Ray Charles' arrangement by Quincy Jones, "Let The Good Times Roll."


RAY CHARLES: (Singing) Get everybody, let's have some fun, you only live but once, and when you're dead, you're done, so let the good times roll. I said let the good times roll. I don't care if you're young or old, you ought to get together and let the good times roll.

Don't sit there mumbling, talking trash, if you want to have a ball, you got to go out and spend some cash, and let the good times roll now. I'm talking about the good times. Well, it makes no difference whether you're young or old, all you got to do is get together and let the good times roll.

GROSS: Ray Charles recorded in 1959 from the album "The Genius of Ray Charles." the arrangement is by my guest, Quincy Jones. Your first important music job was with the Lionel Hampton big band. You got that job while you were still in high school. How did he hire you when you were still in school?

JONES: Well, he - I had written a suite I had been working on for a long time called "From The Four Winds," and it was almost a descriptive piece. And I didn't understand theory too well then, but I just went ahead straight. It didn't stop me from writing.

I didn't understand key signatures or anything, you know. I'd say silly things at the top of a trumpet part like note, when you play B naturals, make the B naturals a half step lower because they sound funny if they're B naturals. And some guy said: Idiot, just put a flat on the third line and it's a key signature, you know?


JONES: And so - because it didn't bother me that I didn't understand that, because I knew eventually I'd learn it. And so I gave this arrangement to - submitted this to Lionel Hampton. And he said you wrote this, huh. I said yeah. He said yeah, you play the trumpet, too. I said yeah. He said, yeah, well, he said how'd you like to join my band, please.


JONES: Are you kidding? And so they had little brown leather bags for your trumpet then. I had that and just very few toilet articles and so forth. And I went and sat on that bus so nobody would change their mind, and I wouldn't have to ask the people at home whether I could go or not.

And sure enough, everybody got on one by one. Hamp said hi, and I felt secure. Then Gladys Hampton got on the bus and says uh-uh, what is that child doing on this bus. Ashe said no, son, you get off the bus and said we'll try to talk later, but you go to school. And I was destroyed.

And so I got a scholarship to Boston, to the Berklee College of Music, and I got the call. A friend named Janet Thurlow was singing with the band, and she reminded them, and they called and said we'd like you to be with the band. I was 18 then, and I was ready. And I told the school I'd be back, but I guess down inside, you know, when you go with a band like that you never go back.

GROSS: Now you say that you were afraid that when you were playing with Hampton that Parker or Thelonious Monk might show up in the audience, and you were worried they'd laugh at what you had to wear in the band. what did you have to wear in the Hampton band?

JONES: Well, that incident happened when we were playing at a place on Broadway called - right next door to Birdland; I mean, totally like adjacent. And it was down - both places were downstairs. And we had to wear Tyrolean hats, purple shawl collar coats and Bermuda shorts.

GROSS: Bermuda shorts, why?

JONES: Oh, my God, the whole band. And...

Why did you have to wear shorts?

I don't know. That's just Hamp's idea. But he - Hamp was like a rock-'n'-roll band. He was the first rock-'n'-roll band because he attacked an audience like a rock-'n' roll-band; no prisoners, and he knew how to get them, too. He put...

GROSS: Well, some of the tenor solos are almost like a rock-'n' roll-band, too; yeah.

JONES: Yes. They'd walk - in the theaters, they'd walk - they had thin-soled shoes. They'd walk over the audience's heads with these thin-soled shoes on top of the chairs, you know. It was absolutely incredible. And he had this sense of show business, but he had a lot of music in the band, because, you know, they had people like Wes Montgomery and Charlie Mingus and Fats Navarro and Clifford Brown - amazing musicians in the band.

And I loved Hampton for having that ambidexterity because he liked great music, but he also liked to level his audience and take no prisoners. Until they were wrung out, he was not satisfied.

GROSS: So did any of your bebop friends end up seeing you in that band that night?

JONES: Well, that particular night, he had his favorite thing that he'd like to do. He'd have everybody - he'd get his drumsticks and start a whole line, almost like a conga line. The saxophone section would follow him around the audience, and he'd go around and beat the drumsticks on everybody's table.

The trumpets and trombones were right behind him playing "Flying Home." Then he'd go upstairs. I said oh, my God. Clifford Brown and I said if he goes upstairs, we may run into Charlie Parker and Bud Powell and Mingus and all these great musicians.


JONES: And Hamp went upstairs and he's playing his drumsticks all over the awnings and the guys are saying what is going on here. He'd even go so far as to get in a taxi cab with the saxophone section and go to another club maybe three blocks away and play with the saxophone section there.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we're still playing. So it was quite an experience. He had no shame, and he was a great musician - one of the great times of my life.

GROSS: So but did Parker see in your Bermuda shorts?

JONES: Oh, yes. But on top of that, Parker would come next door. Bird would come next door. He loved to read music. And he was starring next door with like the 52nd Street All-Stars, the BeBop All-stars, and they were looking for him next door.

It was time for him to play his set. And he's sitting over there in our band playing second tenor because he loved to read music. And he's sitting in for an hour while people next door are waiting to hear him as this genius of the 20th century. And he's over there playing second tenor parts to practice his reading because all the musicians read music back then.

GROSS: So playing with the Hampton band, did you get an appreciation of the value of like show business in music? Or did you come to hate it and want something that threw that out the window, kind of like Parker threw show business values, you know, out the window?

JONES: No, no, no, no because we were weaned and, I mean, trained in Seattle. That's the way we had to do it in Seattle, too. We had to play shaudises(ph). We had to play rhythm and blues. We had to play stripper music. We played comedy. I mean, the trombone player and myself had a comedy team called Dexedrine and Benzedrine, (unintelligible).

We used to steal all of the comedy lines from the older guys, and we'd imitate them and wear hats and wine bottles in our pockets and stuff. It was insane. But, no, not at all. We were used to that. We were used to that. He'd have gloves for the whole trumpet section that would shine in the dark, and you'd do kind of a hand choreography and so forth.

And it was ironic because the underlying attitude with all of the bebop musicians is that we have heard Stravinsky now, we've done this, and we want to be pure artists. We don't want to entertain anymore, we don't want to sing, we don't want to have to dance and move or entertain an audience.

GROSS: We're listening back to our 2001 interview with Quincy Jones. There's more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: Let's get back to our 2001 interview with musician, composer, arranger and producer Quincy Jones. This year he turned 80, and last month he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, receiving its Lifetime Achievement Award.

Well, you know, one of the things you say about the Lionel Hampton band bus, and this might have something to do with why Gladys Hampton wanted you off the bus, was that there were four different sections of guys on the bus. Why don't you describe how that broke down?


JONES: Well, they had - up front were the holy rollers, I guess, and then they had the drinkers, and then they had the guys that indulged in sweet wheat and giggle grass, and they had the guys that were the hard core, you know, that dealt with - like mainliners really, and the...

GROSS: And which section did you sit in?

JONES: The sweet wheat.


JONES: We were very young then and - I was 18 when I went with that band. And you'd bounce back between that and trying to figure out how to make that work with Logan David wine or Manishevitz. It was ridiculous.

GROSS: Well, the first recording that you made was with the Lionel Hampton band. this was in 1952. It's also your first recorded composition and first recorded arrangement. It's called "Kingfish." Why don't you say something about what you think of this musically now?

JONES: I look at the whole book and the whole life I guess as like somebody else. I don't know where I have the spirit or the stick-to-itiveness to write something like that then because, you know, number one, I wanted - I knew that music was my ticket out of this other life that I had, you know, of the thug life and dysfunctional family life.

And it was like wonderland to arrange and the idea of orchestration and arrangements and composition, and that to this day is what my core skill is. as an arranger and orchestrator and composer. And I was just so happy to have a surrounding, an environment where that was encouraged all the time.

GROSS: OK, so here it is, 1952, Quincy Jones with the Lionel Hampton band, "Kingfish."


GROSS: From the early 1950s, that was Quincy Jones' first recording with the Lionel Hampton orchestra. It's called "Kingfish."

JONES: Terry, by the way, I think that's one of the - that's the first recorded solo I ever had on record, the first record I was ever involved with, and I think it was one of the only solos I have on record.

GROSS: Why didn't you solo more often?

JONES: I don't know. I was getting more and more pulled into the quicksand of writing. And then about a year or so later after we begged Hamp to give Gigi Gryce and Benny Golson and Clifford Brown in the band, sitting next to Art Farmer and Clifford Brown and Benny Bailey helped me get into writing quickly because they were - Clifford Brown is probably one of the greatest trumpet players that ever lived; unbelievable.

GROSS: We'll hear more of my 2001 interview with Quincy Jones in the second half of the show. Last month he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and received its Lifetime Achievement award. I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. We're listening back to the interview I recorded in 2001 with musician, arranger, composer and producer Quincy Jones. This year he turned 80 and last month he was inducted into the rock 'n roll Hall of Fame, receiving Lifetime Achievement Award. Among the luminaries he worked with are Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and Michael Jackson.

I want to get back to your music, and to get to the most colossal success that you had, and that was the album "thriller" with Michael Jackson. You first met him in 1972 at Sammy Davis' house. You worked together on "The Wiz." What was his or yours or, you know, the both of yours original concept for "Thriller"?

JONES: Well, it starts before that. It starts during the movie, you know, of - when we first met after - initially at 12 years old. It was - he was about 19, so about '77 or so. And he came over to the house. That's the first time we really met on a professional basis. He was growing up then. And he said, please to meet you, etcetera and was very sweet. And he said, I'm doing a - have a new contract with Epic Records, and the Jackson 5, I'm still working with them, but I'm going to do a solo album and I was wondering if you could help me find a producer. I said, `great, Michael, but right now, we've got to mammoth job here to prerecord all the songs with you and Nipsey Russell, Richard Pryor, Lena Horne, Diana Ross and everybody else, to prerecord the songs before you make a film. That's just the nature of what films are about. You prerecord the voice, everything, and you have to really guess right about the dramatic context of how a song starts and stops, how long it is, because it's all going to be filmed. And that's what the film's going to be, is it's a slave to that track. So you really have to concentrate.

And so I said, if you be patient and just wait until we get through this, maybe we can talk about the producer.' So we finished the prerecords, we start getting ready, preparing for the film. Sidney Lumet is at the St. George Hotel in Brooklyn one day, and he's blocking out a scene with the four principals, and Michael's the scarecrow, and he had pulled - out of his straw chest, he'd pull out little quotes from, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, Confucius. Dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, Aristotle. Dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, Socrates.' And he kept saying, Socrates. And about the third day, I just took him aside and said, Michael, the word is Socrates. And he said, really? And he was really surprised, you know, because he's been a star since he was five, you know, so he's been on the road since then. So he's like an old man in one sense; he's like a baby in another sense. And there was something about the look in his eye -and I had been watching him - the discipline he had. He'd get up at five in the morning for his makeup tests and everything else. Very, very conscientious of discipline young person.

I mean, one of the most I've ever seen. He knew everybody's lines, everybody's song, everybody's lyrics, everybody's dance steps, everybody's movement, everything. And the most amazing and absorbing and involved person I'd ever - artist - I'd ever seen before. And I loved the records they'd made on Motown, you know, the bubble gum things, you know, "Dancing Machine" and those things, but after seeing this other side of him, I felt that there was much more inside of Michael that hadn't been touched because you look at Michael at first, you'd say, `there's nothing else to do with him. He's done everything and he did it at nine. You know, he was singing "love song" to a rap, you know, then and everything and he was fearless and sincere about it. He had a very strong sense of maturity.

GROSS: What was your approach to producing "Thriller"? What did you think of as your major contributions to the sound of that record?

JONES: Of course, "Thriller" was a combination of all of my experience as an orchestrator and picking the songs and Michael's - all the talents he has as a dancer, as a singer, as an amazing entertainer. It was like us throwing everything we - accumulated experience, putting it all together.

GROSS: Well, let's hear "Billie Jean." I really regret we're out of time. I wish we could talk some more. I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

JONES: It's a pleasure, Terry.


MICHAEL JACKSON: (Singing) She was more like a beauty queen from a movie scene. I said don't mind, but what do you mean I am the one who will dance on the floor in the round. She said I am the one, who will dance on the floor in the round.

(Singing) She told me her name was Billie Jean, and she caused a scene. Then every head turned with eyes that dreamed of being the one who would dance on the floor in the round. People always told me, be careful what you do. Don't go around breaking young girls' hearts. And mother always told me be careful who you love, be careful what you do 'cause the lie becomes the truth.

(Singing) Billie Jean is not my lover. She's just a girl who claims that I am the one. Oh, no. But the kid is not my son. Whoo. She says I am the one. But the

GROSS: My interview with Quincy Jones was recorded in 2001. Coming up, some Memorial Day reflections.

This is FRESH AIR.

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