Considering how much Quincy Jones has achieved in his career -- the music he's made, the awards he's won, the deals he's cut, the worlds he's moved through -- there's no way that TC mere handful of words could ever possibly do his life justice.
This, after all, is a man who in the past 50 years has worked with everyone from Michael Jackson to Frank Sinatra, from Lionel Hampton to Miles Davis, and from Leslie Gore to Dinah Washington. His media empire stretches from "The Color Purple" to "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" to Vibe magazine; he's as well-versed in Swedish folk music as he is in soul; and he's equally at home with rockers, rappers and European royalty. A real Renaissance man, in other words.
Even so, if you wanted to find a simple lesson in Jones' life, it would be this: It's not what you know that counts, nor is it who you know.
His new album, "Q's Jook Joint" (QWest 45875, which arrives in stores Tuesday), is a case in point. Even a partial rendering of its recording credits reads like a Who's Who of contemporary music: Babyface. Bono. Brandy. Ray Charles. Phil Collins. Gloria Estefan. Herbie Hancock. Heavy D. R. Kelly. Chaka Khan. Queen Latifah. James Moody. Joshua Redman. SWV. Take 6. Barry White. Nancy Wilson. Stevie Wonder. And on and on.
With that much star power lighting up the studio, cutting a hit ought to be as simple as hitting the "record" button, right? Wrong. "You can't just go with a rhythm section and five singers with all different, diversified sounds, and say, 'OK, let's get something going.' Not a chance," says Jones. "It's total chaos."
What you need, he says, is a plan. "No. 1, you build such a bullet-proof blueprint that you can't get but so bad," he says. "Once you've got that, the blueprint, and understand what the contours are, you have to be able to build a climax, catharsis. You need thematic unity, and links, and unification. The structure is the key.
"So it's a very strong foundation, and that's the only way you could get away with this many diverse personalities and sounds and colors."
All kinds of music
As he speaks, he's sitting at the Harbor Court Hotel, having a late lunch of crab soup before heading off to yet another session of talking to the media. Yet as hurried as his schedule may be, Jones seems genuinely to enjoy talking about music -- all kinds of music.
Jones is a true generalist, the kind of guy who speaks with equal ardor about Ace of Base, Ray Charles or Hector Villa-Lobos. As a musician, he's not simply a jack of all trades, but a master as well, having written, arranged, played or produced virtually every kind of music imaginable. His recording credits range from Michael Jackson's "Thriller" (which he produced), to Frank Sinatra's "Sinatra at the Sands" (which he arranged and conducted), to "We Are the World" (which he produced, arranged and conducted), to the "The Color Purple" soundtrack (which he scored). Along the way, he's picked up some 26 Grammys, and more gold albums than he can count.
Yet commercial success has never really been a driving force in his musical life. "I wouldn't know how to figure out what five people liked if my life depended on it," he says. "I still believe that the most commercial element in music, no matter what the genre, is sincerity, that you really believe in what you're doing.
"You have to get it so your own soul is satisfied, so you get goose bumps and say, 'Yeah, man! That's something I'd like to listen to.' And then, if everybody else is on the same thing, then we're very fortunate."
Jones is completely serious, though, when he insists that sincerity matters more to him than musical style. Of course, given the kind of range exhibited on "Q's Jook Joint" -- where the set list includes everything from the bebop classic "Moody's Mood for Love" to a rap-fired remake of "Stomp," to the R&B; chestnut "Let the Good Times Roll" -- you'd expect his tastes to be eclectic. But Jones hopes for more from the music world.
"Leonard Feather, I remember, did an interview," he says. "I must have been 23 years old or something, and he said, 'What do you see for the future?'
"I said, 'I dream of the day when the second viola player in the symphony orchestra is just as familiar with Bo Diddley and B.B. King and Bird as the trumpet player in Ornette Coleman's band is familiar with Schoenberg. When it's all one attitude. And when that happens, there's going to be some great music.' "
That may seem like idealism, but it reflects the way Jones himself came up in Seattle. "I remember playing schottisches, and Debussy's 'Claire de Lune,' and John Philip Sousa," he says. "We played 'Roomful of Roses' for the tennis club set, and then played rhythm and blues, Roy Milton and T-Bone Walker stuff, in the black clubs. And then go play bebop down on Jackson Street, from 3 to 6 in the morning."
His training didn't stop there, either. In addition to the hands-on experience garnered from working in the studio with Dinah Washington and Count Basie, or touring Turkey and Brazil with Dizzy Gillespie, Jones studied composition at the Paris Conservatory with Nadia Boulanger, whose students included the likes of Aaron Copland, Virgil Thompson and Elliott Carter.
"I have some very interesting influences from her," he says. "I had been in the music a little while when I met her, and the classical people were all intimidated by her. "I was in awe of her, but my roots were firm. I knew where I wanted to go musically.
"So she said, 'I don't think you've come up here to be the great American composer, like the ones I've dealt with before. You've got the greatest ore in the ground already, in black music. You should mine that ore, because there's so much to do with it.' "
Mining the ore
And mine it he has, going to the source for his score for "Roots" and pursuing its furthest permutations in projects like "Q's Jook Joint." But where Jones' abilities have borne the most fruit is through his work as a producer, in bringing other people's artistic vision to life.
For instance, if it hadn't been for Jones, Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" would never have had the strings and horn arrangements we know today. "He wanted to take that off, the string bits -- one of the most distinctive things on it," Jones says.
"But that's OK. I mean, that's what was the great mixture between the two of us. Because by having the orchestration and arranging and composing experience, anywhere Michael wanted to go, we could go. It's much like the relationship with George Martin and the Beatles. The Beatles wouldn't have written 'Eleanor Rigby' with a string quartet on their own. Or 'A Day in the Life' with a symphony orchestra doing the decibel rush. Never.
"But that's what's great about those combinations. You put all the best elements together, and it feels good."
In other words, you take what you know, combine it with who you know, and make the most of both. All told, it's not a bad recipe for success, but Jones thinks there's one more quality required: Open-mindedness.
"Stravinsky said, in 'The Poetics of Music,' that the greatest thing a creative person can do is be a great observer," he says. "Just open up your mind, and not be judgmental and departmentalizing. Open it up. That's what bringing the world together is about."
Hear the music
To hear excerpts from Quincy Jones' new release, "Q's Jook Joint," call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call (410) 268-7736; in Harford County, (410) 836-5028; in Carroll County, (410) 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, enter the code 6241 after you hear the greeting. For other local Sundial numbers, see the directory on Page 2A.