Graham Reid | | 6 min read
Quincy Jones does quite put it this
way, but he knows that with great power comes great responsibility.
And Jones has great power because of a financial empire founded on an
extra ordinary career in music which spans from be-bop to hip-hop.
This is the man who hung out with jazz
artists like Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker in the early Fifties,
counts his Grammy nominations in the high sixties, produced Michael
Jackson’s phenomenal Off The Wall, Thriller and Bad albums, and has
his own film and record companies.
“When you can do what you want to
do." he says, “you really have to think carefully because that
freedom and independence is a dilemma.”
But to hear the affable Jones talk
about forthcoming projects, it is clear the power is tempered with a
keen sense of responsibility.
“I don’t have time to go out and
beat the bushes from one company to another with an idea, so
fortunately I’m at the stage of having a joint venture company with
Our small company uses them as a
distribution network and we have the power to do anything we want.
“We can do a Broadway show, the
evolution of black music as a mini-series, the Jesse Jackson shows,
rap educational show – which is what I’d really love to do -- and
then there‘s the film of the life of Pushkin which we are doing as
a joint-venture with the Russians.”
Although Jones isn’t averse to having
a bit of fun with his position where “the only limit is the
imagination" -- the animated film The Dude Meets Bugs Bunny is a
case in point -- the television programmes with Jesse Jackson are a
“The first show was Bill Cosby,
talking about his daughter's drug problem, and it’s important kids
get things straight. Jesse can do that because there has never been a
voice like his in a national situation.
“Innercity kids from single-parent
families usually just have a mother at home and no male role model -
and that's one of the things I’m really concerned about. They think
the role model is the crack dealer – that’s the maximum wage for
them, the guy with the car and the girls.
“I want to destroy that and talk about hope. One of the things these kids have is an incredible culture, but with the media, a rapper of six months ago is called ‘old school,’ and it becomes like a disposable culture. You can’t afford to have that attitude.”
So at one level Jones is producing
television programmes to offer positive role models, and at another
still creating music - but also with a purpose.
Jones' recent album – his first solo
outing since The Dude back in ’8l – brings together all the many
threads of his career from jazz to current rap trends and announces
itself in its title, Back on the Block.
In case you missed the point, Jones
makes clear The Dude is back -- and he’s brought some heavy company
The material runs through almost every
style, with a cast which includes Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan,
12-year-old boy-wonder Tevin Campbell, a host of rappers like Ice T,
Herbie Hancock, Ray Charles and so on. And on. Only Jones could pull
this one together.
But there is a point to it as well.
Dance if you like, but let rappers Kool Moe Dee and Big Daddy Kane
introduce the kids on the street to Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and
the jazz generation on a version of Joe Zawinul’s classic Birdland.
"My 12-year-old grandson said the
song he liked best was Birdland and then said, ‘Who are these
people?' That was great. I’m happy I didn’t chicken out of mixing
the rappers with the beboppers.
“I just put Big Daddy Kane right on
the spot and said, ‘Introduce Miles'. He said, ‘Right, who’s
”But they’re only babies – only
21 years old," he laughs.
At 57, Jones knows the expansive reach
he has can get across the generations (“people expect me to be 75
years old but I just started young”) and he uses it to advantage.
At the other end of the spectrum from
the young rappers, he tells of Dizzy Gillespie coming into the studio
when Davis and Fitzgerald are there and complaining about “all
those old suckers in there” -- and Dizzy is 73.
“You know, when I saw Miles and Dizzy
in that studio together my heart just about stopped because that’s
my Rolling Stones and Beatles, Michael Jackson and Prince. As a kid
they were my gods."
But the god of the Eighties, Michael
Jackson, doesn’t appear on Back on the Block -- the most notable
Jackson was keen but the president of
CBS Records, Walter Yetnikoff, stepped in. Jones admits it was
hurtful but deflects discussion away quickly.
"We had a relationship and sold
what? 75 or 100 million records? But it doesn't matter. To me the
concepts and feelings were so strong it didn’t matter. It was a
slight -- but when you've got Ella, Sarah, Dizzy and Miles you can’t
feel you’re lacking anything."
And having Miles Davis there was a real
coup because, curiously for someone who has been a Davis fan since
the early Fifties, Jones had never worked with the trumpeter. But
something may be in the wind.
"We’ve been talking but I always
felt that when Gil Evans was alive it would have become too much a
menage-a-trois," he says, referring to the legendary jazz
arranger who died three years ago.
"But if I only had one record to
take away to a desert island, it would be Miles Ahead. Until Gil died
I figured they had a marriage made in heaven - but Miles and I may do
a Brazilian thing together.
“He just needs a canvas to paint
against with his trumpet. But speaking of a canvas, the way I’ve
been involved with Miles the most is buying his paintings. He sends
me about five oils a week and I just don’t have enough walls
To hear Quincy Jones talk is to hear the history of popular black music laid out before you. He laughs about Richard Pryor telling him about the size of New Zealand trout (Jones is a food fanatic who says eating should be considered a religion) and how he pushed Kool Moe Dee to rap at 135 beats per minute so he had to think like a bebopper. Jones covers all the bases easily.
The album Back on the Block reflects 40
years of his life and is brought right up to the present with young
Tevin Campbell, who he says has the same magic as both Stevie Wonder
and Michael Jackson . . . both of whom coincidentally he also met
when they were 12 years old.
And while Jones speaks highly of
two-time presidential candidate Jesse Jackson as being a good role
model for kids on the bad blocks, he's pretty much one himself.
Young Tevin Campbell acknowledged as
much when Jones launched the album in America.
Interviewed by MTV, Campbell was asked
if he knew who Quincy Jones was when they first met.
“I know he did Michael Jackson and
some things, that’s all.”
The interviewer pushed the point. “But
you know now?"
“Oh yeah," said Campbell, his eyes glowing. “I know.”