Quincy Jones book schools next generation
Back in the day, musicians passed on the secrets of the trade by asking youngsters to "step into the office" for a word of advice, says Grammy-winning producer Quincy Jones. Jones steps into that mentoring tradition with his new book, "Q on Producing," in which he talks about his experiences with everyone from Count Basie and John Coltrane to Michael Jackson and Aretha Franklin, and also offers advice to aspiring young musicians.
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — "Youngblood," the jazz greats would whisper in whiskey-smooth voices to a young Quincy Jones, "step into my office." The office could have been a backstage hallway anywhere with musicians practicing bebop. Or a juke joint in downtown Seattle, his adopted hometown, where Billie Holiday had to be helped onstage. The office might have been a seat on a bus traveling with the Lionel Hampton Band.
In the "office," the older musicians would educate Jones about music and life.
"Youngblood, you gotta ... " Jones recalls them saying as he sits at a corner table in the bar lounge at the Ritz-Carlton in Northwest Washington, D.C. Jones has come to town to promote his new book, "Q on Producing." In the book — the first of three in "The Quincy Jones Legacy Series," written with Bill Gibson — Jones dispenses advice to a younger generation, which he says doesn't seem to understand its music history.
The book is a "step into my office" lesson for younger musicians.
"I talk a lot now," he says, "but I used to sit down, shut up and listen."
Jones was only 14 in 1947 when he joined a jazz band in Seattle. Throughout his career, there was always someone older on the scene to "school" him.
"Count Basie practically adopted me when I was 13," he says. "I would play hooky and go down to [Seattle's now-defunct] Palomar Theatre."
Basie would tell him, "This business is all about hills and valleys. You find out what you're made out of when you're in the valleys," Jones says. ... "That's why it comes easy for me to help young guys, because I was given a hand up when I was young."
The jazz tenor saxophonist Ben Webster would say, "Step into my office. Let me pull your coat for a minute," Jones recalls. "That is the way they would say it then: Let me pull your coat for a minute. Come over here. I want to teach you something."
John Coltrane reminded Jones to study Nicolas Slonimsky's "Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns," which Jones read in school. "Coltrane always had Slonimsky's book with him," he says.
Nadia Boulanger, a famous composition teacher in France, told him, "Quincy, your music can never be more or less than you are as a human being."
For more than six decades of his life, Jones has worked with music's greats: Duke Ellington, Coltrane, Count Basie, Miles Davis. His hits as a producer range from Lesley Gore's "It's My Party" to Michael Jackson's "Off the Wall," "Thriller" and "Bad," and Frank Sinatra's "Sinatra at the Sands." He has won 27 Grammy Awards, the most of any living musician. Jones' latest album, to be released this month, is "Q: Soul Bossa Nostra," which features contemporary artists such as Usher, Ludacris, Jennifer Hudson and Amy Winehouse singing Jones' hits.
Jones recalls visiting Seattle's Garfield High School a few years ago, his alma mater. Garfield was renaming the performance-arts center after him. Some students gathered around Jones after the ceremony. One youth told Jones he wanted to be a rapper and asked what he needed to do. Jones asked him, "Do you know who Louis Armstrong was? ... Do you know who Duke Ellington was? ... Do know about Dizzy Gillespie?"
The kid said no.
Did he know Davis, Coltrane, Thelonious Monk?
No, the kid said. The incident disturbed Jones. The student was there to help name a building after Jones, but "the young man had no idea who the men were who put me on their shoulders and helped me as a young musician."
For this lack of knowledge, Jones mostly faults public education, which he says does a poor job these days of teaching students the history of music in the United States. But he also says parents of children interested in music should "force-feed" them music, making them practice their scales at least four hours a day so they become proficient in music and eventually "have something to work with."
When young people ask Jones how they can break into the music industry or get better, he advises them to choose 10 songs they like best and play them repeatedly. Often, he gives them a copy of Davis' "Kind of Blue," telling them to "Take this every day, like it's orange juice."
Listen, he tells them, to Miles and Coltrane. Listen to Bill Evans and Cannonball Adderley. The legendary musicians are important, he tells them, because everybody from "Marvin Gaye to Earth, Wind and Fire to Stevie Wonder to Michael Jackson, owes a debt to that tradition."
Listen, he tells them, to the song "Baby Be Mine" on the album "Thriller." "The song," Jones says, "has pop lyrics and a beat, but that's Coltrane, baby, Coltrane all the way."
The new book includes practical advice: "You have to develop your skills until you really know what you're talking about — really know deep down inside."
That's what the greats do, he says. Herbie Hancock, Sinatra, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Patti Austin.
"I've seen Aretha sit at a piano and sing a line over and over again," Jones says. "She might sing it 20 or more times, exploring her voice, developing it, finding out what its capabilities are."
Michael Jackson, too, was one of the hardest-working musicians he had ever seen, Jones says. In the studio, he let Jackson dance and perform while he was recording. They would dim the studio and put a pin light on Jackson, who would dance. Jones left the sound of Jackson's dancing on the recordings.
What is the music industry like now without Jackson?
"There is a spiritual energy and a chemical energy," Jones says. "The chemical energy leaves you. We are left with his creative spirit."
He stops as if on cue. An assistant breaks in and tells him a children's choir is waiting to meet him. The producer rises, blows kisses, makes his way through the crowd at the Ritz, heading for his "office." He has more young people to school.
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