Known for his multifaceted roles as a jazz musician and arranger, composer, record producer, and for his work in film and television, Quincy Jones, aka “Q”, has almost single-handedly shaped modern popular music. over the years. over seven decades. In his new book, 12 Notes: On Life and Creativity, now from Abrams, Jones looks back on those decades to compile a collection of inspiring aphorisms and experiential wisdom focused on nurturing creativity and the power of self-expression.
Beginning with a shocking account of his mother’s tragic and frightening struggle with mental illness, Jones reflects on the traumas of his life as well as his triumphs – discovering the power of music in 1940s Seattle, learning jazz and work with stellar musical artists such as Frank Sinatra, Dinah Washington, Count Basie and Ray Charles, as well as Michael Jackson production Polarthe best-selling record album of all time and Jackson’s star musical collaboration, we are the world.
Weekly editors spoke with Jones via email about how he turned personal tragedy into triumph and how studying music can bring harmony to your life.
Weekly editors: What inspired you to write 12 Scores?
Quincy Jones: I was very lucky that at the beginning of my musical journey I had people who put me on their shoulders and taught me about music and the world so that I could realize all my dreams. People who shared their knowledge with me like Lionel Hampton, Ray Charles, Clark Terry, Count Basie, Benny Carter and countless others. They all taught me lessons that I carry with me to this day and their knowledge and belief in my abilities is what helped me get to where I am. For me, sharing this knowledge is just a natural inclination. 12 Scores is a way to pass on some of my life lessons to the next generation.
You wrote Q: The Quincy Jones Autobiography in 2001 and Q on production (with Bill Gibson) in 2010. Is your last book a continuation and a synthesis of these books?
Not necessarily. These two earlier posts are more of a chronicle of my life’s journey and experiences. 12 Scores reflects simple life lessons and principles based on my background that I believe can be applied to any aspect of life or work. This is a book I wish I had had access to as a young person, especially as a young musician.
You have experienced and overcome many tragedies in your life. Does an artist have to experience trauma to produce great art?
I have never subscribed to the idea of the tortured artist. It’s a theory that becomes mythologized and romanticized, and it’s a dangerous principle to operate from because in reality, for every successful artist who has had a trauma in their life, there are dozens and dozens of them. others who don’t and who are incredibly successful. It’s true that music became a substitute for me for not having a mother, and it was an outlet for me to creatively express my emotions. But that was my individual journey. I recommend avoiding trauma, if you can, and just focusing on creating great art (laughs).
In the book, you write that music is an equal combination of science (mathematical concepts) and soul (intuition). Could you explain that?
Music and math are the only two absolutes in the world, but music is unique because it appeals to left and right brains simultaneously. This is why music is the most emotionally powerful art form. You cannot touch it, see it, taste it or smell it. All you can do is feel it deep in your soul. It can make you cry, laugh, dance, calm you down, or bring back a memory. It is the only medium that has the ability to trigger the full range of human emotions.
How are you able to maintain such a positive and youthful attitude?
I have what I like to call “serial curiosity” and “serial optimism”. The embrace of these two traits keeps me going and keeping me excited for the future. There is always something new on the horizon and if you don’t pay attention and are not ready to embrace it, it will run over you like a freight train. And most importantly…do what you love and love what you do. To love, to laugh, to live and to give… that is my mantra.
You are a jazz musician at heart. Does mastering this music allow you to speak fluently in other musical genres?
I’m a be-bopper/arranger at heart, but I’ve always had an innate desire to learn everything I could about music. When I was studying with the great classical music teacher and conductor Nadia Boulanger in Paris in the 1950s, she said, “Quincy, there are only twelve notes. Until there is a thirteenth, learn everything each has done with those twelve. And that’s exactly what I did. It’s my foundation, and because of it, there’s nothing that gets me thinking musically, or in any other medium I work with.
In the book, you pay homage to your mentors, including your childhood friend Ray Charles, the legendary Count Basie, and Boulanger. Tell us about the expert advice given to you by the great tenor saxophonist Ben Webster.
On my first trip to Europe when I was 19, playing trumpet with Lionel Hampton’s band, the great saxophonist Ben Webster took me aside and said that if you really want to know more about people, “wherever you go, eat real food people eat, listen to music that real people listen to, and learn thirty to forty words in each language.” And that’s exactly what I did and still do. I have traveled the world hundreds of times in my life and because of this simple piece of advice I received when I was nineteen, there is not a country on the planet that I do not not feel comfortable. doesn’t just apply to musicians. Everyone should do it. The world would be a better place.
You deplore in the book that the United States does not have a minister of culture. Why do you think it is important that such a ministry be established?
Ours in only one of the two Western countries that does not have a minister of culture and I think that is a great detriment for our country, especially for our young people, because they are disconnected from the entirety of our heritage culture and its importance. It is America’s artistic contributions, especially its music, that are universally embraced by other cultures, setting aside their own native music and adopting ours as their Esperanto. I believe that you have to know where you come from to get where you are going. The arts, especially our music, are the soul of our country. They are an expression of our spiritual ideals and a timeline of our nation’s emotional state…scars and all. It is doing every American a disservice not to recognize them in their true light.
In many ways, you have been our unofficial culture minister. What do you think of your leading role in shaping world culture for seven decades?
It’s very nice to say that. I’m just grateful to have been born when I was, to have experienced everything I have, and to have had the chance to live a wonderful life doing what I love to do. And I haven’t finished yet.