Quincy Jones, pictured in 2018, opens up about his friendship with the late Frank Sinatra, pictured in 1995.
Quincy Jones has his hands.
If Jones, a simple raconteur, they tell stories. There is a small scar from when he was a boy in the 1930’s Chicago, accidentally ran into a gang territory. “She nailed my hand to a fence with a switchblade, man,” he says. Jones points to a ring on his right little finger to him by Frank Sinatra, with the singer’s coat of arms. It was submitted on his finger for years, only it did on Sinatra’s.
“The friendship was so strong. You can’t describe it. We held a party together, make music together,” says Jones with a smile. “I would tell (the drummer Sonny Payne: ‘Let the weather beat a little stronger,” because Frank was just lifting his feet about a foot,” says Jones, stamping with his foot to a beat. “Let’s make a foot and a half.”
For six decades, Jones is the foot-stomping back beat to a dizzying breadth of American music. His hands are above everything. From Ella Fitzgerald to Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Michael Jackson, the “Roots” to “In the Heat of the Night,” Jones — trumpeter, pianist, composer, arranger, producer — the great chameleon of 20th-century music. He has recorded 2,900 songs, 300 albums and 51 film and TV scores. He is 79 times nominated for a Grammy, winning 27. And he has seven children, one of whom — Rashida Jones has reported him in the new documentary “Quincy.”
“When I look at it now, I’m overwhelmed,” Jones said in an interview shortly before “Quincy” which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. “Your life back at you on the screen — wooo!”
“Quincy”, which debuts on Netflix and select theatres Friday, is an intimate portrait of a hard-to-grasp legend. He is now 85 and has been through a few health scares. But after the abandonment of the drinking of two and a half years ago, he says, “I feel like I’m 19.”
And he has little of his curiosity or verve. Jones made headlines last winter for a couple of candid interviews in which he discussed, among other things, what he considered to be the Beatles’ weak in making music and dating-Ivanka Trump. He Later apologized, but not to take back of one of his stories.
“I’m too old to be full of it,” Jones chuckles.
And while Jones was in a more relaxed atmosphere in Toronto, that he was happy to be in contradiction with the reports of the Eagles’ “Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975” the passing of Jackson ‘ s “Thriller” (Jones produced) as the all-time best-selling album. “We had 150 million, man,” he says, referring to the global sales. “That is bull—-.”
Jones, who in 2017 won a lawsuit against Jackson’s estate over unpaid royalties, also continued his criticism of the pop star’s penchant for lifting songs or not accurate crediting of employees. “It is in the music. ‘Smooth Criminal’ that says it,” says Jones.
“Michael was a patient and humble man when it came to learning,” he adds. “His idols were James Brown, Sammy Davis, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly. I saw him copying their things.”
And while he applauds the contemporary of acts like the Chance the Rapper and Kendrick Lamar, he believes there are less great songs of today. A master of songcraft, Jones sees the art. “What I miss the most is the songs,” says Jones. “There are beats and rhymes and hooks, but that is not a song, I’m sorry.”
But to give the impression that Jones has grown contentious, in his old age would be a great injustice to his playful curiosity, or are undiminished work ethic. “Quincy,” which extends Jones’ mammoth life, captures the still very active Jones the production of a Kennedy Center show for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History.
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Jones is both continuously and tirelessly cheerful. And his conversation zig-zags, as much as his career, jumping from the experience of being in the control room for the Miles Davis “kind of Blue” sessions are heavenly twins, Michael Caine (they were born on the same day in 1933), when record executives called it “too jazzy” for the production of Marvin Gaye.
“He’s like a giant beating heart. That makes him a great father and that makes him a great musician,” says Rashida, the actress-filmmaker who co-directed “Quincy” with Alan Hicks. “He is in pain like all of us. Things with his mother is really deep. It is still fresh and it still hurts him. But he made a decision. He wakes up every day and he has a mantra that he says to stay positive.”
Jones calls them affirmations.
“I’ve always done it that way. I think that instead of a mother. I lost my mother when I was seven. They took her away in a straitjacket. That does not make our life very beautiful,” he says. “My brother could not cope with it. He died in 1998, my younger brother. It was a serious man.”
Jones’ mother division (she was in an institution for schizophrenia) remains perhaps the most crucial moment in his life. It is impossible to not to go back to that incident and his hardscrabble youth in Chicago as a response to try to find where all the music came from Jones. Such a beginning would have made others more cynical.
“You can’t afford to be angry, man,” says Jones. “Don’t forget Mark Twain’s words: Anger is an acid that does more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than anything on which it is poured. I said that to myself as Donald Trump won. Are you happy with our president? We live through. We will learn.”
Another key moment from his childhood in as Jones, 14, was a passenger in a fatal car accident. He has never learned to drive.
“I took a driving lesson. My teacher — he was from Yugoslavia, said, ” Man, I’m going to give you your money back. We don’t need another maniac on the road,'” says Jones. “I tried to stop on the downbeats at the stop lights.”