Quincy Jones is the epitome of cool. Jazz legend, film composer, producer and humanitarian, his life and works span generations. When Jones was playing jazz with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and Ray Charles, the pop industry as we know it today was still a twinkling coin in the entertainment business’ eye. So when Jones entered the conference suit at the Grand Hyatt hotel, it was no wonder a reverent ambience swept over the room.
Wearing a slick black suit and an orange shirt, Jones reminisced, gave his opinion and joked with the press. “I met Marlon Brando coming out of a club, and we were broker than the Ten Commandments.
Jones’ memories and recollections that he narrates with a deep, soulful voice, make him something of an antique. He’s almost precious memorabilia from the days of jazz, art, revolutionary acting and real sweat and passion, when Brando had just done “Streetcar named Desire and it didn’t matter when Ella Fitzgerald forgot the lyrics to Mack the Knife.
“Nobody cared about the lyrics then, they just needed the phrase, an idea. People were more interested in the music, so if singers didn’t sing like jazz musicians played, they were in trouble.
“The problem today, Jones continued, “is the short attention span. I could see it starting in the 1970s. A lot of young people nowadays are just lazy. They think they can do everything digitally; they don’t have to practice scales because they can fix it up on the computer. Then they say, if I played the piano I could play like Herbie Hancock. But if you don’t play the piano, you won’t sound like Herbie Hancock. I would sit with artists like Aretha Franklin for days at the piano, just finding her soul.
Jones obviously and quite rightly shared audience members’ concerns that electronic music in its current form is destroying real music, or rather young peoples’ potential for instrumental mastery. But it is not only laziness that Jones fears, but that immortal ghoul that haunts the art and entertainment industries: money.
“Bling Bling is not my thing, Jones announced, triggering a chuckle and round of applause from attendees. “You know, God walks out of the room when you talk about how much money you’re going to make.
Yet despite Jones’ abhorrence of making music for financial gain, he equally abhors the downloading phenomenon. “Downloading, don’t get me started! Every tune, every song, is someone’s intellectual property. When you deal with a CD, you are handing each human being a master copy. The CD business has gone down 44 percent as a result of downloading, and it’s going be films next.
But this wasn’t just a throw away comment. Jones has a vested interest in films, having produced the soundtrack for classic films such as “The Last Emperor, “The Italian Job and “The Color Purple.
“To produce a soundtrack for a film, explained Jones, “there has to be a good script first.But, there are two ways of going about it. There is what we call the Mickey Mouse approach, but I prefer a more oblique approach. The first is where everything that happens is reflected in the style of music. The second allows the human mind to separate the audio from the visual. For instance, if a murder took place in a fairground, the sound of the fairground would continue to play. After all, if the audio tells you what you are hearing, you close your eyes.
If Jones’ jovial mood in the conference is anything to go by, working with him must be a delight. This, of course, is a man with real talent and a huge body of musical knowledge, as well as a great sense of humor and a neat way of putting things. Listening to Jones you might think you were in some jazz cafe in downtown New York musing on old times and new trends.
Even when bombarded with the usual questions by the usual suspects, Jones gave his opinion and was willing to repeat it over for those who hadn’t quite understood the first time. “Had Jones ever heard Mohamed Mounir? Had Jones ever heard Um Kolthoum? Had Jones ever heard Abdel-Halim Hafez?
“I’m a big fan of Rai music. I remember sitting in the Hagia Sophia and listening to Rai. I can’t recall all the different names of Middle Eastern singers, but yeah, of course I know the music. And those I don’t, I’d love to listen to, hey can anybody give me a CD?
And the future of music according to Jones? “Cross-pollination. In Brazil, they’re mixing Rai with loads of other sounds. Brazil is really the center of this mixing of styles and cultures. But cross-pollination has really been happening for centuries, I mean, why is the architecture of the Kremlin Moorish?