Letter #70

Good morning / afternoon / evening,

I hope you’re well. Prepare yourself, for this week I’ve got something special for you! Let me explain…

Last Friday night, after a busy week, I decided that rather than spend the evening sorting and resorting records, I needed something a bit less strenuous. So I had a look through the stuff we had saved on Netflix, and found a documentary to watch. For the next 124 minutes, I sat totally enthralled. The documentary was Quincy, and I urge you to watch it.

I suppose it’s difficult to not know the name ‘Quincy Jones’. He’s had a high profile career that’s spanned seven decades (yep, you heard me), but I didn’t truly appreciate the impact that he’d had on culture until I watched the documentary. Alongside producing some of the greatest music of all time, developing some of the greatest artists of all time, and altering the course of musical history, he’s also one of only a handful of people to have won an ‘EGOT‘. On top of that, he’s responsible for a number of humanitarian and philanthropic projects that are making a huge difference to the world. Basically, to borrow Quincy’s parlance, he’s a ‘cool motherfucker’.

So this week’s letter is dedicated to Quincy Jones. The mixtape is filled with music he’s created, produced, or heavily influenced. Scan down the mixtape and you’ll see amazing music from Jones himself, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Donna Summer, Michael Jackson, and George Benson, as you’d expect. You’ll also see music from some unlikely artists that cite a direct influence from Jones (and the songs included contain samples from Jones’ productions). The TL;DR section is made up of content featuring or focused on Jones and his impact on culture, and the rambling notes contain some of the many incredible thoughts I’ve collected / stolen from Jones over the years.


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🌪 TL;DR section 🌪
Interesting things this week:
  1. Probably one of the best (and one of the longest!) interviews I’ve ever read was with Jones on Vulture – the gossip is next level
  2. There’s a brilliant feature on his early life in an old copy of the Smithsonian magazine (available online here) that charts his childhood and the start of his career as a trumpet player with Count Basie and Sinatra (really)
  3. Last year Jones did an interview with Rolling Stone and discussed at length his experience of working with Michael Jackson – with some salacious stories too, no less
  4. A few years ago there was a Quincy Jones tribute at the BBC Proms, and this particular track has always stayed with me (although stick with the first minute or so, as it takes a little while to get going)
  5. There was an interesting moment in this feature on Nightmares on Wax when talking about getting clearance of samples from Jones – he had to write a two page letter explaining the usage and the purpose before he could get clearance
  6. This clip from the 1984 documentary I Love Quincy is brilliant – watch Herbie Hancock and Jones jamming on a new synthesiser
  7. You may remember Jones had some pretty audacious stories (and opinions) about the Beatles, so it’s interesting to get McCartney’s response (and hear his own stories about Jones!) here in this GQ interview
  8. Weirdly, Jones once attended a memorial service to commemorate his own death. Totally true.
  9. The absolute motherlode of all interviews, however, is this interview from earlier this year with Quincy and GQ – it’s bursting with amazing anecdotes and behind the scenes stories. Give it a read.
  10. If you want even more then get this autobiography on order – I have
📚 The notes 📚

After reading, listening to, and watching everything I can about Jones this week, it feels a bit daft to try and write something new and insightful. So instead, I wanted to share what I’d pulled from all of those places – the thoughts and words that really resonated with me, and hopefully will mean something to you (as well as a couple of juicy stories too, of course).

On what drives great creatives:
“It’s an attitude they have – I want to know how everything works. Curiosity. Sinatra had it too.”

The advice Jones snr. gave Quincy on committing:
“Once a task is just begun, never leave it till it’s done. Be the labor great or small, do it well or not at all.”

On facing adversity:
“Well, listen, anger doesn’t get anything done, so you have to find out: How do you make it work? That’s why I was always maniacal about transforming every problem into a puzzle which I can solve. I can solve a puzzle—a problem just stresses me out.”

On Michael Jackson’s insane attention to detail:
“He had a perspective on details that was unmatched. His idols are Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, James Brown, all of that. And he paid attention, and that’s what you’re supposed to do. That’s the only way you can be great, you know, is pay attention to the best guys who ever did it.”

Watching Prince make a fool of himself in front of James Brown and Michael Jackson:
“Prince told Michael he’d kill him if he showed it to anybody,” Jones explains, but one way or another, time-coded raw footage of what took place that night eventually surfaced. First Brown invites Jackson to the stage. Jackson sings a few phrases, spins, moonwalks, then embraces Brown and can be seen whispering to him. Brown then calls for Prince. After a delay, Prince gets onstage, takes a guitar, jams a little, then strips off his shirt. He does some mic-stand tomfoolery, dances a little more, then nearly tumbles into the audience trying to pull down an oversize streetlamp prop. It was a superstar face-off that has often been seen as a triumph for Michael Jackson, and a rare humiliation for Prince.”

On a brilliant introduction to Picasso:
“We had lunch with him. He was a character, man. He was fucked-up with absinthe all the time. We both ordered sole meunière, which is one of my favourite dishes of all time from Paris, and after he’d finish he’d take the bones and push it out in the sun and let the sun parch the bones, and he’d take out these three colors, orange and blue and red, and when the waiter would say, ‘L’addition, s’il vous plaît,’ Picasso would push that. And you look all across the walls, his bones with his writing on them. That’s how he paid his bills. He was a bad motherfucker, man.”

On capturing the attention of an audience:
“If one producer does a record, the sequencing is the most important thing, keep it moving all the way through. In 15 seconds, if it doesn’t engage, the ear goes to sleep. They want ear candy. It’s amazing what engages the ear in a great song. Not too many of them going on today – a lot of champagne-selling noises. But I love Kendrick Lamar, the Weekend, Drake.”

On his preferred way of working:
“All his life, Jones has relished that moment around midnight when something new begins. “The muses come out at midnight,” he says. “No e-mails, no faxes, no calls.” And when the rest of the city is fully asleep, that’s when Quincy Jones, three months short of his 85th birthday, will really get to work.”

On advice Jones was given for soaking up new cultures:
“When he was getting ready to take his first trip to Europe with Hampton, in 1953, the veteran sax player Ben Webster sat him down. “Eat the food, listen to the music and learn 30 to 40 words in every language,” Webster said. Jones listened: “It’s like a code to enter another culture. If you open up your mind, it’s like music.”

On Jones’ enduring impact on culture:
“Quincy Jones was right up there with George Gershwin, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong as one of the cornerstones of American music,” says Gerald Early, an English and African-American studies scholar at Washington University in St. Louis. “He’s influenced American culture and had a presence that few other musicians have had.”

On his eternal sense of groove:
“He never loses the melody and he has the pulse of jazz, which is the pulse of life, in everything he does.”

On what drives his work:
“Just make music that gives you goosebumps”

Amen, and preach to the king, Quincy Jones.

As always, if you’ve read to here, thanks for indulging me ❤️.

See you on the dance floor.
Love Will Save the Day

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