Quincy Jones explains why Epic didn't want him to produce Michael Jackson's 'Thriller'
“If anyone tells you they know how to sell 60 million records, they don’t,” stated the legendary Quincy Jones during an engaging Q&A conducted by rapper Ludacris at the ASCAP Expo in Los Angeles, April 23.
And he should know. Jones, who is the mastermind producer/arranger/composer behind such projects as Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and “We are the World,” stressed to the audience of songwriters and producers that the only righteous artistic path is following your heart, not the money. “You do something that gives you goose bumps and you love. It works out or it doesn’t.”
Of course, it’s “worked out” a lot for Jones, who, at 77, is celebrating six decades of making music. Like John Mayer, who was interviewed at the Expo on Thursday, Jones stressed the importance of learning your craft to build upon your talent, not suppress it. “There are only 12 notes,” he said. “I spent 20 to 30 years learning to be a good musician.”
There is simply no substitute for knowledge—or what Jones referred to as “science.” When asked how he deals with pressure, he replied “Learn your science. Science is what provides the [ability] to express your emotion…Your chops get you out of pressure.”
Jones took his innate talent as a musician—he plays at least seven instruments—and then studied orchestration in Paris under the acclaimed Nadia Boulanger, who declared him “corrupted” from his jazz training with such artists like Ray Charles.
Jones’ career has been so vast and spans so many different areas, that he was only able to touch on a few areas. But here are some of the highlights:
**Scoring films is a discipline totally different from writing songs. “The sprockets don’t line. The image is not going to change because you want to add two bars,” he said. Music is the “emotion lotion” for the film, as he said Steven Spielberg calls it.
**His cure for writer’s block: Relax, put up your feet, keep what you’re working on nearby and “know it’s not about you, it’s about your higher power…Have humility in your creativity and grace in your success. Be humble enough to accept God’s whisper.”
**Knowledge extends far beyond traditional schooling. As a young man, Jones traveled the world with Lionel Hampton as his trumpet player and arranger. “When I traveled overseas, I learned eat what they eat, listen to the [local] music and learn 30-40 words in their language.”
**Epic Records did not want Jones to produce “Thriller.” He and Michael had worked together on the Broadway play “The Wiz.” “Back then, Michael was listening. I started watching him at rehearsals. He knew everyone’s moves,” said Jones. When it came time to go into the studio, Epic felt Jones was too “jazzy. They said ‘Get Gamble and Huff.” That’s when I learned the power of being underestimated,” Jones said with a laugh.
**His advice for aspiring singers (although it translates to any instrument) is “take your 10 favorite singers and put them on a disc and learn every note. Walk in the shoes of giants.”
**Use your pain to fuel your art. “I didn’t have a mother. At 7, my mother was taken away in a straight jacket. At 12, I thought, if I don’t have a mother, I don’t need one. My stepmother was a pain in the booty. Music is my mother.”
*8His favorite recording he ever worked on is “Somewhere” with Aretha Franklin from the early ‘70s. “I play it every day at my house,” he said, adding that he’d like to have it played at his funeral.
**During their early days as teens in the Northwest, he and Ray Charles would repeat every day--in part, to counteract the discrimination they faced—“Not one drop of my self-worth depends upon your acceptance of me.”