It’s been full steam ahead here. I’ve seen lots of great bands, including Berklee buzz band Passion Pit, DD/MM/YYYY, the Circle Jerks, Echo and the Bunnymen, N.A.S.A, Bishop Allen, Julie Dioron, Who Shot Hollywood, Terrible Twos, and King Khan & the Shrines.
I also spent some time at the convention center, checking out the SXSW keynote speech by Berklee alumnus super producer Quincy Jones ’51, and an interview with Devo. Quincy’s talk was quite lengthy, but very interesting. He discussed his 50+ year career in depth, touching on everything from his first inspiration to play music – the moment of truth came when he first touched a piano at age 11, he knew then that music would be his life forever – to his work with Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles and many others that have earned him over two dozen Grammy Awards. Said Jones, “I’ve been blessed to work with almost every big name in recording in the last 50 years…I count these blessings every day.”
On the longevity of his working relationships with musical giants, he said it comes down to a “mutal sense of love, trust and respect. We don’t make friends, we discover them,” he said, adding, “I worked with Sinatra for years on a handshake, no contract.” A valuable piece of advice Sinatra gave him: “Live every day like it’s your last Q, and one day you’ll be right.”
As a producer, he’s been asked many times, what’s the magical formula (to discovering talent)? Q’s answer, “You can tell if they’ve got it in the first 20 seconds of their recording…Most great singers you can recognize in 15-20 seconds.”
When it came to producing Michael Jackson, I was surprised to learn Quincy had a fight on his hands. He decided to produce Michael’s next album while working with him on the movie “The Wiz,” because he felt Michael had a lot of things inside that nobody had heard before. The record executives all said “no way, Q is a jazz producer.” They finally gave in and Quincy helmed Jackson’s groundbreaking album Off The Wall, which was the biggest black album in history at the time. Thriller came next and of course was a monster hit. Said Quincy, “Its impact was unimaginable, it was extraordinary beyond our expectations.” Another bit I was surprised to hear, Thriller was recorded for just $569,000. Now that’s a return on investment, considering it’s sold upwards of 100 million copies! (Q said the RIAA #’s are a little fuzzy…).
I’m short on time, so I’ll just relate a few more things Q talked about. On Ray Charles: “He was a role model at a time when I didn’t have any…We learned a lot of important lessons together.” He played a moving video clip of Ray dedicating a song to Quincy. Afterwards he said, “Ray will never go away, in my heart, he will be here forever.”
On asking Steven Spielberg to direct the movie version of “The Color Purple”: Spielberg said “Don’t you think this is something a black director should do?” Quincy’s response was, “Maybe, but did you have to go to Mars to make E.T.?” Spielberg was sold, but the book’s author Alice Walker needed a little more convincing…
On jazz: “Jazz is the classical music of American popular music…It’s the essence of freedom and liberation.” To criticism of his branching out from jazz into pop and other genres he said, “My roots are in jazz but my destiny is in music.” Adding that the reason Sinatra and others had such long careers is because of their versatility.
One last bit [from me, Q reportedly talked an hour past the time the speech was supposed to end], on racism, Quincy said, “If musicians had been in charge, racism would have been over in the ’40s and ’50s. The question is, can you play? Musicians perceive each other as just people.”
Gotta run and get ready for Berklee’s party. More later!