Quincy Jones talks to EDGAR

Legendary music producer and musician reflects on his astonishing career at the launch of his new Dubai bar Q's.

Robert Chilton December 13, 2016

Quincy Jones starts a story about working with Aretha Franklin, but gets sidetracked by what it was like to make music with Miles Davis and Ray Charles.

He then goes off on a tangent about having a night on the town with Frank Sinatra, and ends with a tale about which of Michael Jackson’s albums he produced is his favourite (for the record, Quincy prefers Off The Wall to Thriller). It’s fair to say that when it comes to showbiz CVs, Quincy Jones is at the top of the class.

The iconic producer, musician and composer spoke to EDGAR last week at the launch of his first ever lounge, Q’s Bar at the Palazzo Versace Hotel in Dubai. Now 83, the music man gets around in a wheelchair, yet his mind is sharp as a tack as he recounts anecdotes from his seven decades in music. 

“Music is the most powerful thing on the planet,” he says with huge enthusiasm. “It’s the language that pulls people together. We’ve had just 12 notes for 700 years. Beethoven, Bird [Charlie Parker], Bo Diddley, Basie [Count Basie], everybody – the same 12 notes. And we’re still making music from those 12 notes.” 

Getting Jones off the topic of music is tough, as it is clearly a passion and love that’s been embedded in every minute of his life. But speaking of Q’s Bar, he explained it’s been in the works for seven years. “It’s kind of like a jook joint. It’s an old American tradition; it was the only place where African Americans could go after slavery for everything: food, gambling, dancing, music, blues.”

The jazz bar will host British songwriter/drummer – and Quincy’s pal – Ollie Howell in residence for three months, after which a string of talents from several musical genres will pass by. “Man, I don’t care about music categories,” chuckles Quincy. “There’s only two types of music: good and bad. And I like good music.”

A bonafide member of the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, Jones is the most-nominated Grammy artist of all time with 79 nominations. EDGAR asked if he ever looks back on his music and thinks he could have done anything better, a guitar solo here, a drum beat there. “Absolutely not,” he laughs. “I go for the throat every time. My least favourite numbers are 2, 6, and 11. You ever hear people talk about having a top six record? Or a top 11 record? No way. If you’re number two, you want to be number one.” 

Much of the biggest-selling and best-loved music ever made has Quincy Jones’ fingerprints all over it. His output has inevitably slowed in recent years but that doesn’t mean he’s out of touch. When EDGAR asked him who he’s listening to at the moment, he instantly rattles off a list that includes Kendrick Lamar, Bruno Mars, Common, Ariana Grande, Mary J Blige and Jennifer Hudson. “I listen to the ones who are good, simple as that,” he booms. “I know who’s good and who’s not – that’s what it’s all about.”

Younger musicians often ask for him for advice and his reply is simple: “Bring all the best stuff from the past to the future. You ever wonder why we came up with be-bop, doo-wop, hip-hop? It’s all part of the same thing.” 

Sadly, Jones struggles to play his beloved piano much these days. “I had some problems with my C4 [bone in his spine] and two brain operations. I can’t feel three fingers on my right hand, they’re numb. It hurts. I can play a little bit but I don’t have the dexterity anymore. It’s a pain in the you-know-what.”

Jones’s protégé Ollie Howell (above) also had brain surgery, which led to their collaboration. “Personally, I only learnt to compose through necessity when I was in hospital having brain surgery,” explains Howell. “I’d just met Quincy and he gave me such huge motivation and inspiration to write music – it became my first love.” Turning to the jazz legend, Howell adds, “This guy is my absolute hero and I’ve been learning a lot from him. He’s such an important person in my life, and the world.”

Howell, now 27, was diagnosed with a brain malformation aged 21 when he was at music college and had to have neuro surgery. “In so many ways it was the best thing that happened to me,” he says now. “Quincy wrote to me when I was in hospital to tell me he knew what I was going through, and that ‘I’ve had it myself.’ So I learnt to write music from hospital and those songs became my first album.”

“That’s right,” smiles Jones, slapping Howell on the back. “You got to keep on keeping on.”