Reflecting on his game-changing career, industry legend Quincy Jones says there's one memento he especially treasures. It's a picture Duke Ellington signed in 1973 after Jones had wrapped his first TV production: a CBS special in tribute to the pioneering jazz pianist/composer. The inscription reads: "You be the one to de-categorize American music."
"And that's stayed with me all these years," the 77-year-old Jones says. "Twelve notes, that's all there are . . . and I've played everything."
Video below: Billboard chats with Quincy Jones about the new album.
A snapshot of Jones' far-reaching musical journey as a musician, producer, songwriter and arranger is captured on "Q: Soul Bossa Nostra." Released Nov. 9 through Qwest/Interscope, the 15-track set features a diverse array of contemporary R&B/hip-hop and pop artists and producers reinterpreting recordings from Jones' vast catalog.
Akon, Ludacris, Jamie Foxx, John Legend, Jennifer Hudson, Usher, T-Pain and Amy Winehouse reprise such popular Jones-associated songs as "Strawberry Letter 23," "Soul Bossa Nostra," "Give Me the Night," "Tomorrow," "You Put a Move on My Heart," "Secret Garden," "It's My Party" and "P.Y.T."
"Lesley Gore's 'It's My Party' . . . Jesus, how long ago was that," Jones says with a laugh about the early-'60s pop hit. "It just reminds me of how many hours I've occupied on this planet and the beautiful memories that have happened."
Others like Wyclef Jean, Talib Kweli, T.I. and B.o.B chose to revisit Jones' film and TV work on such tracks as "Ironside," "Many Rains Ago (Oluwa)" and "Sanford and Son." Track producers on the set, executive-produced by Jones, include Mark Ronson, Jermaine Dupri and Mervyn Warren. RedOne, who produced "Sanford," says, "I grew up listening to and learning from his music. Contributing to this album is the highest possible honor."
Conceived several years ago from a suggestion by producer Timbaland, Jones says it took another two to three years to wrangle artists and producers and their schedules, as well as select the songs and prepare the arrangements. "It's beyond explanation, hearing all these different people doing these different songs," Jones says. "I just told everyone to do their own thing but make it better than we did."
The new album is one of several projects that Jones is juggling. This fall, he partnered with Harman International Industries and launched a new signature line of AKG headphones. He also enlisted such luminaries as Herbie Hancock and Carlos Santana-plus various schools and universities, including the Berklee School of Music-to participate in a music consortium to create a concise curriculum to help educate the younger generation about the culture of music. "It's a shame that American kids don't know what their roots are musically," Jones says.
In that same vein, the self-professed "world junkie" will be working in February with director William Friedkin on a film in Brazil. Plans are to bring in kids from Mississippi and Louisiana to experience the jazz and blues culture there.
This month also marks the publication of the first entry in a multivolume set, "The Quincy Jones Legacy Series: Q on Producing." Written in collaboration with Bill Gibson and published by Hal Leonard, the 360-page hardcover book and accompanying DVD are the culmination of more than a year's worth of interviews about the techniques of making music.
Jones offers up two key lessons for today's producers. First up: producing is also part babysitting and psychology. "When you tell someone like Frank [Sinatra], Ray [Charles] or Michael [Jackson] to jump without a net, you better know what you're talking about," Jones says.
Second: know your music and understand your craft. "Then you're always straight, and Pro Tools will be working for you.
"If not," he adds, "then the machines will be leading you around by the nose."