Quincy Jones 80th Birthday Q&A (Video & Photos)

Legendary producer and musician Quincy Jones, who is today (March 14) celebrating his 80th birthday, sat down with Billboard to discuss his illustrious career. (Photo: Joseph Llanes)

On the occasion of Quincy Jones’ 80th Birthday, the legendary record producer sat down with Billboard’s Gail Mitchell to discuss his illustrious career. In this video interview, Jones discusses the music he’s digging (music from Indonesia, China and the Aretha Franklin of Hungry), the lessons learned (not acting like a diva/divo), his greatest moments (meeting Ray Charles, playing with Billie Holiday at among other things), meeting up with Michael Jackson during “The Wiz,” his philosophical approach to life and much more.


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Quincy Jones At Home
Coinciding with his exclusive interview with Billboard to mark the milestone of his 80th birthday, amid an array of new projects, Quincy Jones recently welcomed Billboard into his Bel Air, Calif. home and gave us a tour . 

Photographs by Joseph Llanes


Quincy Jones and Frank Sinatra—who gave Jones the moniker “Q”—recorded three albums together, including the classic Sinatra at the Sands with the Count Basie Orchestra, conducted by Jones, released in 1966.

"I first met Frank when I was working for Barclay Disques in Paris. We got a call to bring our house band down to perform for the Prince of Monaco, and when we got there we found out that we'd be playing with Frank.

“After the performance he said maybe five words to me and that was it. A few years later, I get a call from him saying that he had heard the version of Bart Howard's waltz `In Other Words’ that I had done with Basie in ¾ time. He said, `that's how I want to do it. Would you want to do it with me and Basie?’ I said, `Is the Pope Catholic?,’ and I was on a plane to Hawaii.

“Working with Sinatra was like going to another planet. We worked together until the day he died.”

"Hal Ashby [director of `Coming Home,’ `The Last Detail,’ `Shampoo’) was a great, great friend and an exceptional filmmaker. He was the editor on in `The Heat of the Night’ and he wanted to teach me about directing because he saw the correlation between being a record producer and being a director.

“He spent his final months at my home. He said, 'Quincy, I want to spend the rest of your life with you.’ He left me all of his personal effects -- passport, driver's license, glasses, his director's chair, everything. I think about him everyday.”

Quincy Jones is the recipient of 27 Grammy Awards, has a record 79 Grammy nominations, and is the recipient of the Recording Academy's Living Legend and Trustees Awards. "I'm eternally grateful....but 27 awards and 79 nominations means I've lost 52 times."


Quincy Jones in his home with posters of films he has scored, including “In the Heat of the Night.”  He recalls: “Sidney Poitier and Sidney Lumet were instrumental in helping me get started as the first black composer to get name credit for movie scores.”  His work on films, starting with “The Pawnbroker” in 1964 and including “In Cold Blood” and “The Color Purple,” has garnered him six Academy Award nominations.

Jones received this gift from the late Elwood “Woody” Thomas Driver, who served as one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, an all-African-American Army Air Corps combat squadron formed in 1941 and based in Tuskegee, Ala.   Before 1940, African Americans were barred from flying for the U.S. military. 

In 2001, French President Jacques Chirac presented Jones with France's most distinguished title, the Commandeur de la Legion d' Honneur. He is the only American musician to ever have received the honor.

Recalls Jones: "When I first traveled abroad as a 18-year old trumpeter with Lionel Hampton in 1951, a great saxophone player named Ben Webster said to me, 'Youngblood, step into my office and let me pull your coat. When traveling in foreign countries if you really want to get to know the people, eat the food that they eat, listen to the music that they listen to, and learn 30-40 words in the language that they speak.'

“It was some of the best advice that I've ever gotten and to this day I have eagerly embraced the food, music and language of every country on the planet, and because of it I feel at home wherever I travel in the world."

"I think it is safe to say that what we – Michael Jackson, me, Rod Temperton, Bruce Swedien, Jerry Hey, Greg Phillinganes, and my entire recording studio A-Team, did with Off The Wall, Thriller and Bad will never be matched in the business,” says Jones.

“A lot of people played very significant roles in the making of those albums. It was the perfect convergence of talent, experience, and timing -- with enough space for God to walk through the room.

“It's no accident that three decades later, no matter where I go in the world, in every club and karaoke bar, like clockwork, at the witching hour I hear `Billie Jean,’ `Beat It,’ `Wanna Be Starting Something,’ `Don't Stop Til You Get Enough,’ `Rock With You,’ `Smooth Criminal’ and `Thriller.’ “In every language on the planet from prison yards in Thailand to Thrilltheworld.com, that was, and is, the impact and influence of those albums.”


An array of covers of the albums on which Jones has worked lines these walls in his home. 

“I feel enormously fortunate to have been born at a time where I was able to work with every person who shaped the history of American culture from Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington to Dizzy and Miles, Eckstine, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, straight on through to today.

“I can't explain it. It's God's plan, and you just have to open your heart and embrace every part of it.”