Quincy Jones is getting on a plane to Cambodia in five hours. He is leading a coalition in conjunction with UNICEF to bring attention to the region’s desperate need for heath care.
While there, he will present his inaugural Q Prize — an accolade to recognize young leaders, who in many ways just like Jones, are overcoming what many consider insurmountable odds to help their people and country.
It’s all part of his Quincy Jones Foundation, a nonprofit whose mission it is to “foster a global dialogue” and help children have better lives all over the world. Jones has partnered on numerous global charitable projects with U2’s Bono including Live 8.
“From Mozambique to Bolivia and the Ivory Coast, it just blew my mind what you can do if you just try,” Jones says. “We’re just a raggedy Irish rock’n’roller and a bow-legged bebopper from Chicago with no agendas making a difference. It’s a nice feeling. It’s good to give back, especially if you’ve become successful. Giving back is important.”
Jones says he loves to travel for his causes because it opens his mind and creativity. It also reminds him that there is something much bigger than himself.
His friend, jazz great Ben Webster, gave Jones the advice of a lifetime when he said, “Young blood, wherever you go in the world, eat the food the people eat there, listen to the music they listen to and learn 30 or 40 words of each language.” Jones says he took Webster’s works “very, very seriously,” and now he can converse in a number of languages, from Spanish to Greek.
In preparation for his Cambodian trek, Jones had been working to get the score done to 50 Cent’s film “Get Rich or Die Tryin’.” He has just wrapped his new album, “Po’ No’ Mo’ ” — a tribute album of his greatest hits recorded by some of today’s top talent. In addition, he is producing an animated series titled “The Dude” for MTV and producing the Broadway version of “The Color Purple.”
In his spare time, Jones has an endorsement deal with SLS Speakers. They have even produced a special product called the “Q Line,” a high-end home sound system with recording studio quality.
Jones is 72 years old and shows no sign of slowing down. His work and passion keep him young at heart.
How was working on the 50 Cent film “Get Rich or Die Tryin'”?
Amazing. You have probably the biggest rapper in the world, who is also a nice person, which I was very happy about. That’s my primary consideration always. And Jim Sheridan, the director, is a genius. He brought two of his composers to the film: Gavin Friday and Maurice Seezer. All three of us were working together.
Has this been a different kind of experience for you than other films you have done?
It’s a whole different thing, it’s the street awareness. I identify with 50 Cent a lot because there are a lot of similarities in the neighborhoods we came up in. It’s much more intense now. They didn’t have automatic weapons when I was young. They had switchblades and ice picks, but it hurt just as bad. I identify with him, and I think he’s a beautiful human being. This film is a real human story and represents a lot of what life in the ‘hood is about. I was raised in the biggest ‘hood in America, in Chicago during the Depression, so it’s familiar territory.
You are very active in numerous philanthropic organizations including your own Quincy Jones Foundation. Why are charitable causes so important to you?
Two years ago we took five gang-bangers and went to South Africa with Habitat for Humanity and built 100 homes as a Christmas present to Nelson Mandela, who’s like my brother. Tolstoy said, “My piece of bread only belongs to me when I know that everyone else has a share and no one starves while I eat.” That says it all for me.
What about the half-hour animated series “The Dude” you are producing with MTV?
It’s something I’ve been trying to get people to understand since 1985. The aim of the show is to get more street awareness. It basically will be like the urban “The Simpsons.” It will have very cutting-edge things like teenage motherhood. My friend Aaron McGruder just did it with “Boondocks.” In fact, I’m in the Christmas episode. Once “The Dude” gets off the ground, we’ll have some of the characters visit each other.
What was the turning point in your life that put you on your path?
I didn’t have a mother. I don’t know what that word means. I had a mother that went into a mental institution when I was 7. She was a very brilliant woman; went to Boston University in the ’20s and spoke 10 languages. But she had dementia praecox [the mental illness now known as schizophrenia]. I used to sit in this closet, this small little closet and say to myself, “Well, somehow you’ve to turn this darkness into light.” You have two choices in life, to get bitter and turn it against yourself, which is self-destructive, or you can find a way to turn it into light. That has been my way of dealing with life. They say if you can imagine it, then you can be it.
What was it like living in the Seattle area as a child?
I moved to the Northwest when I was 10 years old, they didn’t even know who black people were. We weren’t even in the books and there were no [black] television shows, so it was like we didn’t exist. Ray Charles and I used to talk about that. Who do we emulate? We didn’t have the Michael Jordans and the Oprahs.
Who were your role models then?
We didn’t know who to be. In radio, from an imagination standpoint, I used to make the Lone Ranger black. It was just in my imagination, but hey, you have to be somebody. It was an interesting challenge. Thank God it’s not the same way now.
Are you ever going to stop working?
No. I love it, baby, I can’t help it. There you go. There you go. You should never finish. Never finish.