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Hersholt Winner Jones and the Potential of Love : Commentary: The academy honors the effusive music mogul for his humanitarian efforts, which include Ethiopian famine relief and the fight against apartheid.

March 28, 1995|GENE SEYMOUR | NEWSDAY

If your ears are allergic to intense, earnest talk of love, love and more love being the only remedies to what ails the world, then you may have wanted to turn the sound down when Quincy Jones accepted his Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at Monday's Oscar Awards show.

For if there's one thing that was as inevitable as corn in Iowa, snow in Greenland and traffic jams on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, it's that Jones, the one-man music conglomerate who's scored such films as "In the Heat of the Night," "The Pawnbroker," "In Cold Blood," "The Hot Rock" and "Mirage" and produced albums for Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles, would spend his time in the Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium spotlight, getting effusive about love's potential to eradicate ignorance, poverty, crime and annoying phone-in radio shows. (Just kidding about that last one, so no calls, OK?)

Here's what's strange: For all his businessman's acumen, diplomat's cunning and mogul's instincts for survival, Jones, who turned 62 this month, sounds genuinely sincere when he says stuff like this. You would think after more than 40 years in show business (infested as it is with parasites and predators of various kinds), Jones' world view would be somewhat cloudier.

If so, such clouds are hard to detect around the man who, 10 years ago, told the biggest names in pop music to "check their egos at the door" before convening to sing "We Are the World," a recording that raised $53 million for famine relief in Ethiopia.

His producing chores on that recording alone would probably qualify him for the Hersholt, given each year by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to "an individual in the motion picture field whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry."

Jones has also used his name and influence toward such worthy causes as the fight to abolish apartheid in South Africa. Academy spokespersons say he was "one of the few representatives of the entertainment industry invited to South African President Nelson Mandela's historic inauguration" last year.

He also founded and chairs the "Listen Up Foundation," a nonprofit organization "dedicated to inspiring young people to achieve their full potential and embrace the values of dignity, work, creativity and the importance of education."

Recently, he was appointed to serve on President Clinton's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, where he can help connect needy youths to cultural programs, encourage international cultural exchanges and develop more private-sector funding for the arts.

One wonders where he finds the time, especially since he remains in demand as an arranger and composer for pop artists of all genders, genres and colors. If you wonder just how extensive his reach in show business is, check out the 1990 documentary "Listen Up! The Lives of Quincy Jones." The film includes admiring testimonials from Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Ray Charles, Barbra Streisand, Ice-T, Sidney Lumet, Michael Jackson (who's heard but not seen) and Oprah Winfrey. Someone with the capacity to bring these edgy sensibilities together in tribute is wasting his time in music. He ought to run for President.

Through jittery jump cuts, the film also tells a story that began in Chicago, where Jones was born. He grew up in Seattle, where he began learning to play trumpet in 1947. He joined Lionel Hampton's band in the early 1950s and, since he was regarded as, at best, a marginal horn player, began writing arrangements for Art Farmer, Clifford Brown, Gigi Gryce, Oscar Pettiford, Clark Terry, Count Basie and others.

He was Dizzy Gillespie's music director for a big-band tour of the Middle East and South America in 1956. By 1960, he'd gotten a similar gig for a European tour of Harold Arlen's blues opera "Free and Easy." The show closed in Paris, but he continued to tour with the band and solidified his reputation as a leader and arranger.

He became an A&R man for Mercury in 1961, where he worked with artists as diverse as Lesley Gore and Shirley Horn. Three years later, he rose to the rank of company vice president, the first African American to hold such a position in a white-owned record company.

In the mid-1960s, he began shifting his attention to film scores. He has received seven Oscar nominations, including three--as producer, score composer and songwriter--for "The Color Purple."

Jones' genre-crossover hit album from 1990, "Back on the Block," with its freewheeling convergence of jazz and rap, be-bop and hip-hop, funk and uplift, suggests as much as anything what makes this mogul hustle so hard in so many directions. He has an unshakable belief that barriers of all kinds can be broken in music and in life. If they won't break by themselves, then we'll have to bust them down. With--of course--love, love and more love.

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