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A Cosmic Q Rating : Quincy Jones has worked with stars from Dizzy Gillespie to Heavy D. Even producing the Oscars doesn't daunt him.

November 05, 1995|Bruce Newman | Bruce Newman is an occasional contributor to Calendar

With his right hand, Quincy Jones lifts the trumpet from the dark velvet lining of the case in which it has been entombed for 20 years, then with practiced ease he puts the mouthpiece delicately to his lips. He takes a breath and holds it for a measure, thinks about the note that he would blow and the likelihood that playing it would kill him dead, pulls the horn away and holds the note in his head.

That is where all the music has come from since 1974, when Jones suffered a pair of near-fatal brain aneurysms. Two surgical scars crease the top of his forehead like the imprint from some extravagant kiss, as if his mind had developed an embouchure of its own.

"Can't play anymore," he says. "The main artery in my brain is held together with a clip. Deep-sea diving and playing the trumpet blow that thing straight off."

This is the informing irony of Quincy Jones' life, a twist of fate no less galling in its way than Beethoven's deafness, if on a less epic scale. The man with the most Grammy Award nominations of any musician in history cannot blow a note of music without the risk of permanently hot-wiring his head.

The trumpet was a gift from Dizzy Gillespie, the first horn Gillespie ever ordered from the manufacturer with the bell turned up, and it has been Jones' most cherished possession since Dizzy gave it to him in 1956.

"The doctor had told me, 'Don't touch your horn, it's too much pressure, it'll take that clip right out,' " Jones says. "But I really didn't believe what he was talking about. I was playing the slide trumpet once right after the operation when I heard that thing start to crackle and pop. And I haven't touched the horn since."


Jones has had his hands in practically every other part of the music business, however, producing Michael Jackson's landmark triptych of "Off the Wall," "Thriller" and "Bad," as well as "We Are the World," the highest-profile single of the modern era.

Last week, Jones took on what could be his most formidable challenge since he ran the ego checkroom at the "We Are the World" session: producing next year's Academy Awards telecast.

"This is a serious challenge, but I've gotten my feet wet in some very deep waters recently," he said the day of the announcement. "The timing feels right."

First things first, though. On Tuesday, Jones will try to recapture some musical crackle and pop with the release of his first album in six years, "Q's Jook Joint," on Q's own label, Qwest Records ( see review, Page 92 ). The album's launch has already been given a sloppy wet kiss by Vibe, Q's own magazine, which devoted its November cover to a Q&A with Q.

Jones has spent much of the past month and a half making countless appearances at radio stations in nine cities--including seven stations in a single day recently in Los Angeles--doing what Jones calls the "grippin' and grinnin' " that lubricates the music business at the local level.

At 62 and wealthy beyond imagining, he submits to these small tortures, he says, to help promote the career of his most recent discovery, a 19-year-old Canadian singer named Tamia. He has made her song the album's first single. "It's good for her, good for the record company," he says.

The record company would seem to be in need of all the help it can get, which may be another reason Jones has taken such a hands-on approach to the new album's promotion.

Qwest was supposed to have a new Tevin Campbell release out three months ago, "Q's Jook Joint" is also long overdue, and the label's production pipeline seemed to have dried up.

"If anybody doubts us, tell them to just watch," Jones says. "Everything's fine. Sometimes you get behind on a few records. I had planned to finish mine last Christmas, but you can't force it."

The night before he made his rounds at L.A. radio stations, Jones hosted a benefit at Creative Artists Agency headquarters for trumpeter Wynton Marsalis to help raise funds for Lincoln Center's jazz program. It had taken a year to work the event into Jones' schedule. "I say no to 99% of the things I'm asked to do, and the 1% kicks my ass," he says.

After leaving CAA, Jones has a meeting with producer Jeremy Thomas over a late dinner at Drai's, during which the two discuss the possibility of having Bernardo Bertolucci direct one of Jones' upcoming film projects, the story of Alexander Pushkin, the black Russian who is regarded as the father of modern Russian poetry. "Bertolucci talks about it all the time," Jones tells his partner, David Salzman, the next night. "I think he would tear it up. It would be a killer. He understands the street sensibility of it."

Salzman, who is co-chief executive officer with Jones in QDE--a company with holdings in broadcasting, music, movie development and publishing--expresses some reservations about Bertolucci's recent history of box-office flops. "He has no [commercial] judgment," Salzman says, though it is obvious that in the face of this, Jones' enthusiasm for the director of "The Conformist" remains undiminished.

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