Life story

The challenges and pleasures of helping Quincy Jones tell his life story ‹ Literary Hub

After more than twenty years in publishing, I was made redundant in a corporate shake-up. Imagine my surprise when the editor who fired me called me to ask if I would like to help him finish a project I had signed on to when I was editor, the autobiography of Quincy Jones, musician, composer, arranger and media mogul. Now, “Q”, as he is known, had parted ways with his collaborator.

I certainly knew how to edit and shape a manuscript, but I had never been asked to help create one. It was a radically new perspective – from the page up, so to speak.

What impresses me most when looking at the half-finished manuscript is Quincy’s ability to stay one step ahead, as when he begins Atmosphere magazine before hip-hop entered the mainstream. Regardless of era or musical style, he always had his finger on the pulse.

In Academician Gerald Early’s essay on Quincy Jones and Miles Davis, he notes that the two old beboppers stayed young and fresh seeing around the corner, both musically and culturally. Miles’ first quotes, describing Quincy: “Some paperboys can go into any yard with any dog, and they won’t get bitten.” He has it, whatever it is.

At Q in Beverly Hills, we establish our way of working. At the top of a winding road, the sprawling hilltop enclave with night jasmine at the front door offers sweeping views of the valley below. I have never heard of anything night blooming; I’m really not in Brooklyn anymore.

I observe that Quincy has a twinkle in his eye but is also wary; he takes my measurement carefully and seems to have a sixth sense for points of vulnerability. He knows I just lost my job and it’s a new way of working for me.

In person and on the page, Q is both boisterous, befitting a very successful and wealthy man who is used to giving orders, and cheerful and full of wonder. His loyal staff, many of whom have been with him for years, help him deal with his hoarding instincts. Mr. Jones, as he is known, saves so much paper that piles of paper on the counters get in the way of the kitchen staff, who keep going nonetheless.

Reminiscences and observations of former colleagues and family members are woven throughout the narrative. His daughter Kidada titles her contribution to the book “House of Paper”.

She observes: “We live in a house full of papers. Papers everywhere. In the kitchen, on the desk, in the living room, in the hallway, in the den. Everywhere. There are musical scores, faxes, reports, exchanges, letters, requests, answers, crosswords, scripts. That’s what my dad does. His work ethic is incredible. Work is also his response to pain.

To say working with Quincy Jones is challenging is an understatement: he’s a man who sleeps only three hours a night and comes up with new ideas every waking minute – a man with total recollection of every gig played, product disc and negotiated commercial agreement. . I find it hard to follow his searing energy and make sense of so many years of music making, skirt chasing and hanging out with friends like Marlon Brando, Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra earning Q’s respect. not only musically, but also because Sinatra refuses to play in a venue that treats African Americans differently.

At the top of the literary ladder, I often lamented that so much of my working day was spent in meetings, negotiating contracts, massaging the egos of disgruntled agents and their clients, and maintenance of my team of seven people. “Why can’t I go back to the words on the page?” I lamented to my friends.

Now I’m in the editorial trenches. Sometimes I go over a single paragraph with Quincy seven or eight times or more: “Honey, let’s give people something,” Q says. “Let’s spin it one more time.”

I can only imagine the atmosphere during his recording sessions.

Often I fall asleep at night with the cadences of his speech patterns reverberating through my head. As we skim through page after page, sometimes in excruciating detail, I often feel like I’m channeling the voice of a seventy-year-old African-American man whose life seems to span all the major developments of recent American cultural history.

Case in point: After his carpenter father finds work at the Navy Yard in Seattle and moves there with his family from Chicago, young Quincy starts hanging out at local clubs, where he befriends a blind pianist. sixteen-year-old from Florida. ; his name is Ray Charles.

As Q sleeps in the Lincoln Room of the White House at the dawn of the new millennium, I start comparing him to Forrest Gump, which seems to tickle him. At the beginning of the book’s thirteen pages of acknowledgments – including voluminous lists of every musician who ever inspired him – he accepts the title “Ghetto Gump”.

Some days he can barely appreciate the length and depth of the roads he has traveled. Every time he talks about the day his mother, a very smart, college-educated woman, was taken from their porch in a straitjacket, his eyes go up. Yet he recounts his battles with not one, but two, brain aneurysms in almost dispassionate detail.

I remember Q’s words, repeated over and over as we looked back on his long career: “Honey, you can’t stay on top forever.”

As befits a man who has lived many years as an active musician, Quincy often comes alive around 10:00 p.m. and wants to keep working well past midnight. I have to keep myself in one piece. One night after going out around 1am, I quickly got lost on the winding, dark roads. A trip to the hotel in nearby Westwood which should take fifteen minutes takes an hour. Unlike New York, where there is always someone on the street to stop and ask directions, Beverly Hills offers only large, noisy security dogs for the confused traveler.

The next morning, Q mocks my less than stellar navigation skills: I assure him that I have nothing but respect for him but am less than capable at this hour.

Although Quincy is demanding, he never makes me feel less than appreciated for my dedication to the task at hand. He is also very generous. Working with him for nearly a year, I received: a scented candle from a famous Parisian company (Q is a lover of all things French and received their version of the Legion of Honor); champagne when the book is finally returned; and a signed note still hanging above my desk: “Dear Patricia: With all my heart, thank you for being part of my book, but more importantly, thank you for being part of my life. Deep love (accompanied by a small heart), Quincy.

Dear reader, does the all-time Grammy winner (twenty-eight, including one for best audiobook) need me in his star-studded life? Clearly not, but I don’t think the above is dishonest either. Decades later, I’m still on the Christmas card list; I consider this an honor.

After about eight months of intensive work – writing, cutting, rearranging, polishing – the life story of Quincy Jones is finally ready to be sent to the editor, who seems satisfied with the results – just like, it seems , the head of the department – the man who fired me.

You never know how the circle will close.

In October 2001Q: The Quincy Jones Autobiography hit it New York Times bestseller list at No. 10; but for such a successful #1 manufacturer, that’s a disappointment. And the bestseller status only lasts three weeks, considering the book was released a month after the attack on the Twin Towers. While reviews are mostly positive, some critics ask if this is a time for Hollywood fare.

After all the work we have done, it is deeply disappointing to be at the mercy of events beyond our control. Again, how many times have I published wonderful books whose reception was not what I, or the author, hoped? This is more the rule than the exception in a very crowded market.

I remember Q’s words, repeated over and over as we looked back on his long career: “Honey, you can’t stay on top forever.”

All you can do is hustle and give props: show your appreciation for every person who has shown you even a little light. How many times has Quincy written a new story about a musical protege or collaborator who he feels deserves recognition? “Honey, let’s give them some props.”

Work on Q, the autobiography, was only my second independent mission. Although I doubted that many future concerts would be as educational, exhausting, inspiring and just plain fun, I decided to fly solo.

In the epilogue to his story, Quincy Jones reflects on the fact that music is his touchstone, because “it instilled in me a belief in myself, which is the rarest gift, like a hard and brilliant diamond retained in the depths of life. heart.”

As words are to me: All props to Q for this enlightenment.

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