Last Tuesday, a stocky 75-year-old man stood at the bar of the luxuriously 40s-style 1300 Fillmore restaurant, watching the rotating photos projected on the wall of dozens of jazz musicians from the last 80 years. He named every one of them in a heartbeat because he'd played with every one of them. And he remembers everything.
When a wide-eyed, reverential 14-year-old horn player was introduced to him, he gripped the young man's hands, looked into his eyes, gave a great dimpled smile and said, "Don't stop, man. Whatever you do, don't stop" Then he turned to a friend. "He plays tenor. Can you believe that?"
Quincy Jones is the sorcerer.
And I don't say that just because when my second son was born, Quincy had a deep-dish astrological chart done for him.
But just look at the sorcerer's apprentices: Michael Jackson, Oprah, Frank Sinatra, Will Smith, the all-star marmalade of "We Are The World." This is a guy whose 60 years of creativity have profoundly touched, if not launched, so many famous people that he himself is beyond famous. Post famous.
He was inducted into the California Hall of Fame last week. Fitting, but redundant.
Quincy started out tough in the streets of Chicago -- there's a force from then that still works him -- and his art and talent drove him to be one of the most successful and prolific musical influences in modern history. His own life is a succession of other well known people. But he doesn't name drop; he doesn't need to. His appointment calendar on any day is a who's who on every continent and they all want a piece of him.
Besides, he's unfailingly funny, sly, upbeat and full of raucousness and raunchy gossip. How can you not love him? Everyone who knows him, it seems, loves him. Including ex-wives and girlfriends, part of the personal stew of his life he calls his "international gumbo."
"You've been my brother a long time. It's not like we were church people together."
When long-time Bay Area journalist Ben Fong Torres, as a masterful guide, took Quincy through a 90-minute musical landscape of his life at a City Arts & Lectures last week, the great man was deep in thought. "I've never done that before," he said later about hearing the full chronological panorama of his work. He appeared pensive and even critical on some, smiling on others. But the knees were going double time, the feet were tapping. And when the final musical number played, "Let The Good Times Roll," he just gave it up, clapping and shouting, his whole body moving like he was in a church tent revival.
Even in his 8th decade, he's a marathoner who's always worn sprinter's shoes. "Are you burned out?" asked an audience member at the event. "Man, I"m just getting started!"
I'm not a fan of fawning celebrity profiles, but sometimes there have to be exceptions that prove the rule.
Quincy's old house up there on the hill in Bel Air was always warm and informal, jammed with family and friends, some of them also jamming, sometimes brilliantly. I haven't seen his giant new dream place, years in the building. He's neighbors and friends with "Girls Gone Wild" bad boy Joe Francis on one side and 96-year-old Art Linkletter on the other.
But he never forgets his junior gangster days in Chicago, his move to Seattle where he was a delivery boy for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper, or hanging out as a 15-year-old at jazz joints in New York with an 18-year-old Clint Eastwood. "Both of us were there for the girls and the bee-bop," he says. Mr. Eastwood, he says, has the Quincy Jones life story on his to-do movie-making list.
Up late into Tuesday night and well into Wednesday, Quincy talked about everything from the inauguration to the Kennedys to a certain physical anomaly of a local notable, to women to Truman Capote's racism and how Marlon Brando and Paul Newman pushed for him to break Hollywood color barriers because "they never played it safe. They couldn't care less."
We are the world, he said, was "a kamikaze mission." He's thinking about taking on another one: the Obama inaugural show. (He ran Bill Clinton's first.) How can you pass up what he says will be a ukulele solo by Warren Buffet, along with performances by Streisand and Stevie Wonder (Little Stevie back when Quincy was already a star.) He says he's gotten a call from David Axelrod, Mr. Obama's top advisor, for some help.
But Quincy is worried about safety and security, not to mention the short time frame between now and Jan. 20. "There'll be 3.5 to 5 million people there. About 20,000 buses are coming in from churches around the country. How are 8,000 DC cops gonna handle that?"
Besides, when he did the Clinton millennial party, he got to sleep in the Lincoln bedroom but they wouldn't let his girlfriend at the time stay with him. Who needs that kind of restriction on life?
"I don't have to prove anything," he says. But he can't help himself. He's deep into teaching American music to American school kids in a culture where we don't appreciate our own heritage as much as the rest of the world does. He's still royalty to a new generation of hip hop and he intends on being out in front as the music distribution system changes radically.
"I plan to live to be 110," he says. He'll do that with part medical science, part adoration for the music he breathes like oxygen, and part a sense of the value of people. When he talks to you, he does it with genuine curiosity, interest and often with a sense of joy. But without expectation.
It's that Quincy Jones magic thing.
Check out the rest of the videos below and join us for part of our afternoon together. Also go and buy his new book: The Complete Quincy Jones: My Journey and Passions.
Here's Quincy on celebrities from Oprah to Mandela, plus his daughter's relationship with Tupac and his hidden genius: "Part of the hip hop scene is concealing your brilliance."
What Quincy loves about San Francisco, "the most European American city," and being present for the genesis of Obama.
Quincy's big, never-before-seen ideas for Obama's inauguration? Warren Buffet with a ukulele?
Special thanks to, and video courtesy of Cassidy Friedman.
For more, read Bronstein at Large.