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November 2005
GET RICH OR DIE TRYIN' : An Interview with Quincy Jones Part 1

GET RICH OR DIE TRYIN: An Interview with Quincy Jones Part 1

By Todd Gilchrist

Unlike few collaborators in Hollywood, Quincy Jones is a true Renaissance Man: starting in his teens as a musician and bandleader, Jones went on to work with the best and brightest in the music and movie business, including Frank Sinatra, Steve McQueen, and Steven Spielberg to name but a few. His scores for such ‘60s and ‘70s classics as “The Getaway” and “The Pawnbroker” are legendary achievements, and few before or since matched his innovative spirit.

After a ten-year hiatus between film projects (his last film work was one 1986’s “The Color Purple”, Jones returns to work with a decidedly different collaborator: 50 Cent, whose semi-autobiographical film “Get Rich or Die Tryin’” arrives in theaters this Wednesday. Blackfilm enjoyed the rare privilege of speaking to Jones about his work on the film, and about his illustrious career as a composer, performer, and producer.

There are three composers credited with assembling this film’s score. Can you itemize what parts of the score you contributed?

Quincy Jones: Just everybody fire (laughs). When you’ve got this kind of time schedule, man, you don’t have time to think about that. You just aim at this and hit this and just shoot.

Were you working with Gavin [Friday] and Maurice [Seezer]?

Jones: Sometimes. I mean, we’d get together and just do what you can, [but] Jim [Sheridan, the director] was still shooting. He was still shooting up until, I don’t know, a week ago, ADR and everything else, voiceovers with 50 and everything, but I was just explaining in the other room that when we did “The Color Purple”, we started June 5th, and we turned the answer print in November 22nd. That is no joke, man, because the picture should have taken 18 months or two years.

Now Spielberg’s doing the same thing on Munich.

Jones: Yeah. It’s amazing – he was serious. I saw his lips get dried up a lot of time too. he said when we got on the plane, we shot interiors for three weeks – the juke joint stuff – because he was having a baby with Amy Irving, so we did the juke joint stuff, the interiors, and two days later after Max was born, we got on the plane for North Carolina with mosquitoes, 90 degrees and all of that stuff, and I said, ‘what kind of picture are you looking at? What size scope are you looking at?’ We’re honest with each other, and he said, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ We got out there and I saw three cranes, and you don’t have three cranes for “To Kill a Mockingbird”, and that picture just took itself and just opened up. It takes its own life, and any good director lets a picture go where it wants to go – just let go of your soul, and let the picture go where it wants to go, and that’s the creativity – it’s letting go.

What about this project appealed to you that inspired your return to film scoring after a ten year hiatus?

Jones: A lot. I mean, Jimmy Iovine on my case, Bono too, because Bono suggested that he go to Jim Sheridan. I met Jim Sheridan on Paul Allen’s boat that we took up to Alaska; he goes on these little rides, you know, [like] to Venice, and takes a lot of people and I met Jim on one of these eight years ago, and he was telling me how he worked and everything. So I knew who he was and I had seen his pictures, “In the Name of the Father”, serious pictures, “In America”, and he’s a great director. So you’ve got a great director and a great rapper who I identify my own life with his. You know, we didn’t have automatic weapons, we just had switchblades and ice picks and slingshots with steel [ball bearings] in Chicago, but they get the job done. And I met him and I was shocked because he’s really a nice dude. Have you ever met him? 50? Beautiful, isn’t he? I mean, his smile could light that room up, you know, it’s unbelievable. He’s real. He’s handled success well, and everything else – just spreading out – and so, hey, Terrence Howard, give me a break, he’s in six movies [this year]. He’s great. I love his dialogue; he’s funny, man. He said, ‘now don’t be movin’ around behind me’ (laughs). That’s some Chicago shit, man. ‘You don’t know me! You don’t know me, with your little Napoleon shit’.

Was that all improvised?

Jones: No, no no. Jim wrote that stuff, man. Jim, he took the script and made it – I shouldn’t be doing this - but he took a major script and rewrote it, man, and naturally, you’re going to throw some lines in, like ‘Rick James lookin…’ (laughs).

When you wrote the score, how much discussion took place what instruments would be used?

Jones: We were going for a balance between – you know, you’ve got pure acoustic stuff going on in the live source, [and] lots of rap songs, bare bones, with the acoustic, well not acoustic, with the LIM 9000 drum machines, but still it’s basically down to rhymes and beats, and that’s acoustic and raw as you can get. How many rap tunes do you hear horns on? Not a lot. No, guys are starting to do beats now with horn on them, trombones on the bass line and all of that stuff, but for the most part you have to counter it. You have to go inside the minds [because] the rap’s almost a narrative which is telling you exactly what you’re seeing. From the opening scene, they’re like narratives: “Best Friend,” a little vulnerability, and it’s beautiful, that feeling between him and Joy, you know. And what’s the other one? “Window Shopping.” Now that’s the hit, [as well as] “I’ll Whip Ya Head Boy.”

Do you still face criticism from jazz purists who object to your eclecticism? Jones:

Jones:Man, everybody’s always talkin’ about me, but I don’t care about that. They were playing that when I was thirteen. I had to go through that with Michael Jackson, man. I said, I didn’t learn how to do that, man, I’ve been doing that all of my life. We were playing in Seattle with Ray Charles when I was 14 and 16 and we had to play strip music, rhythm and blues, pop music, everything, and I’m glad we learned how to do it. We learned how to play everything, so it was not a stretch to do Michael. But bebopists are snobs, man, because I used to be one (laughs). They used to say we had nine musicians in the band and the tenth guy played radar to keep us from getting too close to the melody (laughs).

Did you consider using some of your former collaborators, like Toots Thielmans, for this score?

Jones: No, it doesn’t fit. It’s a fabric, because you’re really dealing with a fabric, just like clothes, you know, and it’s a fabric and if you get real thematic it’s not a hip-hop sensibility. It’s not.

When a movie centers around an artist who already contributes a significant amount of music, how much do you have to incorporate into your own work?

Jones:Well, we talked about that, but they kept changing the songs (laughs). We used that as a unifying melodic unity, you know, and stuff like that but, by the time we finished, Jimmy had changed the tunes by the end of the thing. We’re trying to make it feel like it’s part of the story, you know, but again, if you don’t have that time, you can’t do that. Plus number one, it’s ironic that he had an album called “Get Rich or Die Tryin’ and there’s no music from that album in there. Because they were going after a new album, a brand new album that has “Whip Ya Head” and all of that stuff.

What are your thoughts of the vulgarity that seems ubiquitous in modern hip-hop?

Jones: The same as yours. I travel a lot, and for 52 years, from Baghdad and all in the Middle East to Estonia, St. Petersburg, Moscow and Sweden, and you hear those little kids who don’t even speak English going ‘nigga, nigga, nigga,’ and I’ll never get used to that – either ‘e-r’ or ‘a-z’. it’s hard to deal with now, because every generation has tried to flatten that word, Richard Pryor too, he came back from Africa and said ‘I’ll never say it again as long as I live’. Because Africa’s influence on our culture is significant, and we use the ‘m-f’ word, that could be the most hostile or the most endearing, you know, that word didn’t start like that. With a stretch of the imagination, you can interpret it like that, because when somebody says it and they mean it, it’s the same word.

Speaking internationally, there’s no way to tell the difference.

Jones: Well, in South Africa, right, but Estonia and Moscow and Stockholm, man, everybody speaks English in Stockholm, and that’s when we went to – I had a hip-hop summit for my magazine, Vibe, a few years ago before to try to stop the Biggie and Tupac, the east and west coast stuff, and I had a panel with Jamal Shabazz, Ed Lewis, Clarence Savon, Allen Kay, one of the godfathers of the internet, and Colin Powell. Colin was going to be president, but half the brothers in there didn’t know who Colin Powell was. They didn’t – ‘so what do you do brother?’ I said he could run for president but if anybody takes these pictures of the Fruit of Islam being our security, so I took all that film back, because they’d use that against him, and I wanted it to be his choice to do that. But I didn’t want to see him do it because I saw the threatening letters from inside his own party. They’re not ready for that.

Aside from working with Jim Sheridan, what prompted you to work on this film?

Jones: I just go with, I think in Act Three, you’re supposed to do whatever you want with who you love, and that’s about it. If you get to Act Three, I think you’ve earned that, and my next big one is we go Tuesday to Chicago and Oprah just came in to present “The Color Purple” as a musical on Broadway and I’m co-producing that. That is hot. I got a call last night and they said it’s the best show that’s ever been on Broadway – it is unbelievable.

Were you involved with the music for that?

Jones: No. Steven Bray, Allee Willis and Brenda Russell, and it’s amazing. It’s contemporary and it’s theatrical..

Did they take anything from your score?

Jones: No, not one thing, and I was mad (laughs). I said, ‘you’re not going to use “Sista?” What’s wrong with you?’ Not one. I was mad, man. I had an attitude, I’m telling you. Not one, man.

Why is that?

Jones: They were committed, and I’ve got to respect that. They worked on it for five years, and when they first asked me to get involved with it, I was too busy to get involved, because that’s a lot of time, you know. So I kept resisting and resisting, so they went up and got it started and this is like something you’ve never seen in your life..

Do you think people will be disappointed?

Jones: I tried to tell them that (laughs). I said, ‘they’re going to want to hear one of those tunes,’ but they didn’t care.

Part II



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