My senior year I got kicked off the high school newspaper. Before that, I got to interview an esteemed alumnus—none other than The. Quincy. Jones, who was back in town for the dedication of our newly built theater in his name. A much-shortened version of this interview appeared in the school paper. Later, the journalism teacher was caught, let’s say, crossing the line with a few students, and ran off to Nevada for a while before being extradited back to Washington state to stand trial. But that’s another story! The important part is, I never signed a non-disclosure agreement with any of the parties involved. Here’s my completely unauthorized, unabridged conversation with Quincy Delightt Jones.
Hi, Quincy—Mr. Jones?
Hi, how are you?
I’m good—how are you?
Okay, really. Are you at Garfield?
Yeah. I’m a senior.
You’re a student?
Okay…. How does it feel to be back at this school?
It feels fantastic! You know, I used to live right across the street.
Oh yeah, I heard a story about your house—that there was a window in your attic, and your mom would tell you to look through the window, and see your dreams…
That’s about right. Wasn’t my mom, though, it was my stepmom.
She sounds like an amazing woman.
Well, she was.
Well…. What’s your memory of Garfield?
Garfield? The best high school that America ever had. It is, I’m telling you. I was in there ’47, ’48. I was in Bremerton, at Robert E. Koontz Junior High School, and I was supposed to come over with my family and move to Seattle. One of the kids had said to me, “I want to be your manager.” And I said, “Are you kidding me, man? With 28 black kids at that school, man? I don’t think so!”
Well, I won that one. He had to go back on the Kalakala ferry every day to go to that school. And I went to Garfield. I was fortunate enough to run into great teachers, like Mr. _____*. He was one of my…mentors. I played nightclubs back then. Age 14, I’d go out playing nightclubs with Ray Charles. We wouldn’t get off work until 4:30, 5:30 in the morning.
And you still went to school the next day?
We’d make it in late, like 10:30 or 11:00. Mr. _____* wouldn’t worry. He’d say, “This is what you’re supposed to be doing.” He supported me. And he was right! ‘Cause that’s what I’m still doing.
So, it was just the most diversified school you could imagine. Is it now?
Everything! I mean, the richest whites in Madrona, to Filipinos, African-Americans, everything. Jewish—it was a Jewish neighborhood then. I don’t know what the diversity breakdown is now, but man, it was awesome. It was like…. It was like it was normal in America. And it WAS normal. You know?
And you must get that feeling now, I’m sure.
So…. Did you ever get into any trouble in high school?
Ha! Are you kidding me? Jazz musicians are always in trouble. Ha, ha. Are you KIDDING me? We played nightclubs! All the girls loved bad guys. Bad boys—you know? Well, we were the bad boys of the time. We used to go up to Sick’s, play a little ball. They didn’t have all that Paul Allen stuff back then.
Old Sick’s stadium on Rainier?
Oh, yeah. I used to play trombone in the school band so I could be up front with the majorettes. The other players were way in the back, but the trombones had to slide, so they put us up near the majorettes. You know, the majorettes! We had the time of our lives. I mean, in everything. It was great. Well, it was. It was just unbelievable.
And it made me get my head together. Because, Seattle…I mean, in Chicago, it’s the biggest black ghetto in America. And then, during the Depression and all…I mean, you never even got out to SEE anybody else for most of the time, you know? And then you get out there, and you’re, like…the total minority…you know? And, well…. You know, I run into Ray Charles when I was 14. And we grew up together until his very last day.
Were you Ray’s first friend in Seattle?
Yes. I was 14; he was 16. Did you see the movie?
Wow. Yeah. In the movie he looks a lot older than 16.
Did you see the little scene when he got on the bus? That was me! Ray’s a great man, a GREAT man. He came from Florida. But that school, Garfield…boy, if it’s like it was, there’s nothing like it in America. That’s for sure.
What was your principal like then, and the administration?
What was the principal like? And the teachers? Back when you went to school here.
Well, they had their issues. It was difficult, you know. The Armed Forces weren’t even integrated yet. I was in the National Guard, so I went to Fort Lewis and Fort Lawton every summer with the band and we got to hear about all that stuff personally, just about what it was like before integration, and all. And it was already in the general population, in a way, integration…. We had been in the South with the band. We were all over. ALL over. And it was just…. Well, you wouldn’t—How old are you? How old are you!
Ah! That’s what I thought. So, let me see. You were born in 1988… ‘98… ‘88, right? Born in 1988?
No, I wasn’t born yet—
What sign are you?
What SIGN are you?
Virgo? Okay. That’s August, right?
Mm-hmm. Well, early September.
Mmmm—hmm! Ray Charles and Michael Jackson and ALL those guys are Virgos.
Really? That’s good to know.
It’s a good, good sign. All of ‘em are good signs.
You know…. It’s just hard to describe the environment then, and just what it was like. Because it was all of a different sensibility. America was innocent until 1960—I just mean in terms of cultural expression and everything—
You know what I mean. It started with the war in Vietnam; then the cynicism started to come in where it had never been before. And it was so gung-ho—World War II—in the school papers at Garfield, kids with their tin cans, all of that stuff. Everybody was so gung-ho because everybody BELIEVED in it. Unlike Korea, and Vietnam. And Iraq. Yeah. It’s amazing.
They call it “the good war.”
That’s right! Do they do that? In history, do they say that?
Yeah, they do.
Well, it was. It was. Everybody was just…IN it, you know? I just never understood why they put the Japanese in internment and then bombed Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Jesus.
So what was it like to go to a school that was so diverse, but it was like, pre-Civil Rights, you know?
Garfield was amazing. Amazing! Because it was an amazing experience. The entire diversity of the country was a part of it, and you just didn’t think about it. That’s just the way it was. It was a melting pot, a global gumbo, all of that stuff. And we just took it for granted. It’s amazing, because it’s almost like the blueprint of my life, you know? The people…the people. The people, and the foundation I got helped me have a mind open enough to receive all the information I have.
Then later on, from a jazz player named Ben Webster. Big jazz player. A legend. He’d call me “young blood.” After Garfield I went to music school in Boston for a little while. Then I got with the band—Lionel Hampton’s band. When I was getting ready to go to Europe [Ben] said, “Wherever you go, eat the food the people eat—the real people–and learn thirty or forty words of every language.”
So I started to go here, to go there. Turkish, Greek, French, Swedish, Russian. Well, Russian, I don’t know, I’m working on it. And Mandarin Chinese. Arabic too. It’s the most amazing way to live, because you open up your soul to all these different cultures. And you learn respect. You don’t go up and, say—hit on them. But they take what they want anyway! Ha, ha. Don’t push your culture on them. I don’t believe in that. I just got back from China—Beijing. I travel more than anybody on this planet, I don’t care if you’re Bush, Gore, or Condoleezza Rice. I do 500,000 miles a year in the Middle East. Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Dubai.
I heard Kobe Bryant speaks Mandarin Chinese.
Kobe Bryant? Just left him in China. He did what?
He speaks Chinese—
I know, child, we were just sitting over there! Nihau! We were speaking Chinese two and a half weeks ago for the opening of the Olympics. Me, Ang Lee, and Spielberg.
Yeah, it was an incredible three weeks. I love to live my life with that multicultural thing. We got a foundation with hospitals in Angkor Wat, Cambodia and Rwanda now. We’ve adopted them. Businesses, basketballs, schools. ‘Cause we don’t want to knock them all the way to the bottom, you know? The little people.
The little people…. So, are you going to make it back here next week for the grand opening ceremony of the Quincy Jones Performing Arts Center?
Look, are you kidding me? Is the pope Catholic? I was shown a picture and I got goose bumps. It’s amazing living across the street from there until you’re 15, then going back and seeing a building with your name on it. I mean, Jesus. They’re dedicating part of the school to me. It’s almost beyond belief to be back in your hometown and to have that connection. It’s so powerful. But, it was already so powerful. Are you in the band?
Well, not really. I sing sometimes.
Oh, good for you, girl! That’s incredible. What are your roots?
Jazz and blues, I guess.
No, I mean your ancestors.
Oh. Um, I’m Irish, and Jewish.
Russian Jewish, right?
Okay, that’s, uh, Ukraine.
Yeah, maybe, we think Poland—
That’s Kiev, right?
Okay, I’ve been there a million times! A million times. That’s amazing. A-ma-zing. I LOVE global gumbo. Is it true Jewish, though? No gumbo in there? Just a little drop? Come on…
Well, my mom’s Irish Catholic…
Now we’re talking! What else, Bolivian? Morocco?
No. Um…I’m part witch.
Good. I knew there was something besides this Jewish stuff. My daughter’s half Jewish.
Something like…Lipschitz. YOU know.
Ha, ha. On my dad’s side, my granny was a proper English lady and joined the RAF, and my grandpa was a poor, semi-orphaned Brooklyn Jew fixing planes in the USAF, and they met at an armed forces mixer in England. Back when you were in high school here. Back in the Good War.
Wow. My goodness, the Good War. Isn’t that something. Are there a lot of you? Brothers? Sisters?
I have two sisters.
Okay! Aw, that’s cute.
I heard your brother is a superior court judge!
That’s right! A federal court judge, now. Federal—that’s the big one. Did you see the Ridgway case?
Yeah, the Green River Killer.
He did that. Got that guy, that serial killer with 48 murders.
Wow…. So, when you guys looked out the dream window in the attic, did you know, back then, that he’d be a big judge, and you’d be a big musician?
Hell, no! Well, he was only a year old when I left home. Just a big head on the couch with little feet and arms next to it. But he was one hell of a kid. I got a picture of him then that I really love…. We couldn’t even talk to each other when I lived at home. But we’re closer than ever now.
Hey, that’s good.
He’s somethin’ else, ain’t he? I can’t WAIT to see him. I love my family so, so much, and my friends, too. We have great friends. Demar Cappeluto—oh, my God, we used to walk the halls with him and Jill when we were your age. God, that was fifty years ago. And they’re still together. That’s amazing. He’s a trumpet player, too, a great one. Just great.
Fred [Bassetti] went to Garfield too—he’s one of the biggest architects in the world. Yep. And Jimi Hendrix. Bruce Lee—all kinds of people**. It’s amazing. There’s Karl—oh, what’s his name? I would eat lunch with him and he used to dream and talk about all this skiing stuff. I’d never heard of any of it. And then later, he’d go to Vermont, and I’d see him every year, come up there and ski some races with him. He got his dream come true! That’s the key, boys…. Dream big.
That’s good advice.
Well, that’s what I want YOU to do.
Me? I will.
What do you want to be?
I don’t know.
You don’t know? Well, what are you good at?
Math, I guess.
Math? Well, that’s a start…algebra?
Yeah. Algebra, calculus.
You know pi, right?
I know pi.
Pi’s the fifteenth letter of the alphabet.
What’s the first 3 numbers?
My fifteen-year-old daughter told me last year. I didn’t think of it before, but…. Pi is my birthday. And then we found out about Jane Goodall. And Albert Einstein, and Billy Crystal. And Michael Caine—who was born the same year, month, day, and hour that I was born! Found out about all that four years ago when I did this thing in England. These are, like…celestial plans. You know? Now we celebrate our birthdays together every year—me and Michael Caine.
Wow, that sounds really fun. So, I remember you were in Seattle last year for the Northwest African-American Museum—
The show! You remember the show? Were you there?
I was in that choir!
Wow! Go ahead, girl! Well, I bet you’re good.
I remember you said on the microphone, “Making love when you’re my age is like shooting pool with a rope!”
I said THAT? Ha, ha, ha. That’s just great. That is just great. Well….I’ve just got such great memories of that school. It’s unbelievable.
Okay, well…. Thank you SO much for talking to me.
You too. You’re a beautiful lady. I can’t wait to see my family, and my friends, and everybody. I still think about Ray Muscatel, and all those guys. It’s amazing. Just amazing. I see them in my mind and heart, just like they were back then.
Thank you. We’re all really excited you’re here.
I am too. Thank you, honey. Thank you for taking the time.
*Never got the name of this teacher.
**Bruce Lee did not go to Garfield, apparently he just hung around a lot.