SIFF 2014: Quincy Jones, Part 2/3–An Evening with Quincy Jones

Wednesday, June 4

Introduction

The next Jones event was the tribute to him, where he received the Lifetime Achievement Award.  I was there in the morning when they brought in a piano, though it wasn’t for Jones, but for Justin Kauflin, a young blind pianist who was discovered by Clark Terry (or “CT,” as Kauflin refers to him), the subject of the film Keep On Keepin’ On and Jones’s mentor. After finding a seat that wasn’t reserved (next to two that were), I had enough time to sneak out to the Red Carpet and take some great photos of Jones.

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Jones being interviewed on the Red Carpet

DSC_0414 During introductions for the film, Carl Spence mentioned the purchase of the Uptown Theatre and the long-term lease on the Egyptian, which he mentions every time he introduces a movie.  This time, however, he gave special mention to David and Linda Cornfield for helping to purchase the Uptown.  As he moved on to the sponsors for the film, I realized that the two people next to me were from one of the sponsors, Shadowcatcher Entertainment. He then spoke about Quincy Jones, acknowledging that a full recap of his career is impossible, since he has done so many things.

Jones’s career has lasted six decades.  In those six decades, he’s been a band leader, solo artist, music executive, film scorer, music producer, and more; working with such artists as Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, Lesley Gore, and Amy Winehouse. Many other facts about him can be found on the Internet or in books, but here are a few of the notable ones:

  • He went to school at Garfield High School, which is in Seattle.  He was already a trumpeter and arranger as a student, and classmate Charlie Taylor recruited him from Garfield to play in a swing band.
  • He arranged music for Count Basie and played with Dizzy Gillespie in Gillespie’s band.
  • In 1961 (1964, according to Wikipedia), he became an executive at Mercury Records: the first African-American to do so.
  • He produced the Michael Jackson albums Off the Wall and Thriller (and Bad).
  • In 1985, he began producing films, including The Color Purple.
  • He went from producing films to producing TV shows, such as The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
  • In 1996 he performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland for its 50th anniversary.
  • In 2013 he was inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame.

We then saw clips from his career, which mentioned that he has been nominated 79 times for the Grammys (a record) and had produced the biggest selling album of all time (Thriller) and the biggest selling single of all time (“We Are the World”).  Spence then said he was getting a bit nervous, and he usually doesn’t get nervous, as he introduced Jones (or ‘Q,’ as he is known).

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The audience gives Quincy Jones a standing ovation.

Q then took the podium, where he talked again about meeting Ray Charles when he (Q) was 14, and how Charles could do most things, even fly a plane, only becoming helpless with pretty girls.  He also said he got to meet up with Buddy Catlett earlier that day, whose career started on the same day Q’s did.  Even though Q is 81, he says he still feels like he’s 18.  Also, he mentioned that Count Basie was such a bad gambler, he (Q) had to do the score for Ironside to pay his debts. DSC_0419 I recorded some of what Q said, which you can listen to below.  I accidentally hit pause during this speech, which is why there are two videos.

Finally, he wished us all “love to share, help to spare, but most importantly, friends who care.”

 

Keep On Keepin’ On (Alan Hicks, 84 mins, USA 2014)

Justin Kauflin being mentored by Clark Terry (Photo courtesy of SIFF)

Justin Kauflin, with mentor Clark Terry

After some words from director Alan Hicks and producer Paula DuPré Pesmen, we were shown the movie.  Along with archival footage of Clark Terry, the film showcases illustrations by Peter Chan and vérité filming by Hicks.  It covers Terry’s career from the beginning, while also focusing on his continuing role of mentoring young talent.

When Terry was first learning how to play trumpet, the only way to learn how to play jazz was to ask the old-timers, for there were no books on the subject.  One old-timer told him that he should try to smile and wiggle his ears while he played. After realizing that it was a bunch of “jive-talk,” Terry vowed that once he learned how to play jazz, he would pass on his knowledge to anyone who wanted to learn.

Beneficiaries of his willingness to share his knowledge include Q, Miles Davis, and Kauflin, who — as a young blind man — helped “CT” deal with the loss of his sight (brought on by diabetes).  A really good film about a wonderful man, who never seems more happy than when helping others succeed.

 

The Q & A

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(l-r) Justin Kauflin, Candy (guide dog), Elvis Mitchell, Quincy Jones, Alan Hicks, Paula DuPré Pesmen

Unfortunately, the mics were acting up during the first part of the Q & A.  After several minutes of cavernous sound, little sound, and feedback, they finally worked as they should.

The moderator was Elvis Mitchell, and while he did a decent job moderating four people, I felt he injected too many of his own opinions into the discussion, though he did let the panel talk.  Some of the highlights:

  • Hicks is the one who introduced Kauflin to Terry.  Hicks was taking a jazz class and sat right next to Terry.  Kauflin entered the school around the same time.  When Hicks heard about Terry’s impending blindness, he introduced Kauflin to him, who told Terry that being blind wasn’t that bad.
  • Mitchell compared the film to Hoop Dreams in that it follows these characters as opposed to having a narrative thread, to which Hicks replied that it’s one of his favorite films.  They actually shot 350 hours of footage, plus they found 150 hours of archival footage, some of which Terry didn’t even know they had.
  • The film originally raised funds on Kickstarter, then raised more funds off the site.
  • Mitchell pointed out that when Terry is talking to his students, you can sense his generosity.  In fact, Hicks wondered, “Why does this guy care about me?”  He then realized that Terry cares about everyone.
  • Hicks got to know Terry’s favorite music and put much of that in the film (for example, Terry was singing “But Beautiful” a lot, so Hicks stuck it in, and it worked).  Also, all the scenes were scored first, then some of the music was removed.  Dave Grusin did the string arrangements, while Kauflin scored the music.
  • Q: “Music is never more or less than you are as a human being.”  One of the keys to Q’s success is that he was always told that, wherever he went, he should eat the local food and listen to the music that the locals listen to.
  • Kauflin said that CT is one of the most joyful people he’s ever met.
  • For Q, the most unforgettable moment for him was when Terry left Duke Ellington’s band to play for his band.
  • Pesmen came into the project through her work with a foundation that helps kids with critical illnesses, which connected her with Terry.  Hicks contacted her about this film when another film she had produced, Chasing Ice, was showing at Sundance.  As the producer of that film and The Cove, as well as of the first three Harry Potter films, she’s been on both the narrative side of the film world and its opposite.
  • Kauflin’s mom didn’t want to see the film because she’s in it, but then she saw it in Tribeca and said, “Well, that was very good.”
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Kauflin plays for the audience

Then Kauflin went to the piano and played an original composition (part of which was shown in the movie) called “For Clark.”  The audience was so quiet, I could hear the male sponsor two seats over lean in  and whisper something to the female sponsor sitting next to me.  I wonder if he does that during live theater, too.

The piece is beautiful, but I did not record it being performed.  That way, I was able to listen.

Note: During the film, Terry greets Jones by asking, “Are your lips greasy?”  According to KEXP, it means, “Are you still playing?” which is what I thought it meant before sexual innuendos crept into my head. 😉

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