Quincy Jones in tune with Clinton
THEY say in Hollywood, if you can make it 15 years on the A list, you’re here to stay. Survive six decades? You’re an icon.
Think Frank Sinatra, or in this case Quincy Jones, who got his start in the music industry in the late 1940s, arranging songs for Sarah Vaughan, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, his teenage pal Ray Charles and Sinatra himself.
These days, he’s so busy -- producing records, TV programs, a clothing line, a 3D flick, the music for the Olympics in Beijing -- few could keep up with him. (Think Norman Lear.)
But for all his dizzying success over the years (more than 70 Grammy nominations) there is one notation that stands out amid the early fervor of the 2008 presidential election: He is one of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s most loyal -- and powerful -- Hollywood supporters.
It’s not that he doesn’t like Sen. Barack Obama, Jones said in an interview. It’s just that he sees the Clintons as family. It’s a relationship that goes back years, cultivated by long presidential discussions over sherry (Jones’ favorite aperitif) and splendid evenings at the White House.
“Don’t get me wrong,” said Jones, phoning from Amsterdam, where he was hanging out with some pals, a selection of Nobel Prize winners. “I love the guy. Obama is a genius, he’s a star. And by the time he’s succeeded in doing everything he wants to do, he’s going to be major, major, major. But you have to know how the system works.
“Right now, with what’s going on in the world, it’s really scary. We need someone who really understands that. Hillary is fantastic. She’s an amazing woman. And Bill will be back.”
Whether Bill and Hillary are able to reclaim the White House remains to be seen. There’s more than a year left in the race, an eternity in the entertainment industry, where reinventions occur over a strong box-office weekend. Industry politicos loved Hillary Clinton a few weeks ago. Do they still? Most tend to oscillate like an old Eck Dynamo fan. It’s likely Obama will be hot again here for this reason: They love a winner.
Last week, Obama was the dazzling victor in the money race, bringing in a historic $32.5 million nationwide for this year’s second quarter, outpacing Clinton by $5.5 million. We’ll know in a week or so how much of that money came from the entertainment industry. (Earlier figures -- posted at opensecrets.org -- showed her leading in Hollywood, with $794,958 raised. Obama’s total was listed as $690,735.)
The recent Obama news is bound to intensify the competition for industry-connected support, particularly among African American artists. Obama’s importance as the first serious African American presidential candidate can’t be underestimated, but neither can the depth of support the Clintons continue to enjoy among the industry’s black movers and shakers like Jones and his longtime friend Clarence Avant, former head of Motown Records.
Younger Hollywood people, whether black or white, look to these survivors for all kinds of things -- friendship, connections, jobs, inspiration and most of all, consistency. Jones and other old-timers like Lear are likely to loom large as this presidential season moves toward its first primaries.
“I’ve known Quincy since the beginning of time,” Avant said. “You can’t deny his accomplishments. They speak for themselves. You can hear them, from Dinah Washington to Frank Sinatra to some of the rap guys today.”
As for politics, Avant and Jones see eye-to-eye. Both have had long discussions with Obama to explain their position: They’re loyal to the Clintons. But that doesn’t mean they won’t someday be loyal to Obama. “We both like him very much,” Avant said. “He’s a nice guy. And anyone who can raise $32 million like that, that makes him a huge factor. That’s unheard of.... It reminds me of the civil rights movement, with young white and black college students getting involved. But we do think Sen. Clinton will prevail. We’ve just known her longer.”
“How old are you?” the 74-year-old Jones asks his interviewer. The answer makes him laugh. “I’ve had hangovers older than you.”
He has a genuine regard for people that comes through in his conversations. His sentences run together like in a song, often ending with a question: “You know what I mean, honey?”
He talks about all the world leaders he met over the years and how he’s been friends with Bill Clinton since his first inaugural. (Clinton told Jones that the thing he regretted most about his presidency was that he didn’t do more to stop the genocide in Rwanda.)
“There’s so much going on in the world,” Jones said. “I wish American kids could travel more. We’re like isolationists. When you travel the world, every country you go to you get to eat their food, listen to their music, hear their language. I try to learn at least 40 words in every country I visit. I started with Croatian, then Japanese and Arabic and Russian. It’s an amazing experience. They invite you in. It’s so good for your soul.”
He applauds celebrities who get involved in various causes. “I say bravo. Bono said celebrity is only a currency. Don’t spend it on yourself.”
On the work front, he’s busy these days launching a lifestyle brand, designing everything from audio equipment to clothing. He recently teamed with marketing gurus Robert Thorne and his partner Greg Redlitz, who are credited for building the Olsen twins into a multimillion-dollar brand.
“No one has done what Quincy has done for so long and so successfully,” Thorne said. “His schedule makes me dizzy.”
Jones says he’s just enjoying the ride.
“There’s so much to do in life, honey. It’s a rest when you go.”