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QUINCY JONES AND THE PAST OF THE MUSIC INDUSTRY

Autora: Ana Luiza Brown

I grew up in the 80's. Pop music was quite good back then, the economy in my country was in a terrible situation, but we some had hope anyway .

Good music was everywhere, no matter if it was the initial chords of Guns And Rose's Sweet Child O'Mine or the meaningful lyrics of Tracy Chapman. You didn't need to look for good music, it simply reached you, wherever you were.

I believe the music industry was way healthier in those times, when it wasn't necessary for any singer to pretend to be a hermaphrodite to sell more CD's or tickets for gigs. For those of you who don't know about it, Lady Gaga showed up in a music festival exhibiting a pair of testicles. Maybe pretending to be a hermaphrodite is the best way a mediocre artist found to draw the media's attention and to try to compensate the lack of talent. In the 1980's, things like this would never divert the attention from one's lack of talent.

Well, in those times Michael Jackson was the King. He was always on the radio or on TV, and Quincy Jones was his producer and musical partner.

I know I have written a great deal about Michael, but I felt the need to write about his death and legacy again after reading an interview Quincy Jones gave.

I have already expressed myself in the past about Michael Jackson's death and I have also defended him from wrongful accusations made by con artists. I used to think that I had spoken enough until I read the interview Quincy Jones gave to the Spanish newspaper El Pais. In this interview, the legendary producer said that Michael wasn't "that talented" and that "he didn't play in the same league" as the "greats", such as Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra (click here to read it).

For those of you who don't know about him, Quicy Jones is a famous producer who has won lots Grammys and who has worked with several legendary artists, including those he mentioned in his interview.

At first, I was shocked with such a ridiculous comparison. How can you compare a Pop Music singer with a Jazz Singer whose career peaked in the 1930's and 1940's? How can you compare a very high tenor (Jackson) with a baritone (Sinatra), being both great in their own music styles? Comparing Jackson to those people was like comparing Pelé (possibly the best Soccer player of all time) with Michael Jordan. You can't compare each other because they differ in everything.

Quincy Jones compared Michael Jackson with artists from other times and whose musical styles were completely different from his. Of all those he mentioned, the only that had something to do with Jackson was Aretha Franklin, but comparing her with Michael was preposterous. Aretha is a fantastic female singer, she is a woman and sings music that is supposed to be sung by women. Besides, she is the Queen Of Soul, whereas Michael was the King Of Pop. Comparing her to Michael was like comparing Maria Callas with Pavarotti.

Then I thought: Quincy Jones is a Jazz Musician. He says so in this interview.

Well, I have been playing the guitar for the past 20 years. I have always played simple stuff, like Rock, Pop, Blues, Metal, and Brazilian pop music (what we call MPB here). I have never gone to a music schools. My school were my ears.

Jazz musicians, on the other hand, are completely different. They speak a language of their own. For them, music MUST be complex. Chords MUST have dissonant notes. A song MUST NOT have only one key and improvising is above everything, even the structure of a song.

Instrumental Jazz is like this: you get a musical idea and you improvise all you can over it. The building of a musical idea that may last forever, like Beethoven's 9th main theme, doens't matter in face of improvising. Songs are open works, where you build all you can over it, and then you build something completely different over it another time. Jazz means being totally free from the structure of the song.

One day I got a Miles Davis's CD and I saw there was a 40 minute track in it. Can you believe that? It was track that wasn't a complete simphony, but, nonetheless, it lasted as much as one.

Well, Jazz is music for musicians. For you to be a Jazz musician, you have to "speak" this language called Jazz, you must understand everything about the greek modes (here comes music theory!) and you must improvise over any given chord, no matter how complex it is. If you know more about music than anyone around then you are THE greatest, you are THE Jazz musician.

That is what Jazz is all about: a musical language for initiates, unreachable for us, mere mortals.

On the other hand, Jazz that is sung, which is not only instrumental, is based more on melodies that become structured songs than on improvisation. But it only happens because the musician can't "trip" or do so many improvisations as he would like to when there's a singer to sing the song. The singer needs structure to perform, he is the one who embodies the music better anyone. In the end, the singer is always the one who draws more attention, no matter what guitar players and sax players complain about it.

I know Jazz musicians well, even though their language has never been reachable by me. I'm a mere guitar player who dares to sing and who's never studied at any conservatory. Jazz is a mystery to me. I could never play it.

The Jazz musician, in case you have never met one, is the guy who thinks that all the music which is not Jazz is too simplistic. The best music is the most complex, then, for those guys, Jazz is the best music there is. Many of them even think that other kinds of music are not as "valuable" or "good" as Jazz. In the end, it's just some sort of prejudice regarding other kinds of music. But that's the way it is.

Then I got what Quincy Jones meant. Michael Jackson's language has never been Jazz. So, in Quincy's head, Michael wasn't as good as those he had called "the greats", the Jazz musicians. OK, I know Aretha sings Soul and Michael sang Pop and R&B, but it seems that Jones has forgotten all about it.

Technichally, Michael Jackson was as good as all of those that Quincy mentioned. He was a great tenor of contemporary music who could reach countertenor's notes, Sinatra, on the other hand as a fantastic baritone.

As for Billie Holiday, I didn't get why he mentioned her. I know he's worked with her, but, considering Quincy's age and when he started in music, he must have worked with her only in the 1950's, a time when her health and voice were deteriorating due to her heroin addiction.

After getting all these things together, I got to the unavoidable conclusion that Quincy Jones is a guy from the old times, a guy who embodies what music industry was in the 20th century.

He represents the old estabelishment, a time when a musical language could be considered better than all the others and when the artist didn't worth as much as the vinyl record on which the music was recorded.

Then I took a good look at the elderly citizen's picture, a man who's done so much for music, and read his opinion on bootleging. Yes, I was right. He was an old timer and he was still stuck in the "old model".

The old model I'm talking about is the selling of CD's and records. In the old model, before the MP3 revolution, the information/music was not as important as the medium in which it was inserted. In the old model, the artist was just a voice and a picture on the cover of an album. That must be the reason why Quincy thinks Sinatra and Billie Holiday were better than Michael Jackson: neither Sinatra nor Billie were composers, whereas Michael was a composer.

A composer is a guy who thinks different from the performer. For a composer, a song is his/her "baby". People who write music are jealous of their "babies" and normally want to have more control over their work than people who only perform. Michael Jackson wanted the power over his work so much that he got it. He got the copyrights for his works and for the works of many other artists. He published his stuff. How many big shots out there did it in the past?

A performer can't fight for the control over anything. He didn't write it, so he's got no claim over copyrights. Normally, who controls the music is the label, the publisher and the composer. And the label and the publishing company have a larger percentage over the rights than the composer.

Michael was, in Quincy's own words, an "amazing songwriter". At least, that was what he used to think a few years ago. A composer is a pain in the producer's and executives's asses. A composer is the guy who thinks he is the "baby's father" and the "baby" is the song. Suit types and music business weasels don't like this attitude, because they want total control for themselves.

Then I looked at Quincy's picture again, I saw his arrogance when he said he'd never been jealous of Michael Jackson's and that Michael wasn't that talented, and I finally got it all.

Quincy Jones is the past. We must honor and respect him, because of what he's done, but the industry has changed. Ordinary people don't have time to stop to listen a 30 minute Jazz improvisations, life is fast, information travels quickly and music is free. You can listen to anything you want anywhere in the world.

As a matter of fact, Michael was as great as any of the people Quincy mentioned in his interview. Jackson created a style all his own, with Quincy's help, and then spread his wings and took flight alone. He's always made good music, even without Jones. If you don't believe me, try listening to Earth Song or Morphine. Both of them were made without Jones.

 Morphine is almost Heavy Metal. It is deeply influenced by Nine Inch Nails. In case you don't remember, Nine Inch Nails was one of the most inovative acts of the 1990's. Trent Reznor's (Nine Inch Nails's leader) was so inovative that up to this day no one could anything that ever came close to it. And Michael wrote Morphine, which is a cross between Nine Inch Nails with Rhythm'n'Blues that would have made Reznor's proud.

Maybe Jones still holds a grudge against Jackson because his pupil spread his wings and fled the nest.

Michael released at least 3 albums without Jones, all of them succesful in their own way.

Only that Quincy didn't realize that pupils are like sons and daughters. We bring up ours kids so they can follow their own paths, and not to remain under our wings. Perhaps this is the reason why Jones allowed his "Jazz player centered in his own music style type of prejudice " come up so clearly in the above mentioned interview.

I personally think that believing that one kind of music is better than the others is disgusting.

There are good country songs, Jazz, R&B, Pop, RAP and Rock songs. There's good music in every music style and we can't ignore it. I studied some anthropology in College and I have learnt that believing that one kind of culture is above the others is a mistake. The same thing can be said about music. Heavy Metal can be as good as Jazz. A Black Sabbath's tune can be as meaningful as a Cole Porter's. Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath's and Heaven And Hell's guitar player) is as great as Django Reinhardt (Jazz virtuoso who played his guitar with only two fingers). That is not difficult to understand. All you need to do is open up your heart and listen. Think of the music and let it guide you.

Mr. Jones, Michael was as great as any of the artists you have mentioned. I just wonder what you may think of us, Classic Rock fans, or even what you think of the woman who works at home and who only listens to simple music. Mr. Jones, considering your opinion on Michael Jackson, I would really like to know what you think of Elvis.

Simple music can be good, Mr. Jones. A song doesn't need 50 modulations to be good. You have a career in music that spans over 60 years in History. How can I, by not having prejudice against music, know so much more about all of this than you? I'm 34 and I have never won a Grammy. I have a real gramophone, though, which looks very good on my dinner table.

Somehow, Jones's arrogance reminds me of a guy whose name I don't dare to mention and who may the best acoustic guitar player in Brazil. The guy is AWESOME. He is the best in Brazil, which is the land of the acoustic guitar. The man is a genius, but he's arrogant and difficult to deal with, when you are his pupil. I had been thinking of having private lessons with him until I heard his opinion on Classical Music. He said: "the only Classical Music composer I like a bit is Beethoven. The rest is way too simple."

Yes, it seems that there are people who don't like Classical Music because the composers didn't have room for big improvisation in their music. They didn't write songs with chords that can only be performed on the guitar by a guy with an octopus for a hand either.

Well, what can I do about it? Everyone is entitled to an opinion. But I respect the guy who simply says Classical Music is boring way more than the guy who thinks it is "simple". The guy who thinks it is "simple" knows about music and loves it and should know better. The guy who thinks it is "boring" possibly has never had the opportunity to really listen to Classical Music and judge it.

This guy's opinion made me forget about having classes with him. Besides, I LOVE BEETHOVEN!

Well, I'll just keep listening to Whitesnake and Blue Oyster Cult. Old Whistesnake is as good as Billie Holiday. Believe me, If you like Billie, you'll like good old David Coverdale singing "Ain't Gonna Cry No More Today" as well.

Last but not least, I must say that the industry must change. Time has come to value the musicians themselves and not the medium where the song has been recorded. And the music industry will not save itself by putting a pair of fake testicles on Lady Gaga and causing a commotion over it. It's TIME FOR A CHANGE OF ATTITUDE AND THE TIME IS NOW!

And, Lady Gaga, please, stop pretending you are a hermaphrodite!