Quincy Jones on taming Frank Sinatra

The man behind the best-selling album ever, Thriller, talks us through the role of a producer

On the lot of the producer
‘If the cover’s messed up, you’ve got the wrong songs, the wrong arrangements, the wrong backing singers, the wrong tempos and the wrong [musical] keys – it’s the producer’s fault. If it’s a hit record – the artist did everything. It will never change; if it works, the artist did it all.’

On taking risks
‘To be a producer you have to babysit an artist, you have to tell them when to jump without notice – and if you tell them to jump, you have to know what you’re doing.’

On the relationship of artist and producer
‘The best relationship with artists is truth and love – you’ve got to love each other. It’s one of the closest relationships – even more than a marriage. They trust what they consider their lives to you. With Sinatra I realised intuitively a way to get things done.’

On letting stars down gently
‘I learned quickly with these tough guys – Ray Charles, Billy Eckstine, Sinatra – that you don’t say it to them publically; you suggest it to them privately. It’s love – respect and love. He’s giving up everything he has, and you’re giving up everything you have, and hopefully you don’t run into bumps.’

On knowing a track is finished
‘It’s a tempo where you can’t go any faster or slower, there’s nothing to describe, its right there where it belongs. “In the pocket” is when no one has any comments anymore, it just sits there, because that’s where it belongs. You’re working on intuition.’

On samples
‘I’ve never sampled in my life, but I love it because [my productions are used for] 36 samples a week!’

On music
‘[We have] 12 tones, and until [we get] 13, learn everything you can of these 12 tones – 12 tones from Bach and Beethoven to Charlie Parker and bebop. Until we get 13 tones that’s what you can do – learn to do it.’

View Will.i.am: ‘I’m a control freak’
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Quincy Jones was talking at The Producers’ Seminar at Dubai Music Week, on September 25 2013.

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