Quincy Jones Remembers Working With Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra, and More Ahead of His 90th Birthday Celebration: ‘No One Could’ve Imagined the Heights We Reached’

At 90, Quincy Jones has accomplished enough for a dozen lifetimes. As a songwriter, composer, performer and producer, he’s collaborated with (and created) some of the biggest acts of all time, from Ray Charles to Frank Sinatra to Michael Jackson. He’s worked on acclaimed, blockbuster film and television projects. And he’s contributed to and championed a broad spectrum of academic, philanthropic and social causes. In order to properly commemorate those achievements, it seems appropriate that his forthcoming celebration at the Hollywood Bowl take place over not one but two days, as a murderer’s row of performers will gather to sing his works — and his praises — from a career that’s only a few years shorter than his March 14, 1933 birth date.

Set for July 28 and 29, “Quincy Jones’ 90th Birthday Tribute: A Musical Celebration” will feature appearances by H.E.R., Jennifer Hudson, Samara Joy, BJ The Chicago Kid, Patti Austin, Angélique Kidjo, Tori Kelly, Siedah Garrett, Alfredo Rodriguez, Sheléa and more. They will perform songs not only from his own extensive catalog of recordings, which include “Soul Bossa Nova,” “Ai No Corrida” and “One Hundred Ways,” but the dozens of albums he worked on throughout his career for other artists, including many of those above.

“The wonderful thing about these Bowl shows is that I’m not tasked with putting them together, so I get to sit back and enjoy the evening without the stress,” Jones tells Variety. “But I know and love all of the artists on the lineup, so I’m looking forward to the evening. I’m sure it’s going to be emotional for me.”

Asked if he has a shortlist of favorite songs among the thousands of recordings he’s made, he says it would be as difficult for him to pull together as for even the most devoted fan. “It would be like asking which of my children I love the most,” he says. “I was blessed to have been born at a time when I could work with the greatest artists to ever walk the planet and to have accomplished all that I have in every arena, and I wouldn’t trade one note of that journey.”

The fact that Jones has outlived many of those collaborators means that the organizers will call upon talented pinch hitters to pay tribute to the work he did. For concerts like these, he doesn’t consider anything from that catalog to be off limits — “as long as you can handle it,” he says with a laugh. But he observes that the musical tradition from which he came, and has tried to encourage in his collaborators, is one that acknowledges and respects the past while pushing creativity into the future.

“There will never be another Miles, Basie, Ellington, Dizzy, Sinatra, Ella, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan or Michael, to name a few of the greats that I’ve worked with,” Jones says. “What I always tell young artists is to learn everything that has been done by every artist that came before you, and use that as your foundation. Once you do that, you can build on it to find your voice or sound. And that is how the rich legacy of our music continues to evolve and be passed on… and I know everyone on this lineup can handle it.”

The volume of material for which he’s been responsible is staggering, and so are the awards he’s won for it: 80 Grammy nominations (and 28 wins), seven Oscar nominations, one Tony win and another nomination, and a Primetime Emmy. Because so many of them have endured, Jones says he’s even prouder of those benchmark recordings now than he was when they were originally released. “In the moment, you don’t know that they may become timeless,” he says. “That is what you are shooting for, but no one knows.

“No one could’ve imagined the heights we reached with Michael with ‘Off the Wall,’ ‘Thriller’ and ‘Bad’ — or in the case of ‘Thriller,’ that no one would reach those heights again,” he continues. “So, when you look back on it, you have a greater appreciation for the magnitude of it. It’s been an amazing journey.”

After producing Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel “The Color Purple” in 1985, Jones is returning to produce Blitz Bazawule’s version to be released in December 2023, followed by a handful of other film and music endeavors. “I have a number of passion projects that I’m currently developing that I’m really excited about seeing come to fruition in the near future,” he says. But even if he isn’t going to be the one leading the band at his Hollywood Bowl birthday celebration, the tempo Jones sets — in his life, his career and the entertainment industry at large — indicates he’s not slowing down, even after 90 years.

“The word retirement isn’t in my vocabulary,” he says. “I just keep on keeping on.”

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