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THE NEW WAY TO LOOK AT EDUCATION

Quincy Jones: a three sixty human being

CJW, November 12, 2010 9:55 AM

Quincy-Jones.jpg

(Ed. Note:     Dubbed as a modern-day Einstein and life-long voracious learner, Alan Kay's contribution to education, technology, learning and the arts has reached iconic status.   He has been a Xerox Fellow, Chief Scientist of Atari, Apple Fellow, Disney Fellow, and HP Senior Fellow. He is currently an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at UCLA. In 2001 he founded Viewpoints Research Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to children, learning and advanced systems research.  The following essay is one of a series as part of a recent birthday tribute entitled   Points of View, a collection of previously-unpublished essays written by "twenty-nine luminaries from diverse disciplines . . . to learn more about Alan through the eyes of his colleagues past and present, or to gain some unique insights into computer science, management, music and the arts."  Hope you enjoy the ride.   - C.J. Westerberg)


a three sixty human being

"I think of Alan as America's Einstein, I really do, and a very human human being - a "three-sixty" human being. Our major bond I think is he played piano and pipe organ, so we had that in common. His brain is from another planet: he was trying to tell me about the Internet, thirty years ago, and I thought he was smoking kool-aid!"
                                                                           - Quincy Jones

by Quincy Jones

Steve Ross called me one day. He was my mentor, my guru, a father figure - one of the greatest men I met in my whole life. He said, "I want you to go to Atari and see what's going on over there."  I went. It was astounding. I met Alan and he showed us all around the place. That was the first time we'd met, about thirty-five years ago, or something like that.  (The next thing I knew, Alan was an Apple Fellow.)
 
We used to spend a lot of time together. Back in those days they had organizations like E.A.T., a group for Experiments in Art and Technology. People from different genres were trading wild ideas, with people in areas they weren't really familiar with. Paul Beaver was alive then too, and was very influential in my life. He was one of the high-tech guys for the musicians: he added touch sensitivity to the Clavinet, like Stevie used in "Superstition", and the Novachord, and altered different things for us to use. He showed me the first Fender Rhodes piano and turned me on to the Moog synthesizers - the first one the people ever heard, which was on Ironside. This was two years before Wendy Carlos, then-Walter Carlos, did Switched-On Bach.
 
In 1953 Leo Fender brought us the first Fender bass. Check back a little in USA TODAY and you'll see on the cover a portrait with Bill Gates, Steve Case and myself. They asked each of us, "Which piece of technology changed your field the most ?" I said the Fender bass, because without the Fender bass there would be no rock and roll, there would be no Motown. The electric guitar was created in 1939 and it didn't have a friend until it got the Fender bass, and the two of them together made an electric rhythm section that gave us all the basis of rock and roll.
 
I used to be Vice President of Mercury and Philips, and we used to do our executive training at Eindhoven (home of Philips Electronics). At Eindhoven they had 4,000 scientists working on experimental things like eight-track machines, the first audio cassettes, and the first laser videodiscs. This was the early 1960s, way before Atari.

" . . They found that people who are close to music learn other things a little faster because they are constantly using the left and right sides of their brain. Most people are making the choice between one or the other. Many computer people are also musicians. . . "
 
They used fourteen of us as guinea pigs for all the synthesizers- the YC- 30, the YC-45 -to find out what we thought. I remember that Robert Moog asked me why the black musicians didn't like to use the Moog synthesizer and I said, "Bob, it"s probably because it is electrical tone that is shaped by the instrument. You have an electrical signal and you can do one thing to it and make it a saw tooth, which is a little rougher sound, or a sine wave, which is smooth, but it doesn't bend - and if doesn't bend then black musicians aren't going to deal with it because it can't play any funk. It's got to have that feeling."
 
So he immediately invented a pitch bender and a portamento attachment, and Stevie Wonder did four Grammy-winning albums after that. That's when he did "Innervisions" and "Songs in the Key of Life".   To have seen it is astounding : the way we rode the technology and music together, on a parallel path, all the way through to today with ProTools, Cubase and even Auto-Tune. I feel very fortunate to have traveled the road from monophonic this to digital that.

Knowing Alan

" . . .We'd go to executive conferences with Bill Gates and he'd say,
'Alan will you please take over?' . . . "


I think of Alan as America's Einstein, I really do, and a very human human being - a "three-sixty" human being. Our major bond I think is he played piano and pipe organ, so we had that in common. His brain is from another planet: he was trying to tell me about the Internet, thirty years ago, and I thought he was smoking kool-aid!
 
I've heard that binary numbers started in Egypt around 2500 BC - that is when the Sphinx was built. So permutations of zeros and ones have been around a long time - and the north of Sudan and Egypt with its papyrus, etc., really was the cradle of civilization. I was fortunate to travel there when I was about twenty-three and I've been addicted to travel since then. I go to
Cambodia, places like Angkor Wat, and all over the world; and I feel at home everywhere in the world. I try to learn the language everywhere I go.
 
As an Apple Fellow, Steve Jobs told Alan to come at him as if he were a competitor using all of his resources: technical, financial, scientific, everything. Steve went out and created the Mac I and the Mac II, with Alan's overlapping windows and icons. I read the book Organizing Genius about how those guys at the Palo Alto Research Center always tried to find somebody better than they were - rather than find somebody not as good so they could continue to be the big-wig. Alan was like that. We'd go to executive conferences with Bill Gates and he'd say, "Alan will you please take over ?" Alan talked me into doing a speech at MIT one time and I didn't get it. I'm looking at Ray Kurtzweil, Marvin Minsky, Nicholas Negroponte, and all these geniuses, and I thanked God I was talking on a subject where I really knew what I was talking about rather than trying to talk about something in their field.
 
Alan was always, and always will be, a great friend. I go to his house and listen to great bands like Phil Norman and his Tentet - it's just a miraculous and beautiful bond and friendship that I treasure very much. His wife, Bonnie, is great; they are incredible human beings.
 
Music and Science
Knowing Alan opens up your mind - opens it up so your mind is ready to accept any possibilities, and how constantly not to be afraid to think outside of the box. I've been like that all my life with jazz, but he did it on a scientific level  and made me just as curious about the science as I was about the music. Because music has a science to it too. It's the only thing that engages the left and right sides of the brain simultaneously. There's intellect and emotion, and emotion drives the intellect - that's the science. You have to have the science. You have to understand the science, backwards, to be a good composer, orchestrator, etc.

Mathematics and music are the only two absolutes. They found that people who are close to music learn other things a little faster because they are constantly using the left and right sides of their brain. Most people are making the choice between one or the other. Many computer people are also musicians. I noticed right away when Alan took me up to Silicon Valley how many of those guys had a musical background; the two fit like a glove. We have the same kind of mindset; even though he's a genius in his field, the mindset is the same. I've always loved being with Alan, as with Marvin Minsky and his wife Gloria. We'd meet in places like Dublin, Las Vegas or even Montreaux, and it just fits - we don't have to strain at all.
 
Managing Creativity

" . . Spielberg works like this too. When we first met it was like we fell in love. He first came  by my studio when I was doing "Thriller" and invited me over to his studio where he was doing E.T.  I'd give him a synthesizer, he'd give me a light meter, and we found out we worked the same way. . ."

I didn't know what the word "producer" meant when I first heard it. I started very young - thirteen years old - and worked in night clubs. Later on I went to study with Nadia Boulanger and she used to kid me and say, "You jazz musicians shack-up with music first and then you court it and marry it later."
 
And it's true. You go on to study counterpoint and retrograde inversion and the techniques of harmony and so forth and really get to understand orchestration. Frank Gehry always tells me, "If architecture is frozen music, then music must be liquid architecture." And it is. When you are writing for woodwinds, brass and strings, in a 120 -piece symphony orchestra, it's architecture - emotional architecture.
 
And you have to write that. You are dealing with voicing and harmonic structures, and so forth, and you can't take a chance of going into the studio with ten or fifteen horns and tell the guys, "you play what you want to play." It  doesn't work like that. You have to sit down a few days before and figure all that out. That's what being an arranger and an orchestrator is, and that's what I've been doing since I was thirteen years old - and will continue to do until
the day I die.
 
But I always leave room and solicit the musicians to add their own personalities in the parts that they can apply that to, so that you have their personality involved in it too. I learned a lot of that from Duke Ellington. I learned it from everybody - Ravel, Stravinsky, Rimsky-Korsakov. Ravel was influenced by Korsakov but he had a virtuoso orchestra, where everyone was a virtuoso soloist. It is very complex. I remember when I first started to do studio sessions after I left Lionel Hampton's band at a very young age, something like twenty-two. I was in New York and had to do all kinds of sessions with Clifford Brown, Art Blakey, and Big Maybelle too. We did "A Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On" four years before Jerry Lee Lewis even heard it. I worked with Count Basie and Tommy Dorsey, and I just wanted to write music more than anything in the world. It was a very eclectic group of people I was able to work with.
 
Back then it was not such a big thing to make a pop record. Little by little I would get the engineers and musicians together - all the things the producer does, but I didn't know that at the time. I found this sixteen-year-old girl and made "It's My Party" with her. "Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows" - that was Marvin Hamlisch's first song ; he was fifteen years old. I had eighteen hits with Leslie Gore. We did all this stuff, and it turns out that's what a producer does, but I didn't know - and I didn't even get paid for Lesley Gore's hits! As I started to get serious at producing , everything I knew as an arranger just morphed itself into what a producer does. By the time I got to the Brothers Johnson and Michael Jackson it was second nature. It evolves.
 
To be a great producer takes love. You have to love the person you are working with and respect them. You observe what their limitations are, what you'd like to see them learn, and train them to react to certain things. Spielberg works like this too. When we first met it was like we fell in love. He first came  by my studio when I was doing "Thriller" and invited me over to his studio where he was doing E.T.  I'd give him a synthesizer, he'd give me a light meter, and
we found out we worked the same way. We would construct a foundation where we could be only so bad, and once we got that foundation then we'd take chances and improvise and jam a little bit and see where we could take it, see the range.
 
Computers and Education

" . . .and think that most parents, subconsciously or not, try to form the basis of a child to be like them. And that's not a good idea, they need to let children have their own personality. . . "

I am on the advisory board at Viewpoints Research. I am very honored to be in that crowd of brilliant people. You can teach young people. People put limits on what young people can handle. Alan was showing me how he can teach them higher-plane math at three years old through the toys they play with, and teach them how to drive at four years old through computers. They are not even aware of it. It's astounding.
 
There was a time when doctors warned us against subjecting children to "good boy," "bad boy" - the "stick and carrot" stuff - and let them form their own thoughts first. I am a big advocate for that and think that most parents, subconsciously or not, try to form the basis of a child to be like them. And that's not a good idea, they need to let children have their own personality.
 
With the computer kids have found their own world. My kids range from seventeen to fifty-six. I have six girls and one son, who is forty, but the girls are between seventeen and fifty-six. When the seventeen-year-old was three she was running the computer before she could read. My son is a genius with the computer. My nephew is a tester for Microsoft; he's a hacker. The influence of computers on kids has gone both ways - it can be positive or negative. Faith Popcorn talks about something she describes as cocoonism, isolationism, or lack of social touch, which I think is a negative thing.

But then, kids are also free to search out the things they are really interested in, and I think that's the positive side of it. They are free to go and challenge everything that is " by the book."   Like my friend Shawn Fanning when he did Napster: he was eighteen years old and just playing around. It wasn't just the peer-to-peer thing that was effective, it was the choice and the broad range of music that you could be exposed to - rather than just what was automatic, what Clear Channel might play. You could go in as deep as you want and find out about all kinds of music, and I think that's healthy. I really do.
 
"Marshall McLuhan told us fifty years ago that media would take
over 50% of our parenting, and he was right.
"

 
Alan is a very special friend with a special mind and a special vision. We're starting a consortium now to try to create a music curriculum for all of our schools. I am very concerned that American kids don't know a damned thing about their music. It is so sad. I've said I would give $2,000 to any rapper who knows Coltrane, Charlie Parker or Duke Ellington. They don't know. It hurts. It's very important they know the history.
 
We have a record business that is disappearing. It's 95-99% piracy every where in the world. We have to fix that for the young kids. I experienced the biggest-selling record in the history of music, with Michael. We did three of them. It just hurts me to see the young kids - singers and song writers - not get the opportunity. They have families to feed, rent to pay, a life to live. It's not right to take their music.
 
Binary numbers go back to 2500 BC. We're still using permutations of zeros and ones.
That's the power of our IT.

###
Alan Kay biography links:  Viewpoints Research Institute, Alan Kay bio by Scott Gasch, and Wikipedia

Quincy Jones is a conductor, record producer, musical arranger, film composer, television producer, and trumpeter. During five decades in the entertainment industry, he has earned a record seventy-nine Grammy Award nominations and twenty-seven Grammys. He is best known as the producer of the album Thriller, by pop icon Michael Jackson, which has sold over 110 million copies worldwide.
 
In 1968 Quincy was one of the first African-Americans to be nominated for an Academy Award in the "Best Original Song" category and the first to be nominated twice within the same year, the second nomination being for "Best Original Score" for his work on the music of the 1967 film In Cold Blood.
 
The number one item on Quincy's list for the future is to save the record business. The next is to continue the work of the Quincy Jones Musiq Consortium, to make sure that kids understand what their own music is about. When not traveling the world he lives "down the road" from Alan in Los Angeles, California.


Related posts in The Daily Riff:

Life as a Learning Lab:  "At Learning Labs, we've spent hours and hours discussing how we can
help students follow their interests and passions, and also help students learn
powerful ideas and develop as systematic thinkers."  Tribute to Alan Kay

Apple's John Sculley on Genius - Tribute to Alan Kay





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Published The Daily Riff 10/2010 

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