Dear Artist,

Quincy Jones says that when it comes to making good music, God walks out of the room when you’re thinking about money. By “God,” Quincy doesn’t mean organized religion — he doesn’t believe in an afterlife and disparages the peddling of “smoke and fear.” Instead, he believes an ineffable magic occurs when the heart is present. “Another word for it,” he says, “is love.” Quincy says you’ve got to be prepared. “Make your mistakes now and make them quickly. If you’ve made the mistakes, you know what to expect the next time. That’s how you become valuable.”

TV - Merv Griffin Show, Ray Charles, piano, Quincy Jones - early 1970s

Ray Charles and Quincy Jones
preparing for an appearance on a Merv Griffin television special, c.1970

“I’ve been driven all my life by a spirit of adventure and a criminal level of optimism,” says Quincy. “I believed in my dreams because they were my only option.” Born on the South side of Chicago in 1933, Quincy, at age seven, and his younger brother, Lloyd, watched their mother being hauled away in a straightjacket to the Manteno State Mental Hospital. They dodged switchblade and gun-toting gangsters in the streets until their father, a carpenter, sent the brothers to live with their grandmother in a shotgun shack in Louisville, Kentucky. There, they survived on rats they would catch in the river and bring home for their grandmother to cook with greens. After remarrying, Quincy Delight Jones, Sr. moved his new, blended family to the Pacific Northwest, where he would work for the war effort at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. In 1947, at age 14, Quincy Jr. learned the trumpet and joined the National Reserve Band.


Quincy Jones and Aretha Franklin
in the recording studio c.1973

Quincy befriended 16-year-old Ray Charles after seeing him play at the Black Elks Club. After earning a scholarship to Seattle University and then Berklee College of Music, in Boston, Quincy went on a European tour as a trumpet player with Lionel Hampton. Soon, he was arranging music for Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Gene Krupa, Billy Eckstine and his best friend, Ray. He got a job writing and arranging for Mercury Records in New York, then moved to Los Angeles to break into scoring for the movies. He fought racial stereotypes in Hollywood and set out to decompartmentalize musical styles and genres. Later, he would arrange and produce for Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Shirley Horn, Peggy Lee and Lesley Gore. He produced the music for The Wiz, a film starring 20-year-old Michael Jackson, and then arranged and produced Michael’s breakout solo album, Off The Wall. The highest-selling record of all time, Thriller, came next, then its follow-up, Bad. “The people who make it to the top are addicted to their calling,” says Quincy. “You have to honor the gift God has given you. The people who get the call are the ones who’d be doing whatever it is they love, even if they weren’t being paid.”


Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson
Los Angeles, 1982



PS: “Music was the one thing I could control. It was the one world that offered me freedom. When I played music, my nightmares ended. My family problems disappeared. I didn’t have to search for answers. The answers lay no further than the bell of my trumpet and my scrawled, penciled scores. Music made me full, strong, popular, self-reliant and cool.” (Quincy Jones)

“What happens when you get a big break and you haven’t prepared yourself? That becomes the biggest mistake you’ve ever made.” (Quincy Jones)


Quincy Jones, Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, c.1965

Esoterica: When he was 14, Quincy was the only survivor of a car accident in Washington State. He lost four friends. Of this and the traumas of his childhood, Quincy says they’re things you never forget. “My stepmother was like in the movie Precious. I couldn’t handle it. So I said to myself, ‘I don’t have a mother. I don’t need one. I’m going to let music be my mother.” Quincy taught himself to play the piano, then percussion, the tuba, b-flat baritone, French horn, trombone and trumpet. “I started imagining this whole different world. It was a society of musicians, a family I hoped I could belong to one day.” While in Paris studying arranging for strings with Nadia Boulanger, the first woman to conduct London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, to lead the New York Philharmonic, and the mentor of Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copeland and Thea Musgrave, she gave Quincy a piece of advice he’s carried ever since: “A person’s music can never be more or less than they are as a human being.”

The tender 2018 documentary Quincy, directed by Alan Hicks and Jones’ daughter Rashida, is available for streaming on Netflix.

Quincy Jones c.1970 photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Sara Genn: New Paintings runs until November 2, 2018 at Voltz Clarke Gallery, 141 East 62nd Street, New York City. If you’re in the neighbourhood, we would love to see you there.

“You cannot get an A if you’re afraid of getting an F.” (Quincy Jones)



  1. Thank you for this timely and inspirational piece. It is important to remember to stay heart-centered in every moment possible.
    Love and joy to you…Sara….and all your ‘ family of readers’

  2. After reading this I feel like Quincy used up all the words of inspiration. Can’t wait to get back to the easel. From experiences such as Quincy’s, I believe that life is bigger than art and only then can art become bigger than life. Our goal should be to become bigger than our experiences.

    Thank you for this letter Sara.

  3. Just what I longed to hear today…thank you Sara for posting this and all your lovely words and your Dad’s letters, I so look forward to reading them each week. Enjoying today’s comments too, they are touching my heart as well. Love to everyone out there. xo

  4. Joanne Stange on

    Oops. Only one thing wrong with the article and Mr. Quincy. They leave the the real GOD out! Nothing more tragic.

    • Joanne, Maybe for you, but not for me. I find needing a GOD as you have written unnecessary for me and even a hindrance to my living a full and happy life. I respect your need and use of GOD, but I suspect that if Quincy Jones had had GOD in the same manner that you do, to many of us he would not be nearly the man and inspiration that he is today.

      • jeanne, I think our understanding of God is very different from one another. You would have to explain what you understand God to be. A broad subject for a different forum than here. However, it was important to me to express my difference of opinion with that of Mr Quincy, since God was included in the focus of the article.

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Watercolor Painting Holiday Workshop – Lucca Italy, with international, award-winning artist Amanda Brett
May 12, 2019 to May 18, 2019


Come and paint with me in Lucca, Italy, May 2019!!

My painting holiday workshops are all about the fun of painting in a supportive group environment and is suitable for all levels. Mostly, we’ll be painting en plein air (a nice quiet locale in which to play with our paints!) and enjoying the fresh air. I know Lucca like the back of my hand and will take you to some of my favourites spots!! Each day will start with a short theory session, with an emphasis on quick value sketching then a demonstration of the day’s painting subject out on location. We will also explore subject selection and strategies to tackle complex subjects. After a lunch break, I will let you loose to paint and then come and help each student in turn throughout the afternoon.
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11 x 14

Featured Artist

I am a self taught artist, I work in oil, Acrylic and watercolour also in Pastels. Started painting In Ashcroft with Mr. Campbell. I taught my self how to paint by studying professional artists’ work through reading, TV programs, educational DVD and work shops.


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