Normally, it would have been a valedictory moment.
This February, when Quincy Jones accepted a lifetime achievement award from the producers and engineers wing of the Recording Academy, that famed trumpeter, composer and producer of landmark albums like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” did not merely break out the thank yous. Instead he used the Grammy moment to promote young artists he represents.
He invited up Emily Bear, an 11-year-old piano prodigy he has taken under his wing, to play one of her jazz compositions. Then he introduced the crowd to Blush, an Asian girl group in the K-Pop mold, and beamed as the five pretty young singers in skimpy gold costumes and high heels arrived onstage.
“This is Blush, and they can kill it,” he said. “You’re going to be hearing about these ladies. You will hear about them. They are the next step after Psy.”
At a time when he is collecting career accolades and could easily retire,
A risky move
The bet is anything but safe. Having won 27 Grammys and produced some of the best-selling albums of all time, Jones can work with whomever he wants. Yet he has chosen to manage a number of relatively unproven artists, including three jazz musicians, a composer and, in perhaps his most risky move, Blush.
“Maybe I can hitchhike a ride into the future with these kids,” Jones said in the Lobby Bar of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Manhattan. “They are the most talented young people on the planet.”
Jones said his decision to focus on nurturing young artists was rooted in two convictions: that there is a lack of musicianship in pop music and that the recording industry is in an inexorable decline, its profits sapped by online piracy and ubiquitous free music streaming.
And while the name Quincy Jones may not be able to fix the record industry, it can lend credibility to untested talent.
The idea of managing musicians came to him in 2006 at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, after seeing a performance by the avant-garde Cuban jazz pianist Alfredo Rodriguez – who had no manager, much less a record deal. An impressed Jones told Rodriguez he wanted to work with him.
Lured by the offer, Rodriguez defected from Cuba on a trip to Mexico in 2009, then waded across the Rio Grande at Laredo, Texas, with nothing but a few T-shirts and a suitcase full of his compositions. The vice president of Quincy Jones Productions, Adam Fell, flew Alfredo to Los Angeles, then housed him for two years while he started touring and working on a debut album.
Jones encouraged Rodriguez to delve into his Latin roots on his rhythmically eclectic 2012 debut, “Sounds of Space” (Mack Avenue). For his client’s second album, to be released this summer, Jones has paired Rodriguez with Esperanza Spalding, the Grammy-winning jazz singer and bassist.
“The best advice he gave me was just to be myself,” Rodriguez said.