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The first day of the Upstream Summit with keynote speaker Quincy Jones. (Sy Bean / Seattle Refined)

Life lessons & fun facts from Quincy Jones

It's here! Upstream Fest and Summit, which we've been profiling, touting and covering for months now with lineup announcements, artist features and curator guides - is HERE. And what better way to start off the first ever PNW experience dedicated to emerging artists than with a Keynote Speech from - arguably (though I don't know who would argue against this) - the most iconically successful Seattle artist/producer/extraordinaire - Quincy Jones.

Even at 10 a.m. on a Thursday morning, when Jones was scheduled to speak, the WaMu Theater was packed. Everyone from Garfield High School students (where Jones himself went to school), to emerging artists like SassyBlack and Wanz, to members of the media (yours truly) and everyone in between who has been influenced by Jones showed up in force to see the legend speak.

Let me just start by saying - GOALS. The man is 84 years old, and spoke vivaciously for over half an hour with moderator (and self-admitted fanboy) Ahamefule J. Oluo in front of the crowd about everything from his dear friend Ray Charles, growing up in Seattle, his views on the current music industry, and advice for aspiring artists.

There were many nuggets of truth and wisdom, but here were our seven key takeaways. Be these life lessons or just fun facts - take note!

He really, really loves Seattle.
Over the course of half an hour, the man shared his love for Seattle (and Bremerton) numerous times. No matter where he has lived since, you can tell this city was a critical part of his youth, and his discovery of music. "It's so great to be back home man," he said. "I love this city." He even joked that the rain in Seattle kept him inside writing and playing music! So take that critics - rain isn't all bad, it fosters amazing talent! "This place was a music fountain," he went on. "We played the Tennis Club, Washington Education and Social Club...you name it. God bless Seattle, man."

It was in Seattle, during a night out of mischief, that Charles and some friends broke into their supervisor's office as a joke. "I saw a piano in the office," he said. "I touched it, and every cell in my body said 'this is what you should do for the rest of your life.'"

On top of that - he really, really, REALLY loves Garfield High School.
I'm biased here, as I'm a Bulldog alum myself, but to hear Jones wax poetic about his time at GHS sent shivers up and down my spine. "Garfield was the most diversified high school in America in the 40s," he said. "Boy oh boy, what a school." What he loved the most about the school though, was the support he got for pursuing his dreams outside of the classroom. "We used to play five nightclubs a night, wouldn't get home until 5:30/6 a.m." he said. "Parker Cook was a teacher - I'll never forget - he never scolded me for not getting to school until 11:30 in the morning. He said 'you're doing what you're supposed to be doing.'"

Paul Allen has some mad skills.
What in the world connects Paul Allen and Quincy Jones? Love of music, for one. One of the main reasons Allen is so invested in bringing something like Upstream to this area is because of his personal relationship with music. Anyone who can call up Quincy Jones and ask to speak at his festival has definitely got to have some cred, right? "Anything Paul asks me to do I'm ready to do," said Jones. Another little known fact that gives Allen major cred? "Paul can play man!" said Q. "He looks like a tech nerd – but he sings and plays like Jimi Hendrix." WHAT! That might just be the biggest honor of all time, tech nerd or not :) After all..."Only a billionaire guitar player could build the EMP," Jones laughed.

Ray Charles was - and is still - a huge part of his life.
"I came up with Ray Charles," said Jones. "I was 14, he was 16." The two met after Charles was in town playing a gig at Black Elks Club. "Thank God we started in Seattle and Bremerton and became big fish in a small town," said Jones. "Ray was an aficionado of respecting every genre, no matter what. He said, 'you gotta honor it’s origin. Don’t put another story on it.'" Jones was even tapped to help write part of the script for the 2004 movie "Ray", specifically the dialogue between Quincy and Ray's characters. "[I] had to write the script because they didn’t know how Ray and I talked," he said. Ray event taught him to read music in Braille. "He owned this city," said Jones.

It's tough out there in the music business.
"Anyone who goes to work, they expect to be reimbursed for it," said Jones. "You can't survive unless you do. It's immoral stuff." He's concerned about the younger generation coming up in the music industry. "How many streams do you have to get to get a dollar? About a thousand right? Right."

But at the same time, his words of advice for up-and-comers are simple. "Its all about love, respect and trust," he said. "And you gotta bring passion with you all the time, in both pockets." And in terms of your craft, just keep getting better. "No matter what happens with all the platforms...with all the BS - just grow and grow and grow. You can never grow too much, or know too much. When you put that kind of passion in, you can't mess with that. If you’re growing you can't lose."

Frank Sinatra was the first person to call him Q.
"Frank was the first one!" he said. "He used to tell us every day, 'Live every day like it's your last. And one day you'll be right.'" Their relationship started after Jones got a call from Sinatra four years after working one night together, and asked him if he wanted to come to Hawaii and record an album. "I said, 'Is the Pope Catholic? I'll be there in an hour." And next thing you know, the Sinatra at the Sands album was born.

He's a one-liner machine. Here are some of our favorites:

  • "I learned very early why God gave us two ears and one mouth. Cause you gotta listen twice as much as you talk."
  • "Just get up every morning. If your elbows don’t hit wood you’re in good shape."
  • "You can't get anything going without those three things I mentioned before. Trust, respect and love."

Upstream is taking place throughout Pioneer Square May 11-13. Tickets are on sale now.


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