Clinton: I think he is the I think Quincy Jones is basically the preeminent musical personality of the last 30 years because he has touched so many different genres of music. He's been you know, he's orchestrated these wildly popular songs with all these superstars. He's done, he's done shows, he's done...He's produced fabulous jazz albums. I said 30 years. I could've said 40 years. I can't think of a single person whose creativity spanned so many different areas of music, so many different kinds of artists for so many different so many long years. I mean, he just he's like this protean force in American music that has impacted and echoed through virtually every area of our nation's life for a very long time. And quite amazing considering where he started.

Interviewer: Tell me about that. You know, he had a parent, grew up in the ghetto of Chicago, you have somewhat similar situations and he really embodied the American dream.

Clinton: Yeah, well, if you look at Quincy's life story. It's one I identify with, but far more difficult and severe than anything I ever experienced as a child. His father was a hard working carpenter who did his best to raise him after his mother suffered from mental illness. And he and his brother grew up under a whole series of different environments. All of them in their different ways. Highly difficult, sometimes dangerous. And any one of which could have led to a very different life than the one Quincy's led. I mean, just if you if for people who read his life story and I urge them to do so now that he's come out with his autobiography, I think they will say, gosh, this is not only the American dream. This is one very special human being who could have emerged from this unbelievable childhood. With a loving heart and a great ambition, hopes, belief in the future. And still on the right side of the law. I mean, you know, it's it's an amazing thing.

Interviewer: And what about you? You were clearly growing up interested in jazz music. When you have a moment when you first heard of him or was aware of this guy.

Clinton: Oh, I don't know. You know, because I was so into jazz from the time I was in high school. I just known about Quincy a long time. You know, I'm just sort into this. So I don't remember because. I mean, from the time I was 15 years old, I read every issue of Downbeat magazine, I listen to every record I could listen to. I've really known about him a long time, but it has been interesting to me to see. Like I said, all these sort of various stages he's gone through, he's been involved with every conceivable kind of great musician, you know. And I was listening not very long before I left the White House. I got another copy of the last great Miles Davis concert at Montreaux, which Quincy, you know, put together. And when Davis said to have another trumpet player, that kind of spelled him because he couldn't do the whole gig himself, but he was still playing some fabulous trumpet. And so I was listening to it a lot, maybe for sentimental reasons, because I listened to it over the years and also because I'd come to know Quincy well in the years I was president. But I kept thinking, oh, golly, this is amazing. This man has known all these artists and all these different areas and he's still finding new things to create.

Interviewer: The last of a certain breed. Tell me about the first your first inauguration and the inauguration is loaded with symbolism. You're assuming office. Why did you choose Quincy to help with that?

Clinton: Because I thought that Quincy, number one, put on a great show. He had proved that he could capture the imagination of the world literally with high quality music as mass entertainment. And I wanted it to be a great show. And because Quincy understood how much my commitment to civil rights and human rights and a greater sense of American community was at the core of what I was all about. I just knew he did. And I want him to do that.

Interviewer: Immediately after the Martin Luther King, I Have a Dream. Quincy he played the rapper L.L. Cool J. What does that say that Quincy?

Clinton: Well, first it says Quincy got a sense of humor. Quincy, he's got a good imagination. He goes from Martin Luther King and I Have a Dream to L.L. Cool J. But L.L. Cool J had supported me. And, you know, rap music was a part of how young African-Americans formulated their dreams in 1993. And it was an important part of their culture. It had integrity, it was a part of their message. Not all rap music, was overly violent and overly negative, overly destructive. A lot of it was a new art form in a new way to communicate in a new way for people to kind of find their way of expressing themselves and how they felt about the world. So I think Quincy understood that if I was really going, if I were really going to be the first kind of modern president, it wouldn't be enough to be the first rock and roll president, because that was my childhood. I had to be the first president of all those young people who were old enough to vote and were, among other things, into rap music.

Interviewer: That's right. Thank you. You know, you quote Lincoln's inaugural inauguration speech, citing the mystic chords and the better angels of our nature. And when I search for a way to Quincy, I think there is a certain sort of divine and sort of angel. Is there a better angel in Quincy's nature? How is that touching us? How is that helping us not be enemies and be how how does he bring people together?

Clinton: Well, I think Quincy. Has always had an enormous amount of empathy, feeling for other people, probably borne of the pain of his own childhood. And the fact that he's got a big brain and a big heart. So, you know, he's a real smart man with a real good heart. So he picks up vibes. He understands things. You don't have to draw him a picture about what's going on around him. And I think that, you know, for him, he he always understood. People needed a way of living. That brought them together and made them feel good about themselves inside. And that there really two sides of the same coin. In the end, you can't feel good about yourself inside if you're mistreating people who are different from you or oppressing them or looking down on them. And I think, you know, it sounds sort of simple, but I think that's one of the central insights in what makes a successful society, particularly successful democratic society. And so all these sort of joyful expressions of different kinds of music are sad and sorrowful and melancholy expressions. We're all in at least in the hands of Quincy in helping me design to sort of make Americans appreciate all these different strands of our life and pulling together.

Interviewer: Let's jump, if we can, to the millennium. So often the bridge to the new century was a motif and I understand honoring the past and imagining the future. Quincy has a kind of visionary element to him. So why was he the right person to choose for that event?

Clinton: Well, first I as I said,.

Interviewer: I started again.

Clinton: When we did the Millennium Concert. I thought it was very important to meld music with the words of the past. About our history with important events. You know, pictures and movies of important events with imagination about the future. So you need somebody with a highly synthesising mind, someone with a terrific imagination, someone who can put disparate elements together. And by the time the millennium rolled around, I'd been working with Quincy for many years. I mean, he worked on my as you point out. He worked on my inaugural celebration and the great memorial concert we had for that in 1993. Then at the very end of 1994, we had the first Summit of the Americas bringing together in Miami all the countries of the Caribbean that were democracies, which is all but one, and Latin America, over 30 countries. So we had this. I wanted to have this concert featuring all the music. So naturally, we thought, well, Quincy should do this because Quincy will know every single Caribbean and Latin American musical star. He will immediately know who should perform and how they should do it. It was the most amazing concert. So they've been on had all these experiences. And then I spent a lot more personal time with Quincy. So I just wanted him to do it. I knew that he would get it right musically, but I also knew he would sense he would get the history right and he would get the vision of the future right. That he somehow would sense how to put the music with the words, with the pictures, with the imagination. And he certainly didn't disappoint. I think everyone who was part of that night would say it was something that will stick with us from for a lifetime.

Interviewer: What do you and Quincy have in common?

Clinton: Well, I think we both spent quite a bit of time in single parent households, and then when they turned into two parent households, they weren't always ideal and our childhoods weren't perfect. But they were filled, they did have love in them. We both love music. He just was a lot better at it than I was. And we both love people. And I think we both had this longing to reach out beyond the barriers that tended to keep us in the place in which we were born. Try to bring people together. We both had good imaginations. We could always imagine that our own personal futures and the futures of those whom we love could be different from the past. And I think we'd like to laugh. We'd like to have a good time. And we didn't let life get us down. I think we had a lot in common. I always felt an enormous kinship with him and I always was thrilled about being with him, not only because of his own enormous gifts, but because he had literally touched the life of virtually every musician in the last several decades that had touched me in so many other people. It's. It's been a great joy for me to know, Quincy. I'm very grateful to him for taking a little space in his very big, busy life for me.

Interviewer: I can tell you the feeling very reciprocated on his part. He says only the greatest things, it's like both of you are one degree of separation from just about everybody. Quincy never pursued political power or anything yet he counts among his friends. Nelson Mandela yourself. Jacques Chirac. Colin Powell. What is it about him that brings him into these circles?

Clinton: Well, I think the I think Quincy is interested in politics, not for personal advancement, but because he cares about what happens to people. And so he's interested in politics and public life as it comes out of caring what happens to people. And then I think he's interested in politicians for the same reason he's interested in musicians. He likes people who are good at what they do, who are creative. I always tell people being in politics is a lot like playing jazz. You know, there is a certain discipline to it. You've got, there's that the music is in a key. There is a melody line. There is a harmonic sequence. But at a certain point, you've got to adlib. And that's kind of the way politics is. So I think he identifies with people in public life. And I think he's interested in them. And he understands that it's only through politics that you can address some of the problems that people have. That he cares a lot about. So I don't think it should surprise anybody that a guy with his level of energy and imagination would want to be acquainted with people not just in the music world, but also in politics and in others areas of life as well.

Interviewer: As he has there ever been a moment where he's offered you political advice?

Clinton: I wouldn't say political, and I don't think there was ever a moment where he offered me any specific political advice. But there have been lots of moments over the last several years when he has offered me support that was more than political. It was profoundly personal and it meant a lot to me. There are lots. There were times when, you know, I was kind of low or things were kind of tough where he would go out of his way to let me know that he was there and that I shouldn't be discouraged and that life was full of downs as well as ups. And you couldn't enjoy the ups if you didn't take the downs and that I was there. I was in the job of the presidency, not for myself anyway, but to advance the causes and the people I believed in. And therefore, I should be a good cheer. You know, Quincy's always got a smile. No matter how bad it gets. He's always got a little heart he's drawing. No matter how bad it gets. And so he was, for me, a constant reminder of the power of friendship and heart and spirit. And that's more important than any specific thing he ever said to me, is his energy, his presence. He's like a not just for me, but anybody who's ever been Quincy Jones's friend, knows. It's kind of like having an anchor there. You know, you don't have to worry about him running off, just cause things get tough.

Interviewer: It's as Clarence Avant says, you know. if Godcame down for a day, he'd have to find a way to hug Quincy. He's just so connected to people. But civil rights in particular.

Clinton: So is Clarence. Clarence's wonderful . He's a very close friend of mine.

Interviewer: Very, very sharp guy.

Clinton: Clarence put a neck tie on when you interviewed him? No. He told me he got rich, so he'd never have to wear a necktie again.

Interviewer: Let me just quickly check my questions. I guess the Quincy worked with Hamp. Just back to your music background. Hampton, Dizzy, Basie, Duke. He was like integral to so many of those guys. And I guess I'm just pursuing this idea that, like you said, jazz and politics is a foundation. But he's done so many other things starting as a jazz guy. And I guess the question is, how has jazz helped Quincy?

Clinton: Well, he started with jazz. You know, again, let me just say that, I mean, I don't need the flag for Quincy, but I believe that people who are interested in Quincy Jones and music and in overcoming personal adversity and turning lemons into lemonade would do very well to read his remarkable autobiography. And not only his own contributions, but the contributions that family members and friends make to it, because he doesn't paint himself as a saint, he doesn't paint himself as perfect. But you get this breathtaking image of a man with a genuine genius and great heart and protean energy, you know, refusing to be chained down by some of the madness as well as the mundanity of life. You know, it's a great thing, but I think the thing about it from just a musical point of view, if you go back to Quincy's roots. And you look at that, how he came up through jazz and the jazz that he came up through had its roots in the blues and in church music. It's amazing the way he moved through all these, first of all, different great jazz musicians. And how he worked with this huge range of jazz musicians. And then he just sort of began modulating his own music, where he went from jazz to other kinds of music and from just this song or this album or this concert to other forms of musical expression, as well as going beyond jazz itself. So, I mean, the guy was always coming up with something new, you know, and he's still very young in his mind is in imagination, he's still, you know, he's always coming up with new stuff. He's sending me a, you know, new C.D. or a new set of tapes or new this or new that or the new the other thing, you know, every year he's doing something else. And I think that as long as he keeps doing that, he'll be young and he'll help the rest of us stay young as well.

Interviewer: At the World Economic Conference, the Internet is not just

Clinton: No. No. I mean, no. I've done all this work with him on, you know, he's he's really interested. And the other thing I like about Quincy is he doesn't assume that just because he's a genius in music, once he gets interested in something else, that he knows it all. Quincy still has a certain humility about his interests and passions. So he got more interested in politics and global economics. So he gets involved in the World Economic Forum so he can learn not just so he can meet people who have influence, but he also wants to know what he's doing. And that's very important. You know, a lot of people, if they have certain inclinations, certain political inclinations, and they've reached a certain amount of prominence in some other area of life, just assume that, you know, whatever they think must be right. Quincy is always willing to test what he thinks against the evidence. He's always trying to learn. He doesn't. And when he decided that he wanted to be more of a citizen with more impact to go beyond civil rights and other issues as well, things that worked outside his own direct experience. One thing I've always been impressed with is he goes after that the same way he went after music. He understands he has a certain base level of knowledge you've got to have and you've got to have not only facts, but a certain perspective. And he has struggled to get it so that he could be a citizen with impact not only in the United States, but around the world. That's why he does that World Economic Forum. So this not just a social jet ride for him over there. He's trying to make sure that he knows enough to be a good citizen. And that's something that I hope we can all follow. You know, as we get older that we met, Quincy never gets tired of learning. He might as well be 18 years old. He's still trying to learn things. And I think that's a great part of his genius and a great reason for his impact.

Interviewer: Great. Let me just triple check my questions about.

Clinton: We got to do these others now. He's a good friend of mine. But he also, you know, I just loved him. I was interesting, though, how much I told him when he came last time he came he stayed with me in the White House, how I had played that last Miles Davis concert. You know, it just now it's been reissued on C.D. again, Miles, at Montreaux. It's just so, such a great concert over and over and over again. And I made Quincy tell me the story of what it was like. Well, when we talked about Miles Davis, when he was older and when he's, you know, he wasn't in good health and Cicely Tyson is a friend of mine. We talked about that, you know. And I met all these people sort of at a later point in their lives. So, you know. But when I was just a boy, I just. All I did was absorb the music. You know, this was great.

Interviewer: And we've got to do these things. Thank you.

Bill Clinton
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
cpb-aacip-504-ks6j09wt2c, cpb-aacip-504-wh2d79648w
"Bill Clinton, Quincy Jones: In The Pocket." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 17 Jul. 2001,
(2001, July 17). Bill Clinton, Quincy Jones: In The Pocket. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"Bill Clinton, Quincy Jones: In The Pocket." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). July 17, 2001. Accessed August 07, 2022


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