The Time I Met Quincy Jones

I was driving home from the office tonight listening to the shuffled playback of music on my in-car MP3 stereo. The deck has something like 10,000 songs on it which is like an infinite music supply for my 15-minute morning and evening commutes. Randomly, Quincy Jones’ cover of the song “Ai no Corrida” from his album, The Dude, came up in the queue.

Humming along, I momentarily drifted back to the summer of ’94 when I met Mr. Jones. I was a summer intern at Microsoft working in what was then known as the Consumer Division under Patti Stonesifer (currently CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation). I was piddling behind the keyboard as usual on a workday afternoon, at the desk closest to the doorway of the office I shared with a guy who’d just completed his senior year at college—he paid me no attention but having an older office mate seemed like a big deal because I was heading into my sophomore year and graduation seemed so far away.

With my eyes scanning the vast 13″ CRT display attached to a then state-of-the-art 486 computer running Windows for Workgroups 3.11, I caught a brief glimpse out of my right eye of a dark figure passing through the corridor. I thought to myself, “Was that Quincy Jones?” paused, then turned toward my office mate and asked him the same question. Without taking his eyes from his screen he shrugged and flatly replied, “Quincy who?” His routine wardrobe of Guns N’ Roses T-shirts should have told me better. (I can’t lie, I rocked out to “Sweet Child o’ Mine” too…don’t tell anyone from my ‘hood though.)

A few seconds passed, and the dark figure again appeared in my periphery to the right, but this time it was stationary, directly in front of the open doorway. I didn’t want to get caught sleeping like McLovin in the Superbad liquor store scene, so I quickly swiveled my chair to the right while, simultaneously, backing away from my workstation and glancing up, fists cocked and ready to rumble.

A mild-mannered, medium-framed, north-of-middle-aged Black dude glanced down at me warmly, almost paternalistically. His small entourage was at rest a few steps behind his left shoulder. The gears were spinning at this point, and the gentleman extended his hand toward me with a smile and said, “Hello, I’m Quincy Jones.” I was like, “Get the @%!* outta here. Yeah, right!” (in my head) but, while shaking his hand and telling him my name and how nice it was to meet him, I realized it really was The Dude.

He and his crew continued down the corridor. I turned to my office mate (all excited) and told him it was Quincy Jones. He was even more unimpressed and unconcerned. Whatever.

While I didn’t go on one of those crazy, “I’m never washing this hand again” trips, I was elated to meet one of my musical heroes. You see, I played the trumpet and so did Mr. Jones (before becoming a prolific composer, conductor and producer). I didn’t know until later that he is actually from Seattle (as you may recall from the film Ray) and he was probably visiting the Microsoft campus negotiating something-or-other and, as Ray Charles would say, making it do what it do.

One thing that really stayed with me since that day is how this world-renowned, accomplished man came back to my office to introduce himself to me. That says a lot about his character. To borrow from Rudyard Kipling’s “If”:

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much…

The other thing that stuck with me is his hands seemed massive for his size. Shaking his hand was like gripping a bunch of bananas. I’m so glad he didn’t catch me with that McLovin sucker punch.