Q&A: Quincy Jones

Quincy Jones—musician, producer, Oprah's BFF—has put his life (including his school report cards) into a coffee-table book: "The Complete Quincy Jones: My Journey and Passions.'' He spoke to Allison Samuels:

You had a rough childhood.
My dad worked as a carpenter for the black mob, called the Jones Brothers, who ran the South Side of Chicago. My earliest memories are being pinned to a fence with a switchblade. It was nuts in those days, and it still is. I spoke to Jennifer Hudson a few weeks ago to tell her how sorry I was about her family, and we talked about how bad Chicago is when it comes to crime and murder. My heart went out to her because I know what she's going through.

How close did you get to the mob as a child?
One of my best friends was the daughter of one of the Jones brothers. When I was 7, she asked me to cut her hair. Now, she was about 5. I cut it all off. When my father found out he hit the roof. He was like, do you know whose daughter that is? He was scared to death the brothers were going to come after us, but nothing happened.

What was Sinatra really like?
Sinatra was one of those guys where he liked you or he didn't. So when he asked me to work with him, I got a bit nervous because I'd heard the stories. But we hit it off immediately, and I got to know the Frank that nobody wrote about, the guy who visited Billie Holiday in the hospital to make sure her bills were paid and who took care of Amos and Andy when they were down on their luck. He was a stand-up guy who didn't see color, and that was rare back then.

In 1974 you had two brain aneurysms—and attended your own memorial service?
After my first aneurysm operation, they didn't think I would make it, so they planned a memorial. My doctor said I could go, but I would have to remain calm. That was hard to do with Richard Pryor, Marvin Gaye, Sarah Vaughn and Sidney Poitier singing your praises. It was at the Shrine in Los Angeles, and my neurologist sat next to me to make sure I didn't do the wrong thing.

You supported Hillary, and Oprah was for Obama. How was that?
Oh, it was fine. Oprah brought Obama and Michelle to my house when he was thinking of running. We sat in my kitchen and talked about his plans. I liked him a great deal. I'd just known Hillary longer. But I'm fully onboard with Obama—he's a cool cat, and I certainly never thought I'd live to see a black president, so you know I'm happy.