Producer talks about Jackson, charity work

KARLOVY VARY — While many of Michael Jackson’s high-profile showbiz friends and colleagues were saying their farewells at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, the man who many would credit as his most important collaborator, music legend Quincy Jones, was 8,000 miles away in the Czech Republic at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival.

Jones first worked with Jackson on “The Wiz.” Before long, Jones and Jackson were collaborating on albums such as “Off the Wall” and “Thriller,” which became the highest-selling album of all time.

Those looking for elaborate or mysterious reasonings behind his absence will be disappointed. “I just can’t take it anymore,” Jones told Variety in an exclusive interview.

“I’ve lost so many friends over the past years. Ray Charles, Marlon Brando, Michelangelo Antonioni. I just don’t want to be standing there looking at some casket.”

Instead, the composer-producer-arranger-conducter was doing what he said he does all year, which sounds like he’s a one-man support system for the international airlines business.

“I travel 500,000 miles a year just in the Middle East,” said Jones.

Jones was feted at a Karlovy Vary sidebar event and was to receive the Sunflower Philanthropy Award from top Czech model Helena Houdova’s Sunflower Foundation, a charity for disadvantaged children.

Houdova, wife of film producer Omar Amanat, explained that she started her charity work for disadvantaged children in the Czech Republic. Jones, who created “We Are The World” project with Jackson, was a natural honoree as “our mission has changed from simply helping children to really working in different cultures to move people from indifference to compassion.”

Among other projects that have kept Jones on the road were a New York charity auction where he raised $3.5 million by offering a day of hangin’ with Quincy to the highest bidder.

Jones also has charity projects that take him to Haiti and Africa, where he notes, “I’ve been friends with Mandela for 38 years. Mandela told his friends, ‘I won’t be seeing you in London, Paris or New York. If you want to see me, you’ll have to come here.” Jones, who says his distrust of American media has “only grown over the past 57 years on the road,” says his philosphy is “You have to go to know.”

In addition to his global philanthropic efforts, Jones is also prepping to shoot more footage in Brazil for his Imax “Carnavale 3-D” project.

Speaking of Michael Jackson and the many contradictions of the entertainer’s public and private personas, Jones said Jackson shared one important characteristic with all of the other great recording artists he has worked with, including Frank Sinatra, Nina Simone, Ray Charles, Peggy Lee, Dinah Washington and Miles Davis.

“I’ve worked with 59 divas. All of them are complicated,” said Jones. “When you are trying to make great art, you don’t want the girl next door.”

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