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December 18, 2014

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Quincy Jones at 80: Still celebrating birthdays, but not retirement

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Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Quincy Jones is interviewed after a news conference to announce the 2013 inductees in Los Angeles on Dec. 11, 2013.

2012 KMA Power of Love Gala Tribute to Muhammad Ali: MGM and Auction

The 2012 Keep Memory Alive Launch slideshow »
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Sir Michael Caine and Quincy Jones meet the cast of "Ka" at MGM Grand on Thursday, April 11, 2013.

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Stevie Wonder, Snoop Dogg, Lenny Kravitz, Haley Reinhart, Lonnie Ali, LL Cool J, Quincy Jones and Larry Ruvo at the 2012 Keep Memory Alive "Power of Love Gala" tribute to Muhammad Ali's 70th birthday at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012.

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Quincy Jones at the 2012 Keep Memory Alive "Power of Love Gala" tribute to Muhammad Ali's 70th birthday at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012.

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Quincy Jones.

He’s not finished.

That is important to note, or remind, about Quincy Jones: His artistic passion didn’t stop in the 1980s. It seems only to be reinvigorated as he enters the 80s — his own.

Jones celebrates his 80th birthday this evening, on the Strip. He hints at a show he is working on that would be tailored for Vegas. He also states, broadly, that he is still vigorous and busy creating and entertaining.

At age 80, Quincy Jones is a legend-at-work, not a legend-in-retirement.

Jones is in a celebratory mood this weekend. He and Sir Michael Caine, who shares a March 14 birthday, are the twin towers of legend at the 17th annual Keep Memory Alive “Power of Love” gala at MGM Grand. The silent and live auction, dinner, and series of live performances are to raise money and awareness for the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.

Produced by Bill Edwards Presents, the show is airing live on AXS TV at 9 p.m., with the rebroadcast set for 6 p.m. Sunday. In an update to the previously reported broadcast information, Cox Cable Channel 14 (Vegas TV) is planning to air a two-hour version of the show next Saturday at 8 p.m.

Those who want to donate from their mobile phones are encouraged to do so by texting MEMORY to 80888. That number is up now, and will be live throughout the year.

A veritable cavalcade of stars are expected to turn out and pay tribute and/or perform for Jones and Caine. The hot list: Alfredo Rodriguez, Amy Poehler, Andreas Varady, Arsenio Hall, Babyface, Bebe Winans, Chazz Palminteri, Cindy Crawford, Carlos Santana, Chaka Khan, Chris Tucker, Emily Bear, Gayle King, Greg Phillinganes, Herbie Hancock, Jackie Collins, James Ingram, Jaime Camil, Jason Derulo, Jennifer Hudson, Jordin Sparks, Larry King, Marcus Miller, Nikki Yanofsky, Patti Austin, Paulinho Da Costa, Peggy Lipton, Pia Zadora, Rande Gerber, Rashida Jones, Siedah Garrett, Siegfried & Roy, Snoop Dogg (aka Snoop Lion), Steve Schirripa, Tom Scott, Vinnie Colaiuta, Whoopi Goldberg, Will McCormack, Barbara Davis, Franco Harris, Gordon Ramsay, Guy Laliberte, Joseph “McG” Nichol, Romero Britto and Steven Lagos.

Other superstar appearances can be anticipated, but not yet verified. As is customary for “Power of Love,” one of the city’s great charity galas, there shall be surprises.

Jones arrived in Las Vegas on Thursday. He and Caine took in a performance of Cirque du Soleil’s “Ka” at MGM Grand, and he consented to an e-mail interview about the gala and his career:

Johnny Kats: The mission of the Keep Memory Alive "Power of Love" gala is to raise money and awareness to fight degenerative brain diseases. Has anyone close to you suffered from any sort of brain disorder?

Quincy Jones: I had two brain aneurysms, so I guess I would classify as having some experience with trauma to the brain. Also, my mother suffered from mental illness. She was a brilliant woman who spoke several languages and had degrees from several colleges, but she had this condition that debilitated her, which today could’ve been controlled with medication. But at the time, during the Depression, they simply would commit you.

J.K. So this cause is particularly close to your heart?

Q.J.: I am curious about everything, man. But particularly how music affects the mind, body and soul, which I know it does. Music is the only art form that can evoke a visceral and spiritual emotion in a person, that’s why it is interesting to me to see the work that they are doing at the Cleveland Clinic utilizing music in their research.

J.K.: Before this weekend, have you ever celebrated a birthday with Sir Michael Caine?

Q.J.: Michael and I have been friends since I did the film score for “The Italian Job” in 1969, and we have been friends ever since. We were born the same year, day, and time … we’re celestial twins. We celebrated our birthdays together virtually every year since then.

J.K. How did it happen that you decided to lend your name and time to this fundraiser?

Q.J.: Larry Ruvo, a dear friend, approached us and said he wanted to do it. I’ve always felt that the true gift of fame and fortune is to be able to give back and help raise awareness about things that matter. As my brother Bono says, “Use your celebrity as currency.” This is a great opportunity to help the Lou Ruvo Center raise funds for their research.

J.K. Can you tell me your favorite story about a visit to Vegas, or the first time you made a trip here?

Q.J.: There are countless stories, man. I first came here with Sinatra and Basie in the 1960s. We recorded “Sinatra at the Sands,” which I did the arrangements and conducted the band for. Frank had Vegas wired. At that time Vegas was still segregated. He assigned us all bodyguards and said, “If anyone looks at them crooked, break their legs.” It was fantastic being here with him.

J.K. When you hear any Michael Jackson song you have worked on, what goes through your mind?

Q.J.: What we did with “Off the Wall,” “Thriller,” and “Bad” will never be achieved again. That was the perfect confluence of experience, talent and timing, with enough room to let God walk through the door. Forty years later, no matter where I go in the world, in every nightclub, they’re playing those albums.

J.K. I once asked Sir George Martin if there was a time in his career of which he was particularly proud, but had been largely overlooked. He said his work on “The Goon Show” comedy album in England before he ever heard of the Beatles. Is there a particular project or time in your career you feel has been overlooked or somewhat forgotten?

Q.J.: I have been so fortunate to have come up when I did and to have achieved the things I have. I got to work and be mentored by my heroes from Basie and Ellington to Dizzy and Miles, Sarah Vaughan, and on and on. To work with Sinatra. To do film scores, which was a lifetime dream. All of it. You don’t plan for it, it’s God’s plan. You just embrace it. No regrets.

J.K. From a producer’s perspective, what is the biggest change in the music industry today compared with when you began your career?

Q.J.: When we were coming up, it wasn’t about making money or getting famous. It was about being the best musician that you could possibly be. From an industry standpoint, I’d like to see us get the musicality back. That’s what I’m into now. I have some great young artists that I’m working with now who are tremendous musicians.

J.K. Have you ever been close to bringing a stage show to Las Vegas?

Q.J.: We’ve been talking about it, but don’t tell anyone.

J.K. What more is there for you to accomplish or achieve in your life and career? Is there one objective you are still pursing? If so, what would that be?

Q.J.: Are you kidding? I’m just getting started. We’re recording artists, developing film and television projects, producing concerts around the world … I’m not nearly done yet.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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