Quincy Jones shares stories of old Vegas


Quincy Jones and Michael Caine will celebrate their mutual 80th birthdays at tonight’s “Keep Memory Alive” gala at MGM Grand. Jones — a music legend — has loved Las Vegas ever since Frank Sinatra took care of him at the Sands.

What was it like hanging with Sinatra?

“Like going to another planet, man,” Jones says. “I mean, (Count) Basie and Frank? Man, are you kidding? We had so much fun it was ridiculous. Every night.

“When I first walked into the door ... in 1964, I had no idea how racist it was. At that time, (Harry) Belafonte, Lena Horne — all those people were working the main room, but they couldn’t even go in the casino, man! They had to eat in the kitchen or stay across town.

“But Frank by himself eliminated racism in Vegas,” Jones says. “He said, ‘I’m not having it.’ And they stopped it. They really did.

“So the first night, he (Frank) said, ‘Quincy is a great musician, but he doesn’t know (expletive) about gambling. He’s never seen a blackjack table, or a roulette table.’ Which is true.

“So he put Loretta Young on one arm, and Lucille Ball on the other arm, and he said, ‘Take care of this turkey.’

“All night long, I kept seeing Lucille taking my chips off the table and putting them in her purse,” Jones says. “And she said, ‘Come on, Darling. Let’s go over to the roulette table, that takes no skill at all.’

“The next night, they turned me over to Basie, who was the worst gambler that ever hit the planet, man. The worst.

“Basie would (bet on roulette) $500 on everything from 1 to 36, double zero, zero, red, black, odd, even, first, second, third, 12.

“I said, ‘Basie, I don’t know how to do this, but mathematically that doesn’t work at 35-to-1.’ He said, ‘I know what I’m doing, man. I’ve been doing this a long time. Just watch what I’m doing.’

“And I followed his ass, and I lost $150,000 the first week. That’s why I did the music to (the TV show) ‘Ironside.’ I had to come back to L.A. to do the score for that to pay off the money!

“And Frank would (place) a $500 chip on top of every bet we made, every night. That’s how great he was.

“(Frank) was like my brother, man. And I still wear his ring. He wore a ring for 40 years. I still wear it. It’s the family crest from Sicily. When I go there, I don’t even need a passport.”

Wait, how did Jones end up with Sinatra’s ring?

“He left it, after he died. He told Tina (Sinatra’s daughter) to give it to me. They were like my family, and they still are. We do everything together.

“Buzz Aldrin played my arrangement of ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ on the moon, man, in 1969, and Frank was like a little kid. He called me up all happy.

“I did another album called ‘Walking in Space,’ and another astronaut used that to wake up. So I haven’t been up there, but they took my record up there two times.

“That’s the (expletive) you only can dream of.”

On Thursday, Jones (QuincyJones.com) will finally be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Tonight’s fundraising gala also features Stevie Wonder, Whoopi Goldberg, Bono, Amy Poehler, Jones’ daughter Rashida Jones, Herbie Hancock, Snoop Dogg (who also goes by Snoop Lion) Jennifer Hudson, Carlos Santana and dozens of other stars.

Jones and Caine were each born on March 14, 1933.

The gala (KeepMemoryAlive. org) raises money for Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. You can text “memory” to 80888 to donate $10.

Doug Elfman’s column appears Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He also writes for Neon on Fridays. Email him at delfman@reviewjournal.com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.