Still, recalling boyhood memories of getting his hands dirty with shoe polish in Seattle animates Jones as much as when he talks about working with Frank Sinatra.
"I was the best shoe-shiner," Jones says with a wistful smile. "I gave everything to that."
That pretty much sums up Jones' approach to life. A confessed workaholic, his zeal to succeed has resulted in an astonishing career, filled with experiences to fill the lives of "20 other people," as Jones likes to put it.
Many people know the highlights: the child prodigy who jammed on trumpet with Billie Holliday and Lionel Hampton; the renowned conductor-scorer-producer who helped create musical gems with Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald and Aretha Franklin, just to name a few (including Sinatra's "Fly Me To the Moon"); the producer who formed a musical partnership with Michael Jackson to create the world's best-selling album of all time, "Thriller"; the man who helped orchestrate one of the huge celebrity charity events, the "We Are the World" song; a producer of Steven Spielberg's 1985 film "The Color Purple"; and an investor who helped start Vibe magazine.
"Some people say that nothing creative happens unless you're present. Quincy is present more than most of us," says hip-hop mogul and friend Russell Simmons.
But while Jones' professional life has been marked by success after success, his personal successes have been fewer.
In the recently released "Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones," he details his fractured relationship with his mother, a schizophrenic; his three broken marriages; and his failings as a parent (he has seven children from four different women, including a marriage to actress Peggy Lipton and a relationship with actress Nastassja Kinski).
The 68-year-old Jones, who worked on the book for five years, calls the experience "cathartic."
"It's very personal because I don't think there's anything else I've ever been this involved with for five straight years. ... I've never done anything that long," the 26-time Grammy winner said during an interview.
This is actually the second telling of Jones' life; in 1990, he was the focus of the documentary "Listen Up: The Lives of Quincy Jones." But he calls that an "abridged" version of his life. The book is more revealing, he maintains.
"It's funny, because one of the reviewers said, 'You're too damn open.' I guess he's saying I told more than he really wanted to hear."
Among the more revealing parts of the book is Jones' discussion of his mother, Sarah, who was in and out of mental hospitals through most of his childhood. Her erratic behavior frightened and embarrassed her son, who recalls sometimes hiding or ignoring his mother in the street.
"I don't know what the word 'mother' means. It doesn't have a meaning to me," he says.
He was raised by his father, who was emotionally distant and spnt most of his time working to feed his family, and his father's wife, whom Jones depicts so harshly that she rivals Cinderella's stepmother in cruelty, including beatings and neglect.
Jones says the lack of a mother figure in his life left him feeling empty for years, but it wasn't until he went on a retreat at friend Oprah Winfrey's ranch, along with self-help therapist and author John Bradshaw, that he discovered why.
Bradshaw's theory is that "before the age of 9, a child must have a parent ... they must give you the validation and all their nurturing and everything else that you need, and if you don't do that, you have a hole in you that you are trying to fix for the rest of your life," he says. "And I had that hole. I was that hole, a long time."
It affected his relationships with his own children. At one point in the book, his son, Quincy Jones III, describes not really knowing his father until his late teens. At one point, the boy's mother, struggling with substance-abuse problems, sent him to live with Jones. But Jones, who was having his house redone, said he had no room and sent the boy to live with an uncle. In the book, Jones says it is one of the things he can never forgive himself for.
Jones says he worked so much that he didn't spend enough time with his family. He felt it was enough that "they had clothes and food and a roof over their head, and they were going to school everyday."
Besides delving deep into Jones' personal life, the book also gives readers a vicarious look into his world; almost every page includes stories about his relationships with luminaries - Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, Henry Mancini, Sammy Davis Jr.
Many of Jones' collaborators are also included in the recently released four-disc box set "Q: The Musical Biography of Quincy Jones."
In the book, Jones calls Charles one of his oldest and dearest friends; the two met as teens in Seattle. Another enduring relationship was with Sinatra; Jones confesses to having been intimidated when they first met decades ago.
The two men remained close until Sinatra's death in 1998.
"When Frank died, I went over there, spent a lot of time in his last days. ... He'd have great long-term memory but it was rough because Alzheimer's (disease) was starting to take over a little bit," Jones recalls.
Perhaps Jones' most famous collaboration was with Jackson, for whom he produced three albums. They haven't worked together on an album since 1987's "Bad," but had a mini-reunion in September, when Jones took part in Jackson's 30th anniversary concerts at
Madison Square Garden.
"It was beautiful - it was like revisiting your child, your son, after all these years. He's grown up now. When I met Michael, he was 12. He's 43 now - he's older than me now!" Jones jokes in the interview.
But anyone expecting Jones' book to be as revealing about his celebrity friends as it is about his own life will be disappointed.
"Honey, I know enough to close down 40 ountries," he jokes. "(But) that's not my bag, to put people's business out there, that's not my thing.
"That's really stooping down, I think. And I don't think you have to do that - I think I've had a life that's interesting enough without doing that."
By Nekesa Mumbi Moody
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