I’m trying to isolate what you specifically believe the problem with modern pop is. It’s the lack of formal musical knowledge on the part of the musicians?
Yes! And they don’t even care they don’t have it.

Well, who’s doing good work?
Bruno Mars. Chance the Rapper. Kendrick Lamar. I like where Kendrick’s mind is. He’s grounded. Chance, too. And the Ed Sheeran record is great. Sam Smith — he’s so open about being gay. I love it. Mark Ronson is someone who knows how to produce.

Putting aside the quality of contemporary songs, are there any technical or sonic production techniques that feel fresh?
No. There ain’t nothing new. The producers are lazy and greedy.

How does that laziness manifest itself?
Listen to the music — these guys don’t know what they’re doing. You’ve got to respect the gift God gave you by learning your craft.

Are you as down on the state of film scoring as you are on pop?
It’s not good. Everybody’s lazy. Alexandre DesplatThe French film composer won an Oscar for his score for 2015’s The Grand Budapest Hotel and his been nominated an additional eight times. — he’s good. He’s my brother. He was influenced by my scores.

Again, when you say film composers are lazy, what does that mean, exactly, in this context?
It means they’re not going back and listening to what Bernard Herrmann did.

Do you see a future for the music business?
There isn’t a music business anymore! If these people had paid attention to Shawn Fanning 20 years ago, we wouldn’t be in this mess. But the music business is still too full of these old-school bean counters. You can’t be like that. You can’t be one of these back-in-my-day people.

You’re talking about business not music, but, and I mean this respectfully, don’t some of your thoughts about music fall under the category of “back in my day”?
Musical principles exist, man. Musicians today can’t go all the way with the music because they haven’t done their homework with the left brain. Music is emotion and science. You don’t have to practice emotion because that comes naturally. Technique is different. If you can’t get your finger between three and four and seven and eight on a piano, you can’t play. You can only get so far without technique. People limit themselves musically, man. Do these musicians know tango? Macumba? Yoruba music? Samba? Bossa nova? Salsa? Cha-cha?

Maybe not the cha-cha.
[Marlon] BrandoThe actor and Jones were longtime friends. During a down period in Jones’s life, he spent time on the island in Tahiti which Brando owned. The two called each other Leroy, owing to a story recounted extremely well (one among many) in this recent GQ profile. used to go cha-cha dancing with us. He could dance his ass off. He was the most charming motherfucker you ever met. He’d fuck anything. Anything! He’d fuck a mailbox. James Baldwin. Richard Pryor. Marvin Gaye.

He slept with them? How do you know that?
[Frowns.] Come on, man. He did not give a fuck! You like Brazilian music?

Yeah, but I don’t know much beyond Jorge Ben and Gilberto Gil.
Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso are the kings! You know, I visit the favelas every year. Those motherfuckers have a hard life. They’re tough, though. You think our shit in America’s bad? It’s worse there.

I read that as a young man you used to carry around a .32.
Yeah.

Did you ever fire it?
Yeah.

At what?
[Grins.] Just practicin’.

Okay, let me ask you a left-field question. In your memoir, there’s a section where you talk about —
Being a dog?

That’s not what I was thinking of, but yeah, that’s in there. I was thinking of a section where you describe having a nervous breakdown not long after Thriller. You talk so often about your ups — I’m wondering if maybe you can talk about one of your downs.
What happened was that I was a producer on The Color Purple. Spielberg and me are still great friends, man. He’s a great fucking guy. I loved working with him.

Yep, but what happened on The Color Purple that caused your breakdown?
What happened was that I was a producer on that movie and everybody went on vacation after we finished filming — everybody except me. I had to stay home and write an hour and 55 minutes of music for the movie. I was so fucking tired from doing that, I couldn’t see. I put too much on my plate and it took its toll. You learn from your mistakes and I learned I couldn’t do that again.

What’s the last mistake you learned from?
My last record [2010’s Q: Soul Bossa Nostra]. I was not in favor of doing it, but the rappers wanted to record something as a tribute to me, where they’d do versions of songs that I’d done over my career. I said to them, “Look, you got to make the music better than we did on the originals.” That didn’t happen. T-Pain, man, he didn’t pay attention to the details.

What’s something positive you’ve been feeling about music lately?
Understanding where it comes from. It’s fascinating. I was on a trip with Paul Allen a few years ago, and I went to the bathroom and there were maps on the wall of how the Earth looked a million-and-a-half years ago. Off the coast of South Africa, where Durban is, was the coast of China. The people had to be mixing, and you hear it in the music — in the drums from both places. There are African qualities to Chinese music, Japanese music, too, with the Kodo drumming. It all comes from Africa. It’s a heavy thing to think about.

You’re about to turn 85. Are you afraid of the end?
No.

What do you think happens when you pass?
You’re just gone.

Are you religious?
No, man. I know too much about it. I knew Romano Mussolini, the jazz piano player, the son of Benito Mussolini. We used to jam all night. And he’d tell me about where the Catholics were coming from. The Catholics have a religion based on fear, smoke, and murder. And the biggest gimmick in the world is confession: “You tell me what you did wrong and it’ll be okay.” Come on. And almost everywhere you go in the world, the biggest structures are the Catholic churches. It’s money, man. It’s fucked up.

On the subject of money, I have a crass question. You spent the first half of your career working in jazz, which isn’t especially lucrative. When did you start to make serious money?
When I started producing after Lesley Gore. I was the first black vice-president at a record label [Mercury], which was great — except that meant they didn’t pay me for producing herJones had his first major pop successes — including 1963’s “It’s My Party” — producing a teenaged Lesley Gore for the Mercury label, where Jones was named a vice-president in 1964. . You know how they do; you know your country. But after that, in the ’70s, when I started producing for other artists, and then with Michael of course, that made me a lot of money. And big money came from TV producing — The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, that was huge for me. Mad TV was on for 14 years. That syndication money is great, man.

How much did your upbringing — the difficulties with your mother and growing up in real povertyAs recounted in his 2002 autobiography, Q, Jones’s youth in Chicago and Seattle was one of almost unimaginable physical and emotional trauma. In addition to facing poverty, he was stabbed in the hand by a gang member as a child, and frequently witnessed his mother’s extreme and frightening mental instability. — affect how you perceive success?
Of course it affected it. I appreciate the shit I have because I know what it’s like to have nothing.

What about having a fractured family? How did that change you?
Same as with money, man. I appreciate what I got.

How often do you think about your mother?
All the time. She died in a mental home. Brilliant lady, but she never got the help she needed. Her dementia praecox could’ve been cured with vitamin B, but she couldn’t get it because she was black.

When you think about her now, what comes to mind?
That I wish I could’ve been closer to her. What happened to her — for kids, that’s a bitch.

What’s the most ambitious thing you have left to do?
Qwest TVQwest TV is a subscription streaming service mostly dedicated to footage of jazz performances and documentaries. It’s still in beta. . Everybody is excited about it. It’s going to be a musical Netflix. It’s the best music from every genre around the world. So if kids want to hear something great, it’ll be right there for them. I can’t believe I still get to be involved in things like this. I stopped drinking two years ago and I feel like I’m 19 years old. I’ve never been so creative. I can’t tell you, man — what a life!

This interview has been edited and condensed from two conversations.