Quotable Quotes -12 Notes: On Life and Creativity by Quincy Jones 

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American record producer, Quincy Jones shares 12 strategies and insights that have helped him navigate the roller coaster of life and creativity. Quincy’s career spans 70 years in the entertainment industry with 80 Grammy Award nominations and 28 Grammy Awards won.

Quincy’s former teacher in Paris, Nadia Boulanger used to tell him: “Quincy, there are only twelve notes. Until God gives us thirteen, I want you to know what everybody did with those twelve.” Bach, Beethoven, Bo Diddley, everybody . . . it’s the same twelve notes. Isn’t it amazing? That’s all we have, and it’s up to each of us to create our own unique sound through a combination of rhythm, harmony, and melody.”


In 12 Notes: On Life and Creativity, Quincy breaks down his principles, approach to life, and philosophies, along with standout stories from his journey in twelve chapters called “notes”.

The 12 Notes are:

Recycle your pain, if you can see it you can be it, go to know, establish your guideposts, always be prepared for a great opportunity, sharpen your left brain, avoid paralysis from analysis, understand the power of being underestimated, do what’s never been done before, value relationships, and most important, recognize the beauty and inherent value of life.

Here are some great quotable quotes from 12 Notes: On Life and Creativity by Quincy Jones 

On Creativity

  • Creativity is made up of two parts: science and soul (left and right brain). The scientific side is that which needs to be learned and practiced. But the soulful side (which is composed of emotions) is something that can’t be taught—it’s simply the essence of who you are as a human being.
  • There are two kinds of people: those who have been properly nurtured and those who haven’t. There’s really nothing in between. When you’ve been nurtured, you know it, and when you haven’t, you really know it.

Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured. – Mark Twain

  • Creativity is one of the most beautiful gifts we possess. If utilized properly, not only does it serve as an outlet, but it also holds the power to transform heartache into something beyond a singular sentiment.

Trauma is frozen at the peak, and if you stay trapped at the top, you’ll die.


  • There’s a saying that trauma is frozen at the peak, and if you stay trapped at the top, you’ll die. Sometimes mentally, sometimes physically, and sometimes both. And if you close yourself off to the message that you are meant to share, you may never have to face your personal fears and trauma, but nothing good will ever come from it.

Personal growth is just a journey from mind pollution to mind solution.

  • Whenever we get hung up and locked into the past, we are completely robbing ourselves of the present, and definitely the future. We can sit in the negativity of the days gone by or we can use it as fuel to propel our creativity, and life, forward. In most cases, extreme mental illness aside, we ultimately have the choice to decide what we focus on: the good or the bad. Sure, you can hold on to your anger, but bitterness will only destroy you.

 Without hope, opportunities do nothing more than demonstrate to a disadvantaged individual what they are unqualified to be.

  • Youth is an extremely impressionable time of life, and while that can be a great asset, it can also be detrimental to your development if the things you are molding into don’t serve your best interest.
  • Life is a beautiful responsibility, but it’s also a beautiful burden. It’s ultimately yours to protect for the time you’ve been given. Whether you’re on the side of seeking out hope or in a position to help spread it.

You are more courageous than you think, wiser than you know, and more loved than you could ever imagine.

  • Hope may be presented in different forms, but it’s always in the fine print. It’s not about starting out on top, but it’s about realizing how far you have to climb and then never giving up.

Leave your Comfort Zone

  • You’ve got to step outside of what is familiar to you because falling prey to comfort only prevents you from experiencing the fullness of life that different people, places, and languages have to offer. Not only will you be able to see more of the beauty that this planet has to offer, but, as a creator, you will in turn be able to reflect that in your art.

Not one drop of my self-worth depends on your acceptance of me. – Quincy’s Dad favourite phrase

  • You can’t allow yourself to get so comfortable to the point where you wear ignorance as a badge and think it’s OK to not know what happened before you. It’s never cool not to know.
  • It’s a beautiful thing to reflect and learn, rather than to reject and repeat.
  • If you don’t want outside forces defining who you are, then you’ve got to combat those forces just as often with words and actions that remind you of your identity.

Your success in any field is only as strong as the foundation that you create for yourself.

  • If you’re waiting until after your back is against the wall to establish your guideposts, the odds are sure to be in favor of your opponent.
  • You see, opportunities aren’t usually hard to come by, but opportunities that you’re properly prepared for are few and far between.
  • Everything in your life is a chain reaction, and your ability to deliver will usually be judged based on your last encounter.

Good luck usually follows the collision of opportunity and preparation, so you’ve got to be prepared. Keep developing your skills, and then let whatever might happen, happen.

  • Always be ready to dive into the details, as it’s the only way to ascend to the top of your field.
  • Purposeful practice only leads to improvement, and you simply can’t have one without the other.
  • Always remember that there’s freedom within restriction. You’ve got to know the rules in order to break them.
  • Creativity is informed by what you feel, not what you think, and learning to tune into those feelings is what is ultimately going to carry you through when distractions come.
  •  If people overestimate you, they get in your way, but if they underestimate you, they get out.

Being underestimated is the best position to be in because it provides you with an opportunity to not only meet expectations but also to exceed them.

  • Most important, being underestimated helps to keep the ego in check. Being prematurely hyped up and congratulated can lead to arrogance. Getting a big head doesn’t do anything for you except make you look like a fool.
  •  It’s always better to surprise your critics than to prove them right. Don’t walk around boasting that you’re the “best” because your work will speak for itself. Instead of chasing fame, lean into your time of obscurity, or position of unexpected greatness, to plan and prepare for your next endeavor.

The time of least attention is often when you can see the most clearly, without having the opinions of others as a distraction.

  • Placing too much emphasis on the assumptions of others is the quickest way to fail because expecting validation from external sources will only leave you feeling empty. It’s a meaningless pursuit.
  • It’s important to set lofty dreams in order to avoid outgrowing them because an ego is really just an overdressed insecurity.

You need to work on yourself just as much as you work on your art.

  • Your music can never be more or less than you are as a human being. –  Quincy’s former music teacher Nadia Boulanger
  • You must have humility with your creativity, and grace with your success. Feelings of invincibility may start to creep in when you reach certain levels of achievements, but money and fame don’t make you better than anybody else. Basic principles of human decency go hand-in-hand with your creative training.
  • You’ve really only got one shot at a reputation, and how you handle the relationships you develop along the way fills a big portion of that equation.

Learn to deal with the valleys, because the hills will take care of themselves

  • Don’t do things as a way to get something in return. Do it because it is the right thing to do. It might not feel like you get anything out of it, but that’s exactly the point. It’s not for you. It’s the right thing to do.
  • Preserving a person’s trust is one of the most valuable things you can do, and when you make good relationships, you keep them for life.
  • You can’t treat people like they’re disposable because . . . they aren’t. – Steve Ross (former CEO of Time Warner)

Acting without integrity might get you to a certain point, but the consequences of your actions will always catch up to you.

  • Stewardship helps create a stronger bond between generations, while also instilling in individuals a sense of belief that has the power to transform entire populations.
  • A mentor is simply anyone who can see the question marks or glimmer of hope in your eyes. There is no rulebook for how to be a mentor, other than the fact that you just have to stay true to a desire to make a difference in someone else’s life.
  • You don’t need to be some type of celebrity or have a massive platform to be mentored or to become a mentor; it simply comes down to finding someone who believes in you, and finding someone else you believe in.

Careers are volatile and status comes and goes, but when it’s all said and done, what legacy will you be proud to leave behind? And what will you be proud to have done with the time you’ve had?

  • The tricky thing about life is that you have to continuously reflect on your growth. A habit is a habit for a reason. They’re hard to shake, and it’s easy to forget lessons you’ve learned once they’re in the rearview mirror.

All the Best in your quest to get Better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.

Lifelong Learner | Entrepreneur | Digital Strategist at Reputiva LLC | Marathoner | Bibliophile [email protected]

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