Unless you hail from some small village never before visited by outsiders, and this is one of your first times ever using the Internet, chances are you’ve heard music written, performed, arranged, and/ or produced by Quincy Jones. And if you happened across any popular music from the twentieth or twenty-first century in that journey that led you to the Internet, regardless of the genre, it’s safe to also state that Quincy Jones played some role in inspiring that music, too.
There isn’t a musician alive today who hasn’t been influenced, directly or indirectly, by the work of Quincy Jones. Think I’m wrong? Name any modern musician. Google their influences. Google their influence’s influences. You’re going to find Quincy Jones, and you’re going to find him more than once. And I’m stating this as a fact, because that’s quite frankly what it is. Forget “the seven degrees of Kevin Bacon.” In the music world, in terms of influence alone, it’s the seven degrees of Quincy Jones.
The scope of his immeasurable talent has been felt outside of music, too. He’s produced hit television shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and big screen classics like The Color Purple, and has appeared on screen many times, often in cameo roles as himself.
Jones has picked up countless nominations and awards for all of his work. His name frequently appears at the Grammy Awards, the Oscars, and more. Schools and performing arts centers are named after him. He has honors from the Kennedy Center and a list of humanitarian awards as long as Lebron James’ arm.
Knowing and appreciating the tremendous impact on popular culture Quincy Jones has had, I was honestly weary at first when I read recently that Netflix was releasing a documentary about him. How on Earth would they tell his whole story in a couple of hours? You could pretty easily put together just a two-hour clip of him working with various artists over the years, and you’d think viewers might learn more from that than a documentary riddled with holes and leaving some unfathomable number of details on the chopping block.
You’d could think that anyway. But you’d be wrong.
Quincy does, in fact, lay out a highly engaging and comprehensive telling of the story of Jones’ life and his unwavering musical appreciation, while being extremely respectful of his tremendous and unmistakable influences on modern culture. And if there are any holes in the film’s narrative, it certainly isn’t apparent.
Directed by Quincy Jones’ impeccably talented daughter Rashida Jones, Quincy is a documentary film that splits its time between Jones’ current goings on — hosting a jazz festival and producing a live show for the Smithsonian — and a detailed walk-through of his storied and illustrious career, narrated in large part by Jones himself, with additional narration provided through interview clips from a lengthy list of the music icons he’s worked with and inspired through the decades.
The film’s retrospective elements begin with Quincy Jones discussing his upbringing with rapper and fellow popular music icon Dr. Dre, growing up in a rough neighborhood in 1930’s Chicago. His aspirations as a youth were more criminally-based than musically-inspired, at least until his father moved his family away from the Windy City’s violently harrowing streets to the more peaceful town of Bremerton, Washington, where the local high school has since been renamed in Jones’ honor.
Jones’ mother, Sarah Frances Wells, suffered from mental illness when Jones was young, enduring a schizophrenic breakdown when their family still lived in Chicago. Quincy touches on that subject, and the stigma that accompanies it. It’s difficult for the film not to; Jones’ relationship with his mother played an integral role in his life, both in his upbringing and in influencing his music in a number of ways.
Jones watched as his mother was put into a straitjacket, kicking and screaming as they dragged her away. On some occasions, his mother would escape the institution where she was kept and break into their home. Many feared she was violent and dangerous; Jones grew up fearing her.
Jones talks about a particularly troubling evening where his mother barged into a venue where he was performing, much to his surprise and chagrin. She told him “God doesn’t like sinners. Make music for God only or you’ll be redeemed in Hell.”
The episode was emotionally challenging for the young Jones, who would later find solace in words from one of his mentors, Count Basie, who told him “learn to take care of the valleys, Quincy. The hills will take care of themselves.”
Quincy details at length Jones’ life and career. From his early friendship with Ray Charles, to his trumpeting with the band of the legendary Lionel Hampton, to his work writing for Dinah Washington, through his immaculate career working with everyone from Frank Sinatra to Stevie Wonder to Michael Jackson to Will Smith, Quincy Jones has had an awe-inspiring, meteoric impact on the music industry in such a way that every modern genre of popular music has felt his presence.
In its snaps to modern times, we see Quincy Jones recovering from a diabetic coma he suffered in 2015, which led him down a path toward sobriety. As a younger man, Jones suffered two aneurysms in the 1970’s, which he discussed at length in his interview with ABILITY Magazine in 2011.
With the love and support of his family and friends, Jones manages to recover and resume a challenging, hectic work schedule that would leave most people a third his age gasping for air. It’s a true testament to the passion and drive that has made Quincy Jones a proper icon, whose legacy will far outlast any person living today.
Quincy is as informative as it is engaging. As personal as it is fair. Rashida Jones plots out a riveting course when documenting her father’s fabled career that manages to make you feel a personal connection to its subject matter almost immediately.
This isn’t merely a film about Quincy Jones. It’s a film about the black experience in America. It’s a film about the history of modern music. And you’d be hard-pressed to find another film that explores all three of these topics with as much depth as Quincy does.
Quincy is currently available on Netflix with a subscription.
by Matt Terzi