Quincy Jones’ relevance resurged last year in a string of off-the-wall interviews where he was quoted saying such things as he thought the Beatles were the worst musicians in the world, Michael Jackson stole music from other artists including Donna Summers, he knows who killed JFK, he dated Ivanka Trump, and Richard Pryor and Marlon Brando had sex. Now he continues to be in the spotlight with the documentary feature simply titled Quincy.
The film’s storytelling is rather procedural. Black and white photos slowly pan in Ken Burns fashion. These are intercut by modern-day footage of his Jones’ tour and medical ailments, which all lead up to an inaugural concert opening up a museum dedicated to the African American experience. This is a clever way to introduce his friendships with Paul McCartney, Willie Nelson, Oprah Winfrey, Tom Hanks, John Legend, Dave Chappelle, Lionel Richie, and many others.
Jones’ life is quite astounding. In a true rags-to-riches story, he grew up on the south side of Chicago during the Great Depression, overcoming poverty and developing into a prominent jazz arranger. Scoring films, he garnered several Oscar nominations for movies including In Cold Blood and Banning. The TV miniseries Roots and the movies The Wiz and The Color Purple have his fingerprints all over them.
He collaborated with greats such as Frank Sinatra and produced Michael Jackson’s albums Off the Wall, Thriller, and Bad. Hip-hop has a lot to thank Jones for, as his jazz production influenced the likes Dr. Dre and Will Smith, and his magazine Vibe helped transition the genre into the mainstream. He has more Grammy nominations than any other artist. His profound impact is still clear with cameos in the doc from Lady Gaga, Kendrick Lamar, and even Barack Obama.
The documentary’s downfall is the closeness behind the scenes to the subject. His daughter Rashida Jones (of Parks and Recreation fame) co-wrote and co-directed the film (with Alan Hicks). She even inserts herself in some of the scenes. Quincy Jones himself narrates most of the film. This prevents any sort of detached perspective of an artist’s life. Quincy never really has any teeth, any traction, and it never takes any risks while examining its subject.
Yes, the doc mentions his mother’s mental illness and his failed marriages due to his work ethic, but it all seems to come back to a tribute of Quincy Jones’ ability to overcome. The film plays out more like a slideshow or montage at an awards show than a documentary. Despite it being shot over a few years, its release feels like positive PR after his coming across as a bit nutty in the media last year.
Still, is Quincy worth watching? Yes, if only to learn more about one of the most iconic musicians and producers of all time, a true master of his craft. Is it hard-hitting journalism? No. But, even the most cynical viewer can’t help but be inspired by a life full of such achievements.