Film Review: Quincy

Co-directing with Alan Hicks, actress Rashida Jones presents an intimate, affectionate film portrait of her singular father, music legend Quincy Jones.
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Consider the iconic names Quincy Jones has collaborated with during his fabled career: Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Dinah Washington, Miles Davis, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin and Michael Jackson, among many others. Trumpet prodigy, composer, arranger and producer, Jones’ career spans many musical genres, from jazz to R&B to pop to hip-hop, along with propulsive movie and TV scores. It’s truly a singular CV, first covered in the 1990 documentary Listen Up: The Lives of Quincy Jones. Now, his daughter, actress Rashida Jones, and Alan Hicks (Keep on Keepin’ On) have delivered a movie portrait of the 85-year-old legend that, while anything but objective, is still unafraid to go to some dark places and benefits from an intimacy other filmmakers might not have attained.

“It was our goal to try and simulate what it’s really like to hang out with my dad,” says Rashida Jones, who clearly adores her father and does capture his impish personality when he’s not hard at work on his latest project. Filming over the course of several years, she also recorded two health scares: a 2015 stroke that put him into a diabetic coma, and a sudden collapse onstage during a public appearance. Jones stopped drinking (a real hardship for the fast-living musician) after that stroke, and based on his robust appearance at the recent Toronto International Film Festival premiere, he seems likely to keep going for years.

The other shadows that loom over this generally upbeat force of nature are his extremely impoverished and dangerous childhood in Chicago (he proudly shows off his scars from that fraught environment) and the trauma of seeing his schizophrenic mother dragged off in a straitjacket when he was seven. But a chance encounter with a piano gave him direction, and by age 14 he was playing trumpet professionally; by age 19, he was touring Europe with famed bandleader Lionel Hampton.

Many milestones followed: becoming the first African-American vice president at a major record label, Mercury Records; producing hit pop singles for teen idol Lesley Gore; arranging landmark albums for Frank Sinatra; composing nearly 40 movie soundtracks, beginning with Sidney Lumet’s The Pawnbroker in 1964 and including Oscar winner In the Heat of the Night; producing Michael Jackson’s Thriller, until this year the biggest album of all time; producing the all-star “We Are the World” session, the biggest single of all time; producing The Color Purple and the hit TV series “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”; winning the “Album of the Year” Grammy for Back on the Block, and co-founding Vibe magazine.

And Q isn’t done yet: A running thread in Quincy is Jones’ ambitious preparations as producer of a TV special for the opening of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African-American History & Culture. (Watch how quickly he gets Colin Powell on the phone.)

Jones has six daughters and one son by five different women, and his extended family gathers happily for special events in the film, though a common complaint is that Daddy’s workaholic lifestyle didn’t leave enough parenting time. His longest relationship was his 16-year marriage to beautiful “Mod Squad” and “Twin Peaks” actress Peggy Lipton (Rashida’s mother), the only person besides Quincy allowed some narration time in the film.

Although Jones is a lively, genial presence throughout, missing are the uncensored, outrageous opinions he expressed about such musical idols as The Beatles and Michael Jackson in a recent, widely read New York magazine interview. Perhaps Q was on his best behavior for his daughter.

Still, this is a wide, wide-ranging chronicle of an amazing life, one touching on nearly every facet of 20th-century popular music. (As Jones contends, there are only two kinds of music: good and bad.) And, from the opening montage set to The Brothers Johnson’s “Stomp,” the film overflows with samplings from the master’s extraordinary musical legacy. Despite its occasional dark musings, Quincy is a party.