Listen Up! The Lives of Quincy Jones (DVD)
This unique and fascinating look at the legendary musician, arranger, composer and producer offers a collage of memories, sounds and intimate interviews with musical greats in a rousing showcase of popular music. It's a living history of black America, a revealing glimpse into the psyche of an artist, and a modern story of inspiration. Featuring appearances by legendary performers Miles Davis, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, Lionel Hampton and Barbra Streisand.
If casual music fans know the name of the man who is the subject of Listen Up: The Lives of Quincy Jones
, more than likely it's as the producer of Off the Wall
, the two albums that launched Michael Jackson into the pop stratosphere, or perhaps as the musical mastermind behind "We Are the World." Yet while those may be Jones's biggest successes, they certainly aren't the only ones; indeed, some might argue that they are not even the most representative entries on the resumé of the composer-arranger-producer who has made a career of defying all attempts to categorize and define him. A partial list of the folks who appear in director Ellen Weissbrod's 1990 documentary provides some idea of Jones's stature: Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra, Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, and Barbra Streisand, to name just the biggest of the big. Some of them were involved in the making of Back on the Block
, the album Jones was working on at the time and a kind of career summation that included elements of jazz, pop, hip-hop, R&B, and other styles. That recording provides the overall context here, but there's a great deal more, as Jones leads us through his hardscrabble Chicago childhood (his mother had gone to a mental hospital when he was 6 or 7; as a result, "the word 'mother' doesn't have much meaning for me"), the family's move to Seattle, his days as a trumpeter with Lionel Hampton and later as leader of his own big band, his move into production (among his earliest successes, amazingly, was Lesley Gore's "It's My Party") and film composing (In the Heat of the Night
, The Color Purple
, and many more), his three failed marriages, the effects of race on his life and work, and serious health issues such as the near-fatal cerebral aneurysm he suffered in 1974. Weissbrod takes a creative approach to all of this, eschewing voice-over narration in favor of a more freeform collection of spoken words and images, often commingling and overlapping older footage with moodily lit current interview segments and scenes of "Q" at work in the studio. Bonus material includes various featurettes, one of them with Jones and Brazilian musician Gilberto Gil. --Sam Graham