Quincy Jones: The Many Lives of Q, BBC4
Anyone with a passing interest in music knows that Quincy Jones is a major player in the biz, but people who tell you they know everything about his career are bare-faced liars. There are friends of Quincy’s interviewed in this doc who have known him all his life, and not even they’ve managed to fully grasp quite what a titan he is.
My knowledge of Q, previous to sitting down to fall in love with part one of this excellent two-parter (four hours in total), may have run similarly to yours: I knew he was a jazz man first, then a super-producer who was the brains behind Michael Jackson’s rise to become the undisputed King of Pop in the eighties. Somewhere along the line he did a few film scores too.
That, it transpires, is a mere fraction of the story, and I never imagined that this man, who a “Persil white” music and film business allowed into the boardroom (he was the first ever black executive on a major label), was such a badass. He says he knew the second he first tapped a piano key, aged 11, that music was his destiny. What was he doing when he came across the piano? Robbing. His second and third loves? “Beauty and booty.” Right on!
The interviewees in this film (jazz cats like Herbie Hancock, film stars like Michael Caine, and pop guys like, cough, Phil Collins) think Quincy is a genius. On the strength of the extraordinary contributions to music detailed, it’s hard to disagree. He started out, aged 18, playing in one of the hottest big bands of the time – Lionel Hampton’s – and went on to laugh in the face of genre, not to mention racism, by becoming a celebrated composer and arranger. The top job back then? Working with Sinatra, and Quincy got it, just as Frank was hitting his absolute peak.
Restless, he moved into film, scoring countless movies, including The Color Purple and The Italian Job. That he wrote ‘The Self Preservation Society’, which instantly became a staple on football terraces, is a perfect example of his staggering versatility. Michael Caine says that he freaked when he heard that Jones, a black American still best known then as a jazz man, was scoring such an English movie. But Q nailed it, just as he did for almost everyone he worked with.
Sections of this film deal with his tempestuous private life, and that’s fascinating too. Women: Q loves them, and by the end of part one he’d already been married three times. And almost died of a cerebral aneurysm in 1974.
Part two of the documentary airs just after this issue of The Stool Pigeon prints. It will cover Thriller, the best-selling album of all time, which Quincy quickly mentions here wasn’t plagued by the “paralysis of analysis”. He produced it in eight weeks.
You’d better believe we’ll be glued. This man should be as well known as Sinatra or Jackson. Check the Wikipedia entry: it’s criminally short. Major props to Auntie, then, for allotting four hours to this incredible man. Richly deserved.