Many fans of pop music know that Quincy Jones was the famed producer who made the late Michael Jackson a superstar when he fashioned his “Off the Wall” and “Thriller” albums in the early 1980s. However, few know how incredibly diverse and prolific Jones has been as a producer, arranger, composer and performer over his many decades as a musician. Director Ellen Weissbrod’s 1990 documentary Listen Up: The Lives of Quincy Jones sheds a lot of light on this incredibly driven and creative music legend.
A Chicago Southside native, Quincy’s career began in jazz bands when he was just out of his teens, playing with the legendary Lionel Hampton. But Weissbrod interviews so many various artists who literally sing his praises, you get the sense that Jones influenced most types of popular music throughout the latter half of the 20th Century.
Interviews with Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Ray Charles, Dizzy Gillespie, Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand all reveal Jones’ incredible arrangement abilities and sense of each artist’s unique sound.
Oprah Winfrey, Alex Haley and Jesse Jackson reveal their personal respect and admiration for Jones’ impact on African-American culture and music. Famed television shows, like Sanford and Son and Ironside contain Jones’ magical theme songs. Hip hop artists alike compliment Jones on his never-ending interests in different music genres and expressions. Kool Moe Dee, Flavor Flav and Ice-T each acclaim Jones’ brilliance and vision.
Jones’ work as the creative mind behind the famed ’80s “We Are World” song, which combined the talents of so many major musical talents for Aid for Africa, is documented in this film with a passion depicting a man of great social conscience.
Film directors, including Sidney Lumet, Richard Brooks and Steven Spielberg, reveal the incredible influence on their films’ overall impact and success that Jones’ original scores had. The Pawnbroker, In Cold Blood, In the Heat of the Night and The Color Purple would not have had nearly as much emotional power if not for Jones’ scores.
The film also reveals Jones’ personal side, his failed marriages, his many kids and his passion for life, even after suffering a near-fatal brain surgery after an aneurysm. Listen Up: The Lives of Quincy Jones is an incredibly fascinating biography, but also an incredibly entertaining two hours, as viewers discover the sheer scope of this one man’s influence on music.