Listen Up

Subtitled 'The Lives of Quincy Jones,' this earnest but needlessly jumbled documentary rounds up musical heavyweights – from Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis to Michael Jackson and Ice-T – to give the good word on Jones as trumpeter, composer, conductor, arranger, producer and friend. Whether it's jazz or pop, R&B or rap, Jones has been an innovator for four decades. So we're told. How much better it would have been to see how Jones does it.

Instead, producer Courtney Sale Ross and first-time director Ellen Weissbrod reduce the musical segments to maddening snippets – except for a few promotional glimpses of Jones at work on his most recent record, Back on the Block. And yet there's time for Barbra Streisand to burble about how Jones "inspires trust" and for Steven Spielberg to lionize Jones as "a spray gun of love." Among the interviewees, Lionel Hampton, Gillespie and Davis are the most revealing and fun. "Pop – that means 'white,' doesn't it?" asks Davis in a mischievous aside about music the movie could have used more of.

On a visit to Jones's former home in Chicago, the camera ominously examines a lace curtain as Jones free-associates about childhood traumas, racism and violence. Later, his daughter, Jolie, talks of her father's workaholism, his womanizing and the aneurysm that almost killed him. But these topics are merely touched upon, not probed. There's a compelling subject on view in Listen Up. It's too bad the filmmakers have chosen a spotlight instead of a microscope to do the examination.

From The Archives Issue 589: October 18, 1990