How do you capture Quincy Jones’ legacy? How do you cover seven decades of music? Seems like an impossible task, but his daughter Rashida Jones and filmmaker Alan Hicks paired up to pull off the task and deliver outstanding insights into the building of a titan in the brand new Netflix documentary Quincy.
It’s early evening and Quincy Jones has been meeting the press all day to talk with about the documentary. I had the honor of sitting with Quincy Jones and Alan Hicks for a brief sitdown session in Beverly Hills earlier this week to chat about making the film, hanging with Princess Margaret, and learn what album he wished he had worked on. It’s a brief encounter, but sitting down with him is an experience that will never be forgotten. He’s cheery and has an incredible sense of humor, but as brief as our time was, he takes time to learn about you, asking as we talk. Read our chat below and enjoy Quincy, streaming on Netflix from September 21, don’t miss it!
Quincy: Where were you raised?
I was born and raised in London, but my mother was from the Philippines.
Quincy: Do you speak Cockney?
Yeah, I can but I’m from Souf London so it’s a bit ‘ard. [laughs]
Quincy: Michael Caine and Cary Grant were Cockney boys. Archibald Leach [laughs].
You’ve had a long day.
You’re telling me. [laughs]
We’re going to speed date. First of all, thank you for sharing your story and thank you both for making the story. What was the first thing you said to Quincy about making the documentary and what did Rashida tell you, Quincy?
Quincy: Action! Cut.
Alan: Rashida had been filming already with her 5D camera. I met her right at the end of Keep On Keeping On and I could see she was in the same place that I was in just a few years before. We became good friends and she asked if I would direct with her. Once we got together we started brainstorming how we wanted this ideally to turn out and set some filmmaking parameters. We wanted it to be in a two-hour timeframe. We didn’t want any talking heads. We wanted it to be a mix between the present and the past. Quincy’s take on it was, “You guys show it to me when you’ve finished.”
It was open for us to just dive in and tell the story.
Was that easy for you to hand that control over?
Qunicy: No, but when you have this kind of family, it’s about trust and respect. I just stay vertical, that’s all.
Alan, what’s your first memory of Quincy Jones?
My first memory is, the first album I got was Quincy Plays Hip Hits. That’s the very first thing that I knew about him and I got Frank Sinatra and Count Basie At the Sands. A crazy thing happened — I moved from Australia to New York when I was 18 to study music in the city. When I was at the airport, my dad bought me a book and it was the Quincy Jones autobiography. It was 17 years ago.
Quincy: Who bought it?
Alan: My dad. I read that from front to back on the trip over and I couldn’t believe it. So, for me, it’s pretty crazy that we ended up here.
In two hours, there’s such a wealth of memories and archival footage, what was that like to see it all, revisited and hearing all those tunes?
Quincy: It was earthshaking because there’s so much stuff. I’m shocked they did it in two hours.
The figures on the footage are huge.
Alan: We shot 800 hours with Quincy. We went to 25 different countries and we found 2000 hours of archival footage, so it was 2800 hours of footage that we went through.
Quincy: It’s a long time. I’ve been in the business 70 years. I’ve been active every decade.
Alan: That’s over 3000 songs and over 300 albums. We had a crazy amount of material in every aspect. We also had over 20,000 photographs. So, between the music that he’s written and how well documented his life has been, we had all this crazy and amazing stuff. We were trying to get into a length that was digestible.
The documentary opens with the podcast and you talking to Dr. Dre telling him you wanted to be a gangster, but then you discovered the piano. What was it like playing that piano for the first time?
Quincy: I’d heard music all the time. It’s just been an amazing journey. When I touched that piano, immediately, I said, “this is it” because I would be in jail or dead if I had kept on that gangster thing.
Here we are with your amazing legacy.
Do you have babies?
No babies. I like babies. I like my friend’s babies but I give them back at the end of the day.
They’re like grandkids, they go home. [laughs]
They do. Talk about working with Rashida on this.
I trust her with anything. I told her I wouldn’t let her go professional until she finished being a little girl. She got out of Harvard at 21. I gave her two books, Robert McKee’s story and Chris Volger’s The Writer’s Journey, she memorized that. That’s the bible of screenplays. And off she went.
You went to Europe, discovered music and trained there. What brought you back?
I don’t know. It’s probably because I had too good of a time in Paris. They know how to do everything: wine, food, girls, everything. That’s why there are so many ex-patriots there. Everyone was there — Lucky Thompson, Kenny Clarke, Wardell Gray. They treat you so nice over there, and you know, we would not have had jazz if not for the French. That’s for sure.
You make me want to visit Paris.
Where did you live?
I used to have lunch with Princess Margaret every two weeks. And boy, she was something else.
That must have been fun.
We’d hang out in Mustique. One time, after we’d had a lot of wine she said, “The royal family has more black blood than your family does.”
Aren’t you related to the Royal Family?
I am. Edward Longshanks.
Alan, what surprised you the most after spending so much time with him?
It’s the surprises. He’s had this amazing career, but he’s been around major events. Like finding out he was in the room with Miles Davis when he recorded Kind of Blue and his music was the first music played on the Moon. It was little things that I’d find out. I had no idea about his involvement with Nelson Mandela. There was over 40 years of correspondence and all these humanitarian efforts that they had worked on together. When you’re working on someone’s life like Quincy’s, it’s full of surprises.
I’m told I have to wrap it up, but what do you listen to?
Everything. Mystery Voices of Bulgaria. A French arranger went over and got some farm girls and did an arrangement for them and their record was a huge hit. They sound like Africans. I hired them to be the opening act when I brought Miles to Montreux. Miles asked, “What is that?” I said, “You’ll see.” They blew him away, but it’s exciting. I like taking a chance. You have to take a chance. I always say, you can’t get an A if you’re afraid of an F. Take a chance.
I’m going to take that for sure. You’ve worked with everybody. Is there anyone you wanted to work with but didn’t?
I was supposed to do Whitney’s first album when she was sixteen. I wanted to work with Bobby McFerrin. I’m OK, I’ll survive.
Your birthday celebration is coming up soon.
I’m going to be 97 by the time the last one comes around. [laughs].
You are a survivor and a legend.
I am. [laughs]
Did you know about everything that was in the documentary?
I didn’t. I was blown away by the treasure chest of music in there. Especially the earlier stuff.
Alan: The soundtrack is coming out next week.