Emmy Contenders: Rashida Jones Talks ‘Quincy,’ Her Award-Winning Doc On Dad Quincy Jones
When Rashida Jones paid tribute to her father Quincy Jones recently at a Netflix FYSEE event in Hollywood, she assured him there would never be another person like him.
“I hope not,” the elder Jones cracked.
“No, there won’t be,” Rashida replied. “Don’t worry.”
The occasion for the tribute was a screening of the Netflix documentary Quincy, which Rashida directed with Alan Hicks. Over a span of 124 minutes it illustrates why there will never be, and could never be, another Quincy Jones. His accomplishments are too rare, too varied and unprecedented to be repeated.
“The feedback’s been great,” Rashida says of the film, which earlier this year won a Grammy Award for Best Music Film. “The whole purpose to make the film was really to give people the feeling of hanging out with my dad, like the kind of intimate hang that I personally want you to have. And, obviously, track his incredible life and career.”
The documentary—now contending for Emmys in multiple categories—follows Jones on trips around the world—to Stockholm, Sweden to meet with Spotify executives, to the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, and to Washington, D.C. in 2016 for the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, where he produced the star-studded kickoff concert.
“The access we had [with him] was not just access; he was happy to have us around,” Rashida tells Deadline. “Obviously, that comes from trust and probably loving your kids, but also he kind of knows what kind of people Al and I are…The fact that he trusted us meant we would be able to tell the right story as opposed to being micromanaged by our subject.”
The film rewinds to Jones’ early days on the mean streets of Chicago in the late 1930s and early ’40s, the loss of his schizophrenic mother, who was sent away to a mental institution when Quincy was seven, and his abrupt move to Seattle at age 11 when his father took urgent action to get Quincy and his younger brother away from Chicago gangsters.
It was in Seattle that Jones came upon a piano; he describes knowing instantly that music would be his life’s passion. Remarkably, by the time he was 18 he was touring with Lionel Hampton’s band as a trumpeter. From there it was a rapid ascent to the top, becoming a much sought-after arranger and conductor, and later the first African-American with a senior executive position at a record label.
He would produce hit singles for Lesley Gore (“Its My Party,” “You Don’t Own Me”), compose film scores (In Cold Blood, In the Heat of the Night) and television themes (Ironside), become a key collaborator with Frank Sinatra, produce The Color Purple and TV’s The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and put together the 1985 mega-song “We Are the World” benefitting famine relief in Ethiopia. And then there’s his collaboration with Michael Jackson, which produced three albums, including Thriller, the biggest-selling album of all time.
“We wanted to make the definitive movie about Quincy and have it be in a length that is digestible for one sitting,” comments Hicks, an Australian native who directed an award-winning documentary on jazz musician Clark Terry. “A hundred years from now somebody could make a huge series about Quincy’s life, like a 10-20 part series. But what was different in what we had was Quincy here, right now, to be celebrated.”
“I would say my favorite part of the movie is just a time in American history that I’m currently so interested in,” notes Rashida, “when he was working with Frank [Sinatra]. I think a lot of people who know my dad from the Michael Jackson times would be surprised to know that he kind of created that sound for Frank [in the 1960s].”
Quincy came of age in a time of intense racism in the United States, but despite that, his life has been marked by a value for human beings regardless of race.
“He says he didn’t see anybody white until he was 11,” notes Rashida. “[It] becomes this life quest to try to shed those boundaries between people—the things that make us hate each other…He does not forget our history, he won’t let us forget our history, but he also wants us to, at some point, operate out of love. It’s really hard to hold those two [ideas] in one space, but he manages to do it.”
The documentary does not shy away from the one area of Quincy’s life where he experienced, one might say, mixed success: his love life. He has been married three times, fathering seven children through those and other relationships. Rashida and her older sister Kidada are by his marriage to actress Peggy Lipton, Quincy’s wife from 1974 to 1990.
It was just hours after the NYSEE event for Quincy on May 10 that Rashida and Kidada announced the death of their mother, who succumbed to cancer at age 72.
Quincy, who turned 86 on March 14 (making him a Pisces—astrological signs are very important to him), has survived several health scares, including a near-fatal brain aneurysm in 1974. Perhaps those experiences, along with a natural inclination, have made him open to introspection.
“As a producer he has to be that way because, ultimately, his interactions with people, his ability to be authentic requires him to be self-reflective,” Rashida comments. “If he’s a conduit for something bigger than himself, I think it’s really hard to do that if you’re caught up in some kind of megalomania…I think by nature of what what he does, he has to keep being curious and humble and reflective.”