10 obscenities, 2 profanities and occasional crude language.
The life of Quincy Jones, as trumpeter, composer, conductor, arranger, and producer, is the subject of this offbeat, impressionistic documentary that celebrates the history of black music and, perhaps, its most gifted producer. Journeying across four generations of American culture, the film melds a collage of memories, sounds and interviews into a showcase of pop, soul, hip-hop, bebop, African, and jazz.
Jones’ vibrant life and work has had a profound effect on artists in many fields. Jones is best known for masterminding such landmark records as “We Are the World” and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” plus he had a hand in TV’s “Roots,” and the movie versions of “The Wiz” and “The Color Purple.”
With candid comments from an array of artists, (Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, and Barbara Streisand, as well as personal family members), LISTEN UP is not only a chronicle of Jones’ multifaceted musical careers, but also a vivid portrait of a man whose personal radiance manages to outshine even his extraordinary creativity. “He made me sound better than I ever sounded,” is a constant refrain.
However, despite ascending heights of fame, Jones’ personal life has its share of sour notes. Starting with a wretched, virtually motherless upbringing on Chicago’s South Side, the pain and horror from those early years gave voice to Jones’ artistry. Divorced three times, Jones admits to infidelity. His daughters say he was always working and never at home.
Jones’ vision is music to inspire youth, to bring people together and to move a nation. However, the kaleidoscopic, associative structure of the film in which music, interviews and archival material are juxtaposed is more maddening than arty as it detracts from the impressive body of information. One scene that does work well, however, depicts Jones’ early years touring with Lionel Hampton amidst efforts to combat the racism faced by black musicians in those days.
At 57, Quincy Jones considers himself “blessed,” but is also a man who seems to be searching. Although Jones has candidly acknowledged the heavy private toll his music has brought, it’s a progression he’s now working to correct. One might thus be tempted to say, “Listen Up, Quincy Jones… this is what the Lord says.”