Life Lessons – Conducted by Quincy Jones
First, yes, I know it’s been a while. Your girl has been buried under a rock with work. Plus, let’s be honest, you all know me well enough by now to know that I’m in a perpetual state of trying to get and keep my s*** together. So, here we are. Welcome back.
Speaking of getting one’s s*** together, do you know who really has it together? Composer, arranger, producer, musician, and overall renaissance-man Quincy Jones.
I finally got around to watching his Netflix documentary recently, and I was pleasantly reminded of just how much he has accomplished over the course of his illustrious seven-decade career. Although he can sometimes give off side-eye worthy rich old man vibes, Quincy presents Jones in a more humble light. Though surrounded by many unimaginable possessions and accomplishments, the fil does an excellent job of displaying that at his core, he is like many of the male elders in our own lives; he’s seen a lot in his time on Earth, learned lessons from his experiences, pressed through life’s trials, made mistakes, and now basks in the wisdom that he has gained from it all. Additionally, Quincy provides an opportunity for fans and viewers to get a glimpse of the artistic powerhouse’s professional journey, as well as his more recent endeavors as a mentor and longstanding pillar of the music industry.
Framed through a semi-autobiographical lens, the documentary simultaneously gives viewers a look into Jones’ everyday life. Through a series of flashbacks, photographs, interview clips, and home videos, Jones narrates the tale of his upbringing, musical training under some of jazz and classical music’s greats, and his seemingly meteoric rise to multi-media prominence. Enhancing its intimacy is the fact that the documentary was directed by Rashida Jones, Quincy Jones’ daughter and an accomplished actress in her own right. Her presence in the film-making process only solidifies the endearing spirit of the project.
While I enjoyed learning more about Jones’ amazing journey and trailblazing commercial successes, I most appreciated the privilege of noting the many gems of wisdom that he dropped in his commentary.
It’s interesting to me that we so often look up to people like Jones, wide-eyed and enamored with their accomplishments as if certain levels of success are unattainable, but the reality is that many of the tactics they employ can be applicable to all people – regardless of age, zip code, or socioeconomic status.
So many of the things that have driven Quincy Jones’ unprecedented success can be employed by all of us in multiple facets of our lives. So, without further ado, here are some of my favorite life lessons from the documentary, Quincy.
“Once a task has just begun, never leave it ’til it’s done. Be the labor great or small, do it well or not at all.” –Quincy Delight Jones, Sr.
Quincy Jones sites his father as the source of this guiding principle, and explains that the catchy phrase was indicative of his father’s attempts to instill a strong work ethic in each of his children at an early age. In the film, Jones says that he would recite this phrase well into his own adulthood, as a source of motivation in taking on new tasks and achieving goals. As a person who struggles with discipline in my personal life (because I don’t play at all about work), this phrase really hit me. It’s simple, no matter what “it” is, commit to the task completely or not at all. Noted.
“I don’t know. Maybe I won’t make it, but I’m going.” –Quincy Jones
This quote–while used to explain his decision to relocate from New York to Los Angeles to pursue film scoring, and thus challenge the lack of Black representation in that field–applies to so many different points of his life, and could stand to be mantra adopted by us all. At one point, Jones recalls that as a young arranger, he was interested in writing music across multiple genres, not just the jazz that he had been limited to because Black music arrangers in New York were prohibited from writing music for strings. So, in 1957, Quincy Jones moved to Paris to study under Nadia Boulanger, a French composer who mentored some of classical music’s household names. He sought to learn everything she could teach him about orchestration, yet another example of his tenacity to master his craft in order to break barriers. Today, his career successes serve as an example of just how fruitful the most scary, outlandish, and major decisions of our lives can be. The things that scare us the most can end up being the very things that propel us into exactly where we’re meant to be.
“Learn to deal with the valleys…The hills will take care of themselves.” –Count Basie
Quincy Jones details his complicated relationship with his mother, due to her battles with several mental illnesses. Count Basie, one of Jones’ early mentors, gave him this advice after Quincy’s mother appeared at one of his first shows leading a big band. It can serve as a reminder to all of us seeking success in our respective fields of work or study; the highs will come, but so will the lows in-between, and it is necessary to equip ourselves with the tools necessary to make it through those lows.
“You gotta let go of all of the past…because when you get locked-in on the past, you’re robbing yourself of the present, and definitely the future.” –Quincy Jones
This one is self-explanatory. We all go through things. We all experience pain at the hands of the world and others close to us. However, we cannot allow that to deter us from fulfilling our life’s goals and purpose. And if ever we do get to that point of being halted by past pain, then we have a responsibility to seek the help necessary to get us through.
That’s all for now, friends. I encourage you–whoever and wherever you are at this moment–to take some time to reflect, and consider how this advice can be applied to your own life. Arm yourselves accordingly, and set out to achieve every goal that you desire.
Be Disciplined. Be Diligent. Be Courageous Enough to Bet on and invest in yourself.
Quincy Jones Career Highlights:
Qwest Broadcasting Company
Founder of VIBE Magazine
Quincy Jones Hip-Hop Symposium (New York City, 1995)
Over 2,900 Songs Recorded
Over 300 Albums Recorded
51 Film & Television scores
Over 1,000 original compositions
79 Grammy nominations
27 Grammy Awards
1 of 18 EGOT Winners (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony)
Produced “Thriller,” the best-selling album of all time
“We are the World,” best-selling single of all time; $63M raised for famine relief in Africa
FIRST African American Nominated for “Best Original Song” Oscar
FIRST African American nominated for “Best Original Song” and “Best Song” Oscar in the same year
First African American to conduct the Academy Awards Orchestra
Produced television special for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture opening in 2015.