“Keep on Keepin’ On” isn’t just the name of a wonderful Curtis Mayfield song from the 70s, and it isn’t just a statement of affirmation and encouragement from a Jazz legend to a Jazz protegé. Most importantly, it’s a motto that Clark Terry lives by – ain’t nothing going to keep this cool cat down. My review of documentary Keep on Keepin’ On after the jump.
Clark Terry – master trumpeter, jazz pioneer, teacher and absolute legend. Keep on Keepin’ On joins Clark at his 90th birthday celebration. Surrounded by friends and family, he declares he is the luckiest man alive. Born in 1920 in poverty, Clark had always wanted to be a musician, but it was the rejection of help that made him want to be a teacher. He promised that if he ever learned anything about jazz, he would share it with everyone. He’s played with some of the greats and is an innovator of style, but Clark believes that being a teacher is his greatest achievement.
Keep on Keepin’ On weaves the incredible story of Clark’s life in with the present and his tutelage of up-and-coming jazz pianist, Justin Kauflin. The two men not only bond over music, but over the loss of their sight – Justin is blind and Clark’s sight is deteriorating due to his diabetes, which is also attacking other parts of his body. Together they jam, Clark teaches and Justin’s fragile confidence slowly grows. It’s a powerful and unusual friendship – a 90 year-old African-American jazz legend and scrawny blind Asian-American pianist in his mid-twenties, but their love and admiration for each other is evident. Clark’s amazingly supportive and strong wife Gwen (who I wish we had seen more of), comments on how happy spending time with Justin makes Clark, especially as his health declines.
This film would make an interesting companion with Whiplash. While Whiplash is fictional, there is no doubt that there are teachers out there like that. Where JK Simmons’ Fletcher uses discipline and fear, Clark Terry uses affirmation, support, generosity and love. I sure as heck know who I’d rather be taught by.
The film is very much a labour of love from first-time Australian filmmaker, Alan Hicks. Alan is a jazz musician and pupil of Clark’s who (alongside friend Adam Hart) documented four years of both Justin and Clark’s life to create the film. Archival concert footage, interviews with legends such as Quincy Jones and Herbie Hancock and even animation are melded together to create a rich, personal portrait of Clark Terry and to a lesser extent, of Justin Kauflin.
Keep on Keepin’ On is inspirational in every sense of the word. It’s inspirational to see these men overcome obstacles, it’s inspirational to see the love between Clark and his wife and it’s inspirational to see a man who wants to give all that he has to others. While in hospital for surgery Clark isn’t worrying about himself first and foremost, but his students. He comments that there isn’t enough time left for him to teach everybody. What a legend.
By Sam McCosh
Director: Alan Hicks
Writer(s): Davis Coombe, Alan Hicks
Starring:Clark Terry, Justin Kauflin, Quincy Jones, Gwen Terry
Runtime: 84 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: January 8 2015 (Chauvel Cinema in Sydney; Cinema Nova in Melbourne)